Allora & Calzadilla celebrate beauty, oddity of animal world


Allora & Calzadilla’s REDCAT show an evocative, beautiful meditation on otherness, Sharon Mizota reports for The Los Angeles Times.

In 1798, two elephants, Hans and Parkie, arrived in Paris. The French had seized them as spoils of war from the Dutch, who had in turn expropriated them from what is now Sri Lanka.

Objects of both national pride and intense curiosity, the imposing animals must have seemed completely exotic. In fact, their arrival was so remarkable that a group of musicians organized a concert in their honor. They hoped to communicate with the beasts through music.

The Puerto Rico-based duo (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla) has created an evocative, 23-minute film that is a beautiful meditation on otherness.

This concert, situated at the intersection of nascent imperialism and Enlightenment science is the inspiration for Allora & Calzadilla’s first L.A. exhibition at REDCAT. The Puerto Rico-based duo (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla) has created an evocative, 23-minute film that is a beautiful meditation on otherness.

The piece begins with an ultrasound image of a human throat, vibrating, contracting and expanding to an array of low hums and guttural sounds. This remarkable organ belongs to Tim Storms, a vocalist who can reach a note known as G-7, eight octaves below the lowest G on a piano.

We then see Storms, a bald, fastidiously groomed man, singing songs that were played at the elephants’ concert in his super-low register. As he sings, he walks slowly past shelves of taxidermy animals in storage at France’s National Museum of Natural History. Included among their ranks are the bones of Hans and Parkie.

The work is a gesture of rapprochement, shifting a bit from our people-centric perspective to imagine how other species might perceive the world.

The words, and indeed the melodies of the songs are barely decipherable; Storms’ singing, to our ears, is little more than a series of buzzes and rumbles, often sounding a bit like water running down a slightly clogged drain. We experience the songs as drones or vibrations, but elephants apparently can hear such low frequencies. Storms is singing for them.

When he finally comes upon the remains of Hans and Parkie, he grasps and caresses the large bones, which seem like alien specimens. Although they might resemble our skeletons in shape and texture, they are completely incommensurable in scale. Like Storms’ singing, they are of this earth yet seem completely otherworldly.

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