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Venice Biennale 2011: Allora and Calzadilla at the American Pavilion

The artists talk about their bold installation and performance work for the American Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have been collaborating since 1995. Their work spans many mediums – sculpture, photography, performance, sound and video.

In 2011, they represented the USA at the Venice Biennale. We asked them about their work and ideas.

Transcription

[BL] We are in the heart of the Venice Biennale 2011. We are in the Giardini. This is the main drag where all the national pavilions are. I’m standing in front of an upside down tank in front of the American Pavilion. It’s the work of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. What were the first thoughts that came into your mind when you got a phone call inviting you to represent America at the Venice Biennale?

[Guillermo Calzadilla] Something that we did here with this pavilion, it’s to take an idea and make it in capital letters, make it bold. Underline it, highlight it, in such an excessive manner that things such as irony and humour and absurdity will come out.

[Jennifer Allora] Because we were invited to make a proposition for the US Pavilion, of course this whole question of representation became a very big part of the whole development of the exhibition. How do you represent the state, how do you represent the United States as a body, as a whole? And of course that’s impossible to do – no-one could ever imagine how one could represent the entire nation. But then we became very interested in the idea of the human body, one individual’s body, as an interesting measure for all of the works in the exhibition. So everything in the exhibition is scaled or keyed to the human figure, to the human body.

[BL] So what kind of symbol have we got behind us, and what kind of symbols do we have inside your pavilion?

[JA] We just started with things that had certain qualities in common, but at the same time have nothing to do with each other. So like in the case of the tank and the treadmill, both share in common this tread, right, this thing that needs to be moving in the same way. And by putting them together, create a whole set of associations that can range from everything from losing weight to waging wars, I guess.

[BL] When I saw the tank and the treadmill in operation, only one meaning came to mind, and that was American military power, the old strategies…

[JA] It’s not going anywhere?

[BL] Yeah.

[JA] Well, that’s obviously also there. Another thing that I found interesting in working with the athletes who are actually running on top of the treadmill, who come from the USA tracking field, is just their physical bodies and the training that goes into the production of the athletic body itself.

[GC] Which goes back to Greek – the relationship between sports and militarism.

[JA] Guillermo and I like this concept of the monstrous dimension, and I think all of the works that we try to make, if they are successful, they have this monstrous dimension, which means that they will exceed anything that we can just say in this five minute interview, that will have some sort of meaning that will be more precise and meaningful in a context beyond this moment here.

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Performance art

Artworks that are created through actions performed by the artist or other participants, which may be live or recorded, spontaneous ...