One twelve-year-old boy sings to another, “I’ll be sure to use small words so that you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog-faced buffoon.”
The other pauses, puffs up his cherubic cheeks, and sweetly sing-retorts, “Talking to you makes me think that man’s descent from the apes hasn’t even started yet.”
(A grown woman whispers to the man next to her, “Nice burn.”)
Such was the curious, fantastical scene inside Gladstone Gallery for Allora & Calzadilla’s new exhibition “Fault Lines,” which opened last weekend and at first seemed to be the art world’s response to Kids Say the Darnedest Things.
For their second solo exhibition with the gallery, the artistic duo, who currently live and work in San Juan, Puerto Rico, wanted to explore the relationship between sculpture and sound with a performance that elicited an equal measure of snickers and shushes during the opening this Saturday in Chelsea.
Enlisting a group of performers culled from the American Boychoir School and the Transfiguration Boychoir, Allora & Calzadilla use trebles to perform a sonic duel, a collection of insults both historical and contemporary. The unique sound of a treble’s voice—a male soprano before the boy’s voice has “dropped”—makes the song alternate between solemn, engrossing, comical, and distressing.
The sculptural aspect of the show, as well as the exhibition’s title, comes from geological faults in the earth’s crust. Allora & Calzadilla use these hardened, crushed rock segments and turn them into choral risers, rendering the gallery space into a cavernous stage where the dichotomy between the ancient rocks and the ephemeral voice of a treble can play out.
In addition to singing as high as their not-yet-dropped vocal boxes will allow, the boys summon up a theatricality worthy of Cicero or Shakespeare’s historic barbs (the origins for some of the insults). The words of the argument-song are often unintelligible, but the boys posture and preen like roosters before a morning crow.
“Fault Lines” runs from September 13th to October 11th at Gladstone’s West 24th Street location. Performances take place on the hour Tuesday through Friday from 1 – 5 pm with an additional performance at 5:30 pm, and Saturdays hourly from 12:30 – 5:30 pm.