allora & calzadilla at kurimanzutto / Mexico

allora & calzadilla / performative ellipses

april 7 – may 7, 2016

gob. rafael rebollar 94
col. san miguel chapultepec 11850
méxico d.f.

all images : Courtesy of the artists and kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2016
photo: © Diego Pérez 

After their 2009 debut exhibition at Kurimanzutto, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla return with recent works that consider the voice in its diverse forms and its potential as a vehicle of meaning, thought, and presence.

Situated in the center of the main gallery, the sculptural installation Intervals consists of reconfigured acrylic lecterns that serve as a sculptural support for propping up dinosaur bones to the corresponding height of their original locations within the skeletons of the respective animals.  In place of a book or notes that a speaker usually relies on to deliver his/her speech, are the mineral remains of long extinct species –poetically transferring onto these otherwise mute objects the possibility of reading them as three-dimensional primary texts written into the geological record that may tell us something about our own fragilities. The opacity of the dinosaur bones also draws attention to the hidden material narrative of the clear plastic podiums. Conventionally used to suggest transparency and accessibility to the ideas being conveyed in a speech, we tend to forget the objects’ petrochemical origins derived from the decomposition of plants and animals that were buried in the earth’s crust in the same era as the dinosaurs. With the increasing knowledge of the hazardous and toxic effects of petrochemical products to the health of living beings and to the earth’s ecosystems, the installation Intervals conjures objects from the last mass extinction event to express a voice of conscious about our collective future. 

Set amongst the installation Intervals is the performance Lifespan –a collaboration between the artists and the American composer David Lang, interpreted by the Mexico City based ÓNIX Ensamble. Three vocalists whistle toward a 4 billion year old rock that is suspended from the ceiling and, with the force of their breath, make it subtly swing like a pendulum. Lang describes the composition as, “light and unpredictable, like air…all musical ideas begin with one designated leader and are passed around all the performers, clockwise, overlapping, speeding up, and slowing down unpredictably…  it should have an air of wildness to it.  this is not a gentle piece.” Lifespan begins with the performers blowing air silently in long slow streams then moving through the “f”, “sh” and “th” phoneme sounds. Whistling then begins with tones of varying lengths followed by breathy explosions of unpredictable lengths with lots of space between them, and later with the highest whistle sound possible. They continue in this pattern until arriving at a downward glissandi in which everyone begins to slow down and whistle quietly. Then the leader blows air, wild and agitated as before, while the others continue to whistle and then join with blowing bursts, then changing to the “f’phoneme, until finally blowing air silently in long slow streams as the performance began. The ancient rock, which comes from a time when there were no living witnesses to the planet’s geological transformation, returns to its original stasis. 

Exploring what can be made of the voice when language is left out is Interludes, a soundbased work that activates the physical site through the ethereal, ephemeral medium of breath.  Interludes is based on audio recordings from the Sigma Sound Studios Collection at Drexel University’s Audio Archives that the artists were researching for an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014. Sigma Sound Studios, founded in 1968, was strongly associated with “Philadelphia soul” a genre that laid the groundwork for disco and smooth jazz and consisted of large productions of strings and horns mixed with pop vocals.  Sigma Sound Studios was also the first recording studio to use console automation that allowed the console to remember the audio engineer’s adjustment of faders during the post-production editing process.  While these technological advances led to ever more sophisticated music recording forms, certain elements of the “raw” performance, including the musician’s own bodily presence, were sacrificed in the process. In particular, Allora & Calzadilla discovered that the breathing sounds from the vocalists were commonly muted from the unmixed vocal recordings so as to go unheard in final mastered tracks. They decided to restore these omissions into an audio sequence and play them back over speakers that conjure the ghostly presence of the once-embodied singers. Finally, in the gallery foyer is Solar Catastrophe consisting of broken fragments of polycrystalline silicon solar cells arranged within a geometric grid creating a gestalt pattern.  The breaks, pauses, and gaps created within the figure/ground composition trace a boundary between nothingness and signification and conjure an echoing voice that allows these inanimate objects to speak the ellipsis. 

About the artists
Jennifer Allora (born 1974, Philadelphia) and Guillermo Calzadilla (born 1971, Havana) have been collaborating since 1995.  Their works have recently been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2014), the Fondazione Nicola Tussardi  (2013) in Milan and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2010). They represented the United States at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011). They have also participated in Documenta 13 (2012), and several editions of the Venice (2005, 2015), Gwangju (2004, 2008, 2014), Lyon (2005, 2007), and Sao Paulo Biennials (1999, 2010).  In September of 2015 they opened Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos) a site-specific project with Dia Art Foundation in Guayanilla–Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, the institution’s first long-term installation commissioned outside of the continental United States since Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks) in Kassel, Germany, in 1982. 

Allora and Calzadilla live and work in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

Special guests for the Lifespan performance: 

ÓNIX Ensamble
Nominated as the best chamber project by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London, ÓNIX Ensamble is a well known and acclaimed group of Mexican musicians dedicated to promote the best of Latin American and Mexican contemporary music today. All members have the experience of soloists and are virtuosi musicians: Alejandro Escuer flutes, Fernando Domínguez clarinets, Abel Romero violin, Edgardo Espinosa violoncello and Edith Ruiz piano.

The mission of the group is to be the voice of Mexican and Latin American composers under the honoured principles of cultural diversity, high quality musical craftsmanship and artistic originality. ÓNIX often includes electronics and video or guest artists offering a unique panorama of exclusive dedicated works, which are often influenced by literature, theatre, the visual arts and new technologies. Furthermore, ÓNIX has worked on building bridges and new forms of expression by stimulating the creation of special pieces that combine classical music with other art forms and aesthetic traditions. The idea is to promote new composers with the artistic vision of expanding and developing contemporary music idioms. The frequent description of an ÓNIX musical experience is often related to multiculturalism, eclecticism and Latin post modernism. ÓNIX was founded by musician Alejandro Escuer in 1995  and during these twenty years the group has extensively tour around the world with more than 200 dedicated pieces. 

ÓNIX Ensamble:
Abel Romero, violin
Alejandro Escuer, director
Edgardo Espinosa, cello
Edith Ruiz, piano
Fernando Domínguez, clarinet
Iván Manzanilla, percussions 

Guest artists:
Arturo Fernández Capur, composer
Boglárka Nagy, saxophone
Eduardo Partida del Llano, composer
Emil Rzajev, composer
Hector Murrieta, guitar
Jean Angelus Pichardo, composer
Jorge Alberto Birrueta Rubio, guitar
Marina Tomei, guitar
Yunuén Tripp Pineda, composer