Reviews

Allora & Calzadilla at Philadelphia Museum of Art & Fabric Workshop and Museum

Philadelphia

Allora & Calzadilla, The Great Silence, 2014, three-channel HD video installation, 16 minutes, 22 seconds. Fabric Workshop and Museum. CARLOS AVENDAÑO/COURTESY THE ARTISTS, IN COLLABORATION WITH THE FABRIC WORKSHOP AND MUSEUM, PHILADELPHIA

Allora & Calzadilla, The Great Silence, 2014, three-channel HD video installation, 16 minutes, 22 seconds. Fabric Workshop and Museum.

CARLOS AVENDAÑO/COURTESY THE ARTISTS, IN COLLABORATION WITH THE FABRIC WORKSHOP AND MUSEUM, PHILADELPHIA

There were many beautiful and poignant moments in “Intervals,” a two-venue exhibition of recent work by the Puerto Rico−based collaborative duo Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. There were just as many moments when it was frankly a chore to sit through pieces that were resolutely esoteric, glacially paced, and ending, as they started, with a whisper, a tsk-tsk, a screech, or a growl.

The artists, who are known for their research-based projects, here employed objects, films, live performances, and sound to invoke the span of geologic time and our own place within it. An installation of individual dinosaur bones resting on clear acrylic bases occupied an entire floor at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. While this piece reiterated themes found in the rest of the show, it seemed dull and rather pretentious. Far better was a performance by three hired vocalists who blew and whistled at a suspended rock said to be more than 4 billion years old. Installed on another floor was The Great Silence (2014), the artists’ video about the world’s largest radio telescope, located in Esperanza, Puerto Rico, and the endangered wild parrots living in the surrounding forest. It was the most moving work in the exhibition, thanks to subtitles, written from the point of view of the parrots, by the science-fiction writer Ted Chiang.

Of the three films at the Philadelphia Museum, Apotome (2013) made the strongest impression. It showed singer Tim Storms—said to have the lowest recorded human voice in the world—in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Holding the bones of two elephants brought to Paris during the Napoleonic wars, he performs a subsonic version of music played to the animals in 1798 as part of an experiment. The work brings these long-dead creatures to life, and like the show at its best, makes vivid the passage of time.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 119.

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