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Exhibitions / Fault Lines / Overview

Palazzo Cusani, Milan
October 22 - November 24, 2013

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.

Palazzo Cusani is a private aristocratic residence from the Baroque era located at 13-15 Via Brera in the heart of Milan. Designed by Giovanni Ruggeri and built in the early seventeenth century, it was renovated between 1775 and 1779 by Giuseppe Piermarini, with a new rear façade in Neoclassical style. In 1808, Luigi Cusani sold the palazzo to the Kingdom of Italy, and the building became the headquarters for the Ministry of War during both the Napoleonic and Austrian occupations, later becoming a base for the Italian Army. Palazzo Cusani can still boast perfectly preserved stuccoes and frescoes from the late Baroque era and a magnificent ballroom—now commonly referred to as the Radetzky Hall, after the Austrian general who inspired Johann Strauss the Elder to write the Radetzky March, and who had his headquarters here until the Milan uprising—whereas most of the original furnishings have been lost. For over two centuries, especially under the ownership of the Cusani family and during the life of Ferdinando Cusani (1737-1815), the palazzo was the hub of elite society life in the city, housing unforgettable receptions and sumptuous soirées in its gorgeous garden. A particularly dramatic chapter in its history, on the other hand, came in August 1943, with an Allied bombing that seriously damaged the palazzo, though without destroying it, as was instead the fate of the adjacent church of Sant’Eusebio and other nearby historic buildings. In the months after the liberation of Italy, the General Command of the “Volontari della Libertà” corps set up its headquarters here under General Raffaele Cadorna.

Today, Palazzo Cusani is the headquarters of the Local Military Command for Milan and the Army Officers’ Club, as well as the NATO Rapid Deployment Corps. After being closed to the public for many years, Palazzo Cusani will be housing a contemporary art exhibition for the first time in its history, through the collaboration of the Army Military Command for Lombardy.

Jennifer Allora was born in Philadelphia, USA in 1974. Guillermo Calzadilla was born in Havana, Cuba in 1971. They met on a study program in Florence and began collaborating in 1995. They live and work in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Parallel to their studies—Jennifer Allora’s at the University of Richmond, with a MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a fellowship at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program; Guillermo Calzadilla’s at the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in San Juan, with an MFA from Bard College—the couple embarked on an artistic career that has led them to exhibit in the world’s most important museums. In 2004 they won the Gwangju Biennale Prize in Korea, while in 2006 they were finalists for the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize in New York and the Nam June Paik Award in Dusseldorf. In 2010 they were shortlisted by the Fourth Plinth Commission to create a temporary sculpture for London’s Trafalgar Square.

Their videos, installations, sculptures and performances have been featured in solo exhibitions at the world’s most prominent institutions, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art (2012), Castello di Rivoli in Turin (2011), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2010), The National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design, Oslo (2009), the Kunstmuseum Krefeld (2009), Haus der Kunst in Munich (2008), the Kunstverein Munich (2008), the Stedeliijk Museum in Amsterdam (2008), the Kunsthalle in Zurich (2007), the Serpentine Gallery in London (2007), the Renaissance Society in Chicago (2007), Whitechapel Gallery in London (2007), the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2006), S.M.A.K- Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Ghent (2006), and the Dallas Museum of Art (2006). They have taken part in leading international festivals such as Documenta in Kassel (2011), the Venice Biennale (2011, 2005), the São Paulo Biennial (2011, 1998), Performa in New York (2009), the Gwangju Biennale (2008, 2006), the Biennale de Lyon (2007, 2005), the Istanbul Biennial (2007), the Sharjah Biennial (2007), the Moscow Biennale (2007, 2005) and the Whitney Biennial in New York (2006).In 2011 they represented the United States of America at the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Fault Lines with the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi is their first major solo exhibition in Italy, and their biggest solo show to date.