"This year [at the 2011 Venice Biennale], the spectacle that is wowing the crowds... is the work of the partners, in life and work, of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla."
Charlotte Higgins, 'Tank Turned into Treadmill adds Theatre to US Venice Biennale Entry', The Guardian, 1 June 2011
"Unexpected juxtaposition is something we love." (Giullermo Calzadilla cited in: Linda Yablonsky, 'Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla', Interview Magazine online, 2011).
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have been working together as an artistic double act since1995. Their work posits visual analogies through fusing absurdity, comedy and daring political iconography to open up new possibilities for confronting and responding to the world in which we live. Partners in life as well as art, their collaborative projects cover an expansive and multidisciplinary corpus that encompasses video, photography, sculpture and performance. With work already in the collection of the Tate alongside the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2011, the duo was prestigiously invited to represent the USA at the 54th Venice Biennale. For the artists this opportunity operated as "a great adhesive to put ideas together that were not fully developed." (Giullermo Calzadilla cited in: Linda Yablonsky, 'Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla', Interview Magazine online, 2011). The resultant exhibition courted unprecedented attention; in the words of Andrew M. Goldstein, their show at the US Pavilion generated "a near deafening amount of buzz" (Andrew M. Goldstein, 'Bound for Glory: Cavorting Athletes and Oblique Politics at the Debut of Allora & Calzadilla's U.S. Pavilion in Venice', Artinfo, 2 June 2011). Executed the very same year, Lifesaver Manhole is archetypal of the ambiguously intriguing juxtapositions that have propelled Allora & Calzadilla to critical acclaim.
Suspended from a rope, a life-buoy ring is tied to a cast-bronze manhole cover. Evoking the economy of means familiar to post-minimalist sculpture, the simple formal associations of these two ubiquitous yet modified objects conjures an intriguing semiotic dialogue: buoyancy is conflated with dead-weight to invoke a sink or swim analogy. Allora & Calzadilla pair two disparate yet formally and functionally related objects. Devised to prevent people falling into the sewers and to allow traffic to safely pass over, the manhole cover invokes a universal ergonomic design echoed by the corroborative safety function of the life-saving ring. Here, escape from drowning is paired with a prevention from falling. With typical humour and metaphorical wit, this work reflects the central philosophy of Allora & Calzadilla's work: "Unexpected juxtaposition is something we love." (Giullermo Calzadilla cited in: Linda Yablonsky, 'Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla', Interview Magazine online, 2011).
In interview with Hamza Walker in 2007, they stated: 'Experience generates an internal explosion ... laughter is the recognition that something has affected you.'(Interview with Hamza Walker, The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 2007). Indeed, ranging from absurd sculptural juxtapositions, as embodied by the present Lifesaver Manhole, to their grandscale installation projects such as the famous Hope Hippo from 2005 (for which a newspaper reader sitting atop of a giant Hippopotamus sounds a whistle every time an issue of social injustice is encountered), laughter provoked by seeming farcical metaphor is the central facet of their engaging social and political critique. Indeed, in the work of Allora & Calzadilla, laughter is the immediate reflex and register for their complex and densely loaded codex of political, social, cultural, historical and linguistic allusion. As described by Allora: "Metaphor, for us, is a primary resource in questioning the limits and boundaries of all so-called truths. By means of creative combination or substitution, metaphors can produce new insights and meanings. Because metaphor has the ability to transform, it can be a powerful tool when applied to the social arena where meaning is consensually fixed. It can become a tangible force in reshaping how the world appears to us, thus opening new possibilities for subjective, individual, and communal identifications. We see this function as both aesthetic—shaping form to create new sensibilities and perceptions—and political—making possible new meanings which can influence someone's choices in how they relate to a given subject" (Jennifer Allora in interview with Carlos Motta, 'Allora & Calzadilla', Bomb Magazine, Issue 109, Fall 2009).
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