Allora & Calzadilla have developed an experimental and interdisciplinary body of work, linking different elements and languages—such as sculpture, photography, performance, music, sound, and video—which are combined to explore the psychological, political, and social geography of contemporary globalized culture. Their practice investigates pivotal concepts of our time such as nationalism, power, freedom, participation, and social change.
This approach is what inspired the title for their exhibition with the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi: Fault Lines, the rifts in the earth that form between two shifting masses of rock; ragged, unstable fissures that conceal a deep fragility, and could reach the breaking point at any moment. In Allora and Calzadilla's work, these Fault Lines are taken as points of departure for an exploration of physical and symbolic borders and junctures.
In the magnificent spaces of Palazzo Cusani Allora & Calzadilla presents an impressive selection of recent work, most of it never previously shown before in Italy, as well as new pieces created specifically for the show. From the majestic Radetzky Hall—a ballroom with its original stucco and frescoes, named after the Austrian general who had his headquarters in the palazzo until the Milan uprising—to the Hall of Allegories—with paintings and frescoed ceilings depicting scenes and symbols from Greek mythology—we encounter a succession of sounds, sculptures, performances, videos, and images that intertwine with the history of the site and the story of our times, disrupting them only to piece them back together with a narrative rhythm that alternates surprise, poetry, humor and epiphany.
Allora & Calzadilla transform the sumptuous Baroque rooms of the Palazzo into a many-hued music box peopled by trumpet players turning steps into musical scales, pianists trapped inside their instruments, sopranos and tenors enveloped in tunnel-like passageways, and marching dancers acting as doors, creating an experience in which sound and music become metaphors for the dynamics of power, conquest, resistance, and seduction.
For Stop, Repair, Prepare, for instance, the artists have modified a grand piano by carving a circular hole in it; once an hour, a pianist standing in the void, behind the keyboard, attempts to play the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Commonly known as the Ode to Joy, this famous final chorus has long been invoked as a musical representation of human fraternity and universal brotherhood in contexts as ideologically disparate as the European Union, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, white-supremacist Rhodesia, and the Third Reich among many others. In Stop, Repair, Prepare, a structurally incomplete version of the ode creates variations on the corporeal as well as sonic dimension of the player/instrument dynamic, the signature melody, and its pre-established connotations.
Sediments, Sentiments (Figures of Speech), on the other hand, is an imposing polyurethane and plaster sculpture inside which opera singers perform passages from the most significant speeches of the twentieth century, from Martin Luther King to Nikita Khrushchev, and from the Dalai Lama to Saddam Hussein. With Sediments, Sentiments (Figures of Speech), rhetorical language is cracked open, dismantled, and reconfigured through the artificial diction of operatic form.
At the heart of the show—alongside two works made especially for Palazzo Cusani—is a new film trilogy which Allora & Calzadilla have just made for the Festival d’Automne à Paris and are presenting in its Italian premiere; in it, the artists explore the history of music, and specifically, its place in human evolution. Like a full-fledged experiment in contemporary ethnomusicology, Raptor’s Rapture, shown last year at Documenta in Kassel, Apotome and 3 examine how music has come to play such a central role in human culture, its affective and transformative power, and its potential to express ancient myths and foreground future changes.