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In addition to all these narratives about politics, history, protest and so on, there's a very humorous and playful sensibility in your work; is that combination of tones something you deliberately seek in your work?
I could say that I'm a bit schizophrenic in terms of the range of things that I like, and what makes us even more schizophrenic is that we are two. And Jennifer is also schizophrenic. So there's an abundance of things. That's why I think the combination of our work is so strange. We're very interested in concrete material reality, as opposed to say minimalist artists. There's also an interest in autonomy, which makes no sense when you're thinking of concrete material reality and the culturally based dimension of materials, so how can that happen? Simply because we're two and we like different things. There's never resolution in our work; there is accumulation. In other words, we changed from a time, maybe after the Cold War, of using "or"—"this or that"—to "and," so "this and that, and that, and this and that, and so on." So accumulation is very important for us because we're two and there's an excess of interests and motivations and positions. Absurdity is important and humor is important, and autonomy is important, and politics is important, and hating politics is important, and so we have all of those things in our works.
There seems to be a streak in your work of combining elements to create unified wholes, self-sustaining objects like a piano that one plays from the inside; is this notion of wholeness, of achieving autonomy through hybridity, something you pursue deliberately?
We like glue and adhesives, they're very important to us, and language is a great glue. Because there are two of us and language is required as a means of communication and survival in our case. We see language as a great glue that can help us join things together: etymologies, the origins of words, and how they have developed, how they have changed through time, how we know them now. How can you cut a word in half, how can you bend a word, almost as a sculptural material. So language is a great glue that helps us join things. At the same time we like glue because it's not permanent. Glue eventually falls apart. Entropy is very important with us. We detest permanence. Glue is great in that regards; it's more temporal than welding, let's say. It's been very useful to use language as a glue to make these temporary connections that exist in forms of video and sculptures and performances.
What are you working on for next year's Venice Biennale?
We are working with the body, that's key. The pavilions in Venice are all very nation-based. A few very specific nations have pavilions, and it's all very nation-state oriented. And that's very important to us in how we're handling the exhibition. Another thing is the similarity to the Olympic games: each nation selects their best artists and sends them to compete, and then there's a prize. So we're doing six new projects and all of them take the body as the center, and they involve time. This will be the first moment in the history of the U.S. pavilion exhibition there's been a live component going throughout the entire length of the exhibition. 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.
Much of your work, including these new pieces for Venice it sounds like, deals with ideas of nationhood, national identity and belonging. Jennifer was born in Philadelphia, but you were born in Cuba, and you're based in Puerto Rico, which is at once part of the United States but not entirely so. What's the significance of nationality for you and your work?
Well, I detest all of those words: nationality, patriotism, because look at what happens with it, the outcome of it. I prefer more temporary terms like friendship or identification or love or capriciousness. All those are terms that can lead to patriotism, but are not so bounded by a fixed structure that involves government and larger scale industries. Puerto Rico's not a compromise, as a location, it's more biographical: I was born in Cuba and my parents left when I was six year old and they traveled to Puerto Rico because my grandfather was there. All my life basically I've been there. And Jennifer and I met in Florence in 1995, a long time ago, and we went to Puerto Rico, but we travel all the time—we haven't been home in six months. It seems like a place where we can think. It's productive for us to be there. And that's a gift, an advantage, when you can choose where you want to live. In a way Puerto's not a place that I would choose, it's where my parents have always been, but luckily it's a place that's productive for us to think about what's around us, think about things that interest us, and produce from there. It's almost like a place where we can recharge our energies and batteries and regain some kind of structure or base to engage things that surround us.
(photo: Jason Mandella, courtesy Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla)