Jennifer Allora (1974, USA) and Guillermo Calzadilla (1971, Cuba) are a collaborative duo of visual artists who live and work in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Through a research-based approach, their works trace intersections of history, material culture, ecology, and politics, using a multiplicity of artistic media that include performance, sculpture, sound, video, and photography.
Titled Entelechy, the present exhibition is the first mid-career survey of the artistic duo and a unique opportunity to experience some of their most celebrated works. Revealing new connections in an open-ended chronology, this ambitious presentation occupies the entire left wing and the Serralves Museum Hall. The concept of “entelechy “, dating back to Aristotle, entails a sense of self-realized potential and vital force driving the development of every being; but it can also refer, in common language, to the unattainable perfection of an idea. This notion reflects the poetic and philosophical complexity of Allora & Calzadilla ongoing practice while it directly points at one of their most ambitious productions to date: a monumental coal sculpture cast from a tree struck by lightning (Entelechy, 2020). The artists sourced a scots pine tree found in the forest of Montignac, France, where a group of teenagers discovered the now-famous Lascaux Cave in 1940 from the path famously indicated by a similar tree’s upturned roots. Thus, an underground cavern containing hundreds of prehistoric wall drawings emerged in the middle of the geopolitical upheaval of World War II. The only image of a human figure ever found in the cave – representing a hybrid of human and bird – becomes, in the meantime, the basis for the score that the composer David Lang developed together with Allora & Calzadilla as a performative dimension of this work.
Covering more than two decades of practice, the Entelechy exhibition at Serralves brings together some of the duo’s most iconic pieces, including early installations such as Chalk (1998), a set of twelve human-size chalks installed at the north entrance of Parque da Cidade, inviting passers-by to engage with these unique mark-making instruments. Also featured in the show will be the body of work exploring the complex history of Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico that the United States Navy used as a bomb-testing site from 1941 until 2003. The project itself played a key role in the island’s social movements and contributing decisively towards the debate on the relationships between the great world powers and the history of the Caribbean. Iconic films by the artists, such as Returning a Sound (2004), Under Discussion (2005) and Half Mast/Full Mast (2011), originated in the Vieques series as it thus came to embody more than a decade of Allora & Calzadilla’s research.
The works in this exhibition highlight the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the artists’ practice, as well as themes that run throughout their entire oeuvre, from the postcolonial condition to environmental justice and climate debt; geological time and the evolutionary history of life on Earth; geopolitics and energy resources. In this regard, this exhibition highlights a series of sculpture-performance based works that are central to Allora & Calzadilla’s trajectory, such as Hope Hippo (2005), Stop, Repair, prepare: Variations on ‘Ode to Joy’ for a Prepared Piano (2008), Lifespan (2014) and Entelechy (2020), which will be regularly staged throughout the course of the exhibition in collaboration with local musicians and performers.
Since the beginning of their collaborative practice in 1995, Allora & Calzadilla have presented solo exhibitions at some of the world’s most important museums – including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; The Menil Collection, Houston; Serpentine Gallery, London; the Castello de Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MAXXI, Rome; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among others. In 2011 they represented the United States of America at the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale with an ambitious project, Glória – a performative critique of the narratives and symbols that overlap in America’s political, cultural, and economic nationalism. In 2015, they made the site-specific installation “Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos)”, a Dia Art Foundation commission on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
The exhibition is curated by Philippe Vergne and Inês Grosso and coordinated by Paula Fernandes.