April 07, WM issue #2: Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla @ Whitechapel

April 07,  WM issue #2: Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla @ Whitechapel
Allora & Calzadilla, Still from Under Discussion, 2004, Colour, video with sound, Courtesy the artists, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris and Lisson Gallery, London

Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla


Whitechapel, 14 February – 25 March 2007


Four films to follow four journeys. The trail of Allora & Calzadilla’s show beats an obscure path from China to the remote islands and countryside of Puerto Rico. The distinct landscapes at the heart of these narratives unleash a wild beauty where each terrain is bubbling with political tensions.

In Under Discussion a fisherman utilises an upturned discussion table as a makeshift boat. This eccentric vessel is sailed along a coastal route as an action to highlight a local dispute over land ownership. The document of this expedition turns with the cycle of a day, sailing out into the dawn to return in the black waters of night. The sturdy legs of the table become a frame within which the camera negotiates the spaces of sea, sky and contested land in-between. Such photographic details as the fisherman’s calloused hands against the grain of table wood and the accompanying chatter of the improvised motor convey a sense of potent conviction.

A graffiti tag on the wall of a bustling street gives way to meandering country roads and the glimpse of sea. In the brief liberating journey at the heart of Returning a Sound, the kind of trip one might imagine taking on a whim at lunch hour, another curious invention is presented. Here a silver trumpet is attached to the exhaust pipe of a motorcycle to take a musical ride out into open country. With each rev of the motorbike engine the once military instrument plays a screeching improvised tune. The pace of the film is satisfying to watch as it flies along against the speed of the bike headlong into the possibility of the open road. There is comedy in the strained, hiccupping blasts of the trumpet together with the deadpan expression of the motorcyclist.

Sweat Glands, Sweat Lands closes in on the almost hypnotic rhythm of a pig carcass turning on a spit roast. It is not until the camera pans out that we see how the skewer is attached to the wheel of a broken-down car. A Spanish voice addresses us in a tone of declarative urgency adding to the tension in that torrid night time scene.

Amphibious charts a voyage made by six turtles riding on a log from the current of a meandering river to the open sea and into the life of a bustling port. These small comical creatures set their own pace gently bobbing with the tide in contrast to the cacophony of industry around them.

The length of these colourful documents is just right, not bombarding the viewer with too much information but homing in on a scene and allowing a simple sequence of events to unfold. Whether blasting out a tune on the open highway or eating barbecued meat at the roadside a delight in resourcefulness and the homemade is sensually conveyed. In these snapshots debilitating social conditions might be momentarily reshaped by a brainwave. Allora & Calzadilla’s films carry a subtle polemic, refreshingly uplifting and humorous as they are quietly thought provoking. Such portraits bring a pang of hope, like the turtles quizzically craning their necks downstream, these actions propel us toward the future.


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