Allora & Calzadilla: Vieques Series
Allora & Calzadilla: Vieques Series is an exhibition of three short videos by the artists Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla filmed on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, which has been a site of protest and civil unrest for decades. In 1941, the eastern and western edges of the Vieques were acquired by the U.S. Military to practice naval strategies. The land was used for this purpose (and often rented to militaries of U.S. allies as well) until 2003, when the U.S. Department of the Interior was given ownership of the land and areas of the island were declared a wildlife refuge. As Vieques Series demonstrates, the cessation of the military from the land is a victory by the locals that has initiated a longer sequence of events. The residents of Vieques continue to debate about the best future for the recently demilitarized land. Through the unexpected juxtaposition of familiar objects and participation of Viequense locals, Vieques Series illustrates the complex issues still present on the island. The videos, which have never before been presented together in the U.S., include Returning a Sound (2004), Under Discussion (2005) and Half Mast\Full Mast (2010).
Returning a Sound is the first in the series, and documents a symbolic reclaiming of the land by activist Homar, who travels by an adapted moped in areas that were forbidden to the residents of Vieques for decades. A trumpet has been affixed to the muffler of the moped, which emits a call that varies in pitch due to the land’s terrain and the speed of the bike. This “anthem”—created by an instrument typically used for military ballads—recalls abrasive sounds, such as the bombs that were deployed by the U.S. Navy on Vieques for over sixty years. Under Discussion follows Diego, the son of a local fisherman, as he circles the island on a boat made from an overturned conference table powered by an outboard motor. The video depicts coastlines riddled with deployed bombs, and luxury resorts that have been constructed on land previously occupied by the U.S. Navy. By literally mobilizing the conference table, Diego’s actions symbolize the need for a democratic process of discussion, rather than mandate from the U.S. government or wealthy investors to determine the fate of the land.
Half Mast\Full Mast, which premiered in the U.S. Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, is a two-channel video consisting of two projected videos, one stacked above the other. Each depicts a different landscape on Vieques, but both share a common cinematic framing of a flagpole in the center of the image. The result of the two images together creates the appearance of one single flagpole connected between the two screens, despite the images’ otherwise obvious disjunctive backgrounds. One gymnast at a time enters one of the two screens and takes the position of a human flag. Depending on which screen the gymnasts appear, top or bottom, the flag seems to be flying at full mast or half mast, in sites that symbolically mark places of victory or setback in the island’s 60 year struggle for peace, decontamination, ecological justice, and sustainable development.
Working together since 1995, Jennifer Allora (b. 1974, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Guillermo Calzadilla (b. 1971, Havana, Cuba) are a collaborative that lives and works in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Allora & Calzadilla create works that blend sculpture, photography, performance, sound, and video. Their work has been featured in solo exhibitions internationally, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); Kunstmuseum Krefeld, Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld (2009); National Museum of Art, Oslo (2009); Haus der Kunst, Münich (2008); Renaissance Society, Chicago (2007); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008); Serpentine Gallery and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2007); Kunsthalle Zürich, Zürich (2007); and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2006); among others.
The collaborative pair has also been included in group exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010); 24th and 29th Bienal de São Paulo (1998/2010); Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo (2009); Barbican, London (2008); Prospect1, New Orleans (2008); 16th Biennale of Sydney (2008); New Museum, New York (2008); 8e and 9e Biennale de Lyon (2005/2007); 10th International Istanbul Biennial (2007); Whitney Biennial, New York (2006); Musée d’Art Moderne de La Ville de Paris/Arc (2004); Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis (2003); and Tate Modern Galleries, London (2003); among others.
Allora received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Richmond in Virginia (1996) and a Master of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2003) and was a fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. Calzadilla received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Escuela de Artes Plásticas, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1996) and a Master of Fine Arts from Bard College (2003).