Allora & Calzadilla is an artistic duo focusing on authorship, democracy, borders, nationality to describe today’s society. Do you remember their artwork Gloria presented on the occasion of the Venice Biennale in 2011? Sculptures, videos and gym performances laying bare with paradoxical gusto the American obsessions and myths (money, militarism, physical prowess…).
They present now at Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris their new project Antille. The exhibition brings together three major works that center on the Caribbean where the artists live and work. The works in Antille consider how colonialism and ecology intersect with Empire building. Throughout the gallery the artists have installed Penumbra (2020) a virtual landscape that takes the shape shifting qualities of light and shadow as its substance. The projected digital animation recreates the effect of light passing through foliage in the Absalon Valley of Martinique. This tropical forest was the site of a series of now-mythic hikes that took place in 1941 with Suzanne and Aimé Césaire (the Martinican anticolonial poets, theoreticians, and founders of the literary journal Tropiques) and a group of artists and intellectuals fleeing Nazi-occupied France, whose boat had temporarily docked at the West Indian port of Fort-de-France. The refugees included Helena Benitez, André Breton, Wifredo Lam, Jacqueline Lamba, Claude Lévi-Strauss, André Masson, and Victor Serge, among others. Penumbra is projected in the gallery at an angle based on a real-time simulation of the sun’s location overhead. The artificial light flickers across the space and intermingles with dancing patterns of the sun passing through clouds moving over Paris. Through this interaction, two disparate places converge and create a paradox of light. Penumbra is complemented by a musical composition by the Grammy-awardwinning and Oscar-nominated composer David Lang and inspired by “shadow tones,” a psycho-acoustic phenomenon perceived when two real tones create the semblance of a third.
The second artwork we can find in the gallery is Graft (2021). Thousands of pink blossoms, cast from the flowers of roble trees (Tabebuia heterophylla), an oak species native to the Caribbean, appear as though a wind has swept them across the floor. The hand painted petals are reproduced in seven variations or degrees of decomposition, from the freshly fallen to the wilted and brown. Graft alludes to environmental changes that have been set in motion through the interlocking effects of colonial exploitation and climate change. Finally on view are three recent works from the artists Electromagnetic Field series, initiated in 2018, which takes electromagnetism, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, as its subject and medium. They drop iron filings on top of a canvas and place it above an array of copper cables connected to an electrical breaker in their studio in San Juan. When the breaker is turned on, the electrical current forces the particles into an arrangement of shapes and patterns governed by the electromagnetic field. To set them in motion, the taut canvas is continuously tapped which sends the heavy bits airborne and towards the positive and negative poles. It is part of the artists’ ongoing interest in using electricity in their art to probe the many facets and figures involved in energy consumption in Puerto Rico and beyond, from the oil futures market and transnational holders of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s bond debt to the local consumers who suffer the consequences of the bankrupt power authority’s fiscal mismanagement. Allora & Calzadilla’s artistic experiments with electromagnetism are in equal part an exploration of formal principals and a way of confronting the complex nexus that is the energy grid.
The exhibition will remain open until May 28, 2022 and it is a journey into our responsibilities towards the future, our planet and all its inhabitants.