So we’ve told you behind-the-scenes stories, you’ve heard about Venice, and you’ve heard from some of the people who’ve made this incredible project happen. But we haven’t yet described (or, at least, attempted to) what it’s like to experience Allora & Calzadilla’s works in person. You may have seen a few of the articles (or shall we say, raves?) that have come out in the recent days about the U.S. Pavilion and its reception at the Biennale (such as this one, this one, this one, or even this one), and each one does a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of the exhibition. For me, it’s the often-surprising details that surface around each work that have quickly become my favorite parts of Gloria. Here are a few little tidbits that I’ve particularly enjoyed about each:
The first thing you encounter at the Pavilion – and really, when it’s running, throughout much of the Giardini – is the massive upside-down tank and treadmill, Track and Field. I’d seen pictures and renderings, and heard stories about the sheer size of this thing, but it’s hard to imagine the – I guess overwhelming, is the best word – feeling of being next to those fast-moving treads. The runner on top of the treadmill actually can control the speed of the tank, based on how fast he or sets the treadmill to run. Olympian Dan O’Brien performed today for a packed crowd at the press conference (see him in this great slideshow here) and I heard him tell the artists that one of the most difficult parts was not getting too distracted by the moving treads on the side, and to focus straight ahead instead. And speaking of those treads, check these things out:
Once you’ve enter the doors of the Pavilion, the first work you’ll see is Armed Freedom Lying on a Sunbed. The statue is a scaled down replica of the Statue of Freedom, on top of the U.S. Capitol building. As you recently read about, I love that the iconic image of this statue that’s being used in all exhibition branding was taken by an amateur photographer we found on Flickr.
To the left and the right of this work are the business class airline seat replicas. Body in Flight (American) approximates a pommel horse and is used by male gymnasts and Body in Flight (Delta) is substituted for a balance beam and used by the female gymnasts. I knew the performances would be incredibly powerful – and intensive, being three times longer than a typical gymnast routine – but I didn’t anticipate how pulled in the audience would be. The room is very intimate, and you can hear the labored breathing of the gymnast as they move around the wooden seats. I heard audible gasps from the crowd during particularly hard (and slightly painful looking) parts of the routine, and laughter during one section when the gymnast actually takes a seat in the, well, seat.
Beyond Body in Flight (Delta) is the work Algorithm, a pipe organ that has been custom made with a working ATM inside. Visitor reaction is another favorite with this work – when money is withdrawn, a composition of sounds emits from the organ. Even though they’re expecting it after waiting in line, the face expressions when the visitor hears the sounds their pin number produces are so much fun to watch – usually ranging from laughter, serious, a little embarrassed, jubilant victory-style motions, or a variety of dance moves. Watch this video to see the work in action.
The last work, through the room by Body in Flight (American) features Half Mast\Full Mast, Allora & Calzadilla’s film on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. They used a human body to create a likeness of a flag, in sites that symbolically mark places of victory or setback on the island (listen to the artists discuss this idea further here). Place, and the stories behind a place, are an important part of the piece, and to me, provides a perfect final note to the exhibition.