Last year when we spoke to Guillermo Calzadilla, one half (with Jennifer Allora) of the Puerto Rico-based artist duo Allora & Calzadilla that is currently representing the United States at the 2011 Venice Biennale, as they prepped a performance at MoMA, he told us of their Biennale project: “It’s going to deal with the Olympic games, the military industrial complex, with the body and there will be lots of absurdity and humor and excess.” The Biennale doesn’t open until tomorrow, but it’s already clear they’ve created a spectacle of excessive absurdity.
The duo’s exhibition at the American pavilion, Gloria, consists of six installations, several of which employ American Olympic athletes. Most notably, the exhibition’s centerpiece, a tank helplessly flipped onto its roof like a giant armored turtle, with a treadmill mounted on its wheels. For fifteen minutes every hour, an American track and field athlete runs on the treadmill, causing the tank’s noisy chain wheels to spin pointlessly. One such performance can be seen below.
Other works in Gloria include gymnasts performing all manner of torturous poses atop modified wooden replicas of first and business class airline seats and a replica of a classical bronze sculpture lying in a tanning bed. Another popular piece in their installation is “Algorithm,” an upside-down church organ embedded with a functioning ATM that plays a different tune every time a person enters their pin.
Jerry Saltz describes the upturned tank thusly:
It’s the health club from Hell, Afghanistan in Venice, and it makes a humongous racket that can be heard all around the Giardini…Allora and Calzadilla have found a way to encapsulate, possibly exorcise, summon, and certainly give visual form to the freaked-out way the world sees the United States.
Discussing the crowds drawn to draw cash from “Algorithm” in the Times, Carol Vogel points out:
Naturally it has become quite the hot spot, with lines forming outside the pavilion all day. Theories have even been circulating that the bigger someone’s balance, the more elaborate and longer the composition, something officials at the pavilion hotly deny.
In another article, Vogel explains the muti-national assembly of Allora & Calzadilla’s exhibition:
The tank was shipped from Manchester, England, in two flatbed trucks that are arriving in Venice by boat; the organ is coming from Bonn, Germany. The bronze statue was made in a foundry in Berkeley, Calif.; the tanning bed is being sent from Indianapolis; the A.T.M. is being shipped from Milan, but the computer program that runs it was conceived in Paris; the airline seats were made in Los Angeles.
The price tag for all that is estimated to be somewhere in the realm of $2 million, an appropriately extravagant sum for an installation that is all about excess, exhibitionism and commodity fetishism—though no exact figure will be revealed until after the Biennale closes on November 27. Meanwhile, our own Paddy Johnson spoke to one of the gymnasts performing in the exhibition right here.