Allora and Calzadilla

Wake Up
March 04 - April 15, 2007

Featuring new compositions by trumpeters:
Jaimie Branch (USA)
Stephen Burns (USA)
Dennis Gonzalez (USA)
Franz Hautzinger (Austria)
Ingrid Jensen (USA)
Leonel Kaplan (Argentina)
Mazen Kerbaj (Lebanon)
Paul Smoker (USA)
Natsuki Tamura (Japan)
Birgit Ulher (Germany)

Good Morning

The story of human kind could be narrated strictly through the history
of musical instruments. Questions as to the when, where, how and why of
their development amounts to the study of the rites and rituals that,
taken as a whole, define human culture. The means and ends of all human
activity---work and play, love and death---have their corresponding
music to mark the occasion. This includes ceremonies of state as they
are announced through anthems and military marches. Even warfare, as an
aspect of our social behavior with its own formal expression in music,
would have to be acknowledged on cultural terms. Alongside the display
of medieval arms and plate armor, which can be found in most
encyclopedic museums, it would come as no surprise to find an
elaborately engraved trumpet.

/Reveille/, the bugle call which signals the start of the military day,
is the subject of /Wake Up/, a sound and light installation by the San
Juan-based artist collaborative Jennifer Allora and Guillermo
Calzadilla. For /Wake Up/, the artists asked a host of trumpet players
from around the world, working in a range of styles, to interpret
/Reveille/. Recordings by these musicians will be played over a series
of speakers running along a criss-cross series of diagonal corridors
that represent a radical alteration of the gallery space. The warm
lighting scheme will take its cue from the sound, gradually dimming and
brightening in relation to the amplitude of the music.

Over the past several years, Allora and Calzadilla have produced a body
of work distinguished by an adroit mix of poetry, play and politics.
Although it has assumed many forms, their work is unabashedly social,
adeptly engaging a given locale. While the issues and events of a
particular region may serve to illustrate a facet of globalization, by
giving them concrete representation, Allora and Calzadilla counter the
tendency for such issues and events to become abstract. Whether it is
their ongoing investigation into Vieques, an island formerly used as a
bombing test site by the U.S. military; their rumination on the fate of
wildlife under Puerto Rico's burgeoning industrialization; their paean
to a poetry of social protest; or their humorous facilitation of
spontaneous public speech with oversized pieces of chalk, Allora and
Calzadilla's work is a critique of socio-political agency in the face of
increasingly remote authority.

/Wake Up/ is one of a series of site-specific, sound installations the
artists have conceived for three venues---The Moore Space in Miami, The
Renaissance Society, and the McBean Gallery at The San Francisco Art
Institute. For /Clamor/, the first in this series, which debuted at the
Moore Space this past December, the artists placed a small ensemble
(trumpet, tuba, flute, trombone and drummer) inside a large sculpture
made to look like a concrete military bunker. The band performed a host
of war songs, marches and battle hymns. Among the more standard fare
were Barney the Dinosaur's /I Love You/ and Bruce Springsteen's /Born in
the U.S.A/, as they were used to torture detainees in Guatanamo, and
Twisted Sister's /We're Not Gonna Take It/, as that was a favorite of
American forces during the 1989 invasion of Panama. Save for the
trombone slide poking through an embrasure and a low window exposing the
tuba's bell, the band was completely concealed. More monumental than the
sculpture itself was the band's performance, which, with over three
hours of music, became an endurance test. Bombast gave way to cacophony,
which in turn gave way to a peripatetic tumult of disfigured nationalist

With /Reveille/ as its source of inspiration, /Wake Up/ is clearly an
extension of /Clamor/. In focusing on the trumpet, however, /Wake Up/
has its genesis in /Returning A Sound/, a video in which the artists
attached a trumpet to the exhaust pipe of a moped that was driven around
Vieques by one of the island's residents. A military call was replaced
by the trumpet's steady, shrill vibrato, its pitch changing with the
moped's speed. /Returning A Sound/ was one amongst several works done
and shown in Vieques. Some of the works were didactic, others involved
Vieques residents. But unlike /Returning A Sound/, whose gesture was an
elegant response to specific geo-politics, /Wake Up/ is a work made for
a museum gallery. Rather than direct engagement with a public about
issues of concern particular to a given locale, /Wake Up/ is a sound and
light installation conceived on the terms of the autonomous work of art
which holds a separation between art and life. Although /Wake Up/ is a
metaphor alluding to our current socio-political state of affairs, being
a gallery work requires the artists to transcribe such a metaphor into a
phenomenological experience that utilizes the gallery space in a manner
refering to nothing outside of itself. Toward that end the artists have
created a site specific installation whose long, narrow corridors
terminate in the four bays that define the corners of the gallery. The
division between art and life, however, no longer makes for two mutually
exclusive categories. Life has found its way into art and an autonomous
art has found its way into life (think of Daniel Buren) to the extent
that although separate, each derives its strength through their
acknowledged coexistence. As an autonomy historically driven to its
extreme would then demand, /Wake Up/, whose name is meant to imply a
rousing of political consciousness, is grossly metaphorical in its use
of light and choice of song on the one hand, and grossly literal in
their deployment on the other. Circulating between a mode of
site-specific installation calling full attention to the gallery space,
and a content engendered through a song as rife with associations as
/Reveille/, /Wake Up/ is the institutional counterpart to /Returning A
Sound/, as specific to the physical, cultural and political character of
its site---an art gallery---as the moped circling the island.

Allora and Calzadilla are respectful of an art historical trajectory
within which the end of art was to question the ends of art. However,
more than a full generation removed from the advent of a neo-formalist
abstraction, i.e. minimalism, Allora and Calzadilla's work represents a
shift in vantage point: the role of art is being questioned not from the
inside out but from the outside looking in. While the ever-pressing
question of art's relationship to politics is currently being framed in
terms of activist-oriented practices calling for a direct engagement
with a public outside the confines of the gallery, the operative model
for Allora and Calzadilla's practice resembles more closely that of the
late Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose work generated its charge in abiding
by a strict formalism but abandoning the autonomy such formalism was
meant to enforce.

/Wake Up/ engages the gallery space with complete integrity to a model
of site-specificity that came to fruition in the mid to late1960s.
Allora and Calzadilla are heirs to strategies whose goal was to
dismantle and reconfigure traditional sculptural practices. These
strategies include a history of multimedia and installation-based
activity. By now, however, such strategies have become a tradition in
their own right. As artistic strategies, their claims to radicality
expired upon their institutionalization. No matter how dramatic an
alteration of the gallery space, /Wake Up/, when considered as species
of form for form's sake, is an empty shell, which is then made to play
host to an equally ossified content in the form of /Reveille/, that all
but dismissed piece of the trumpet's historical baggage. In this regard,
/Wake Up/ is a platform for the trumpet recordings, with Allora and
Calzadilla looking to the trumpet players to engage a metaphor that is
likewise little more than a shell for what, between the many trumpet
players, becomes a vehicle for an incredible range of expression.

The trumpet players who have contributed interpretations of Reveille
represent a broad range of styles, from the starkly conceptual approach
of Birgit Ulher whose score is featured on the other side of this
poster, to the rapid-fire, lengthy post-bop phrasing of Paul Smoker, to
the breathy, microphone-enhanced atmospherics of Leonel Kaplan and Franz
Hautzinger. In most cases the compositions and performances bear no
resemblance whatsoever to the familiar tune of /Reveille/. While in some
cases the musicians use /Reveille/ in a schematic sense---as is the case
with Ulher and Natsuki Tamura whose work is divided into three sections,
"A"(startle) "B"(shake), and "C"(awake)---the particular details of
their approaches to /Reveille/ pale in significance to the
deconstruction and expansion of sounds the trumpet is capable of making.
In these players' hands, it becomes clear that the trumpet, if not the
most sophisticated, is easily the most exquisite piece of plumbing
outside the human respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. If /Wake Up/
can be called an experimental piece, it is not by virtue of its form as
a sound and light installation, but by virtue of how far the players
have stretched the limitations of an instrument as tradition-bound as
the trumpet.

/Wake Up/ appears at a conspicuous moment in our current socio-political
morass. Since the Florida debacle of the 2000 presidential election and
the ensuing events of the past six years, one cannot help but imagine
how different things may have been were someone else president. As a
result, we are that much more susceptible to day dreaming. But given
that it is the second year of a lame duck presidency, a wake-up call
would perhaps seem belated. /Wake Up/, however, is apropos seen against
the shift to Democratic control of the House and Senate and the seeming
demise of the Gingrich Revolution. In any case, /Wake Up/ is a metaphor
for a desire to effect social change. But /Wake Up/ is not itself a work
of so-called "political art," a false category which assumes a discreet
political domain. For Allora and Calzadilla politics is instead a way of
looking, meaning politics are both everywhere and nowhere. Although the
question of art's relationship to effecting social change is
transmissible from one generation to the next, the answer is not. What
worked for one generation may not be applicable to the next. In this
regard, it is not simply a question of waking up but also of knowing
what time it is.

Author: Hamza Walker

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