Allora & Calzadilla reframe human history at the PMA and Fabric Workshop

[Noreen takes us through her experience of a massive exhibition by noted duo in life and work, Allora & Calzadilla, which blurs the lines between visual art, music, and geologic history. — the Artblog editors

Now on view at both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Allora & Calzadilla: Intervals blurs the boundaries between a wide array of media. Its works combine sculpture and sound work, installation and performance, and even thousand-year-old fossils. Initially overwhelmed by the enormity of the show, I came to understand it as a fractured and mysterious retelling of natural history. This unparalleled exhibition opened last December and remains on view until April, so there’s plenty of time left to experience it.

New and exciting work from a prestigious pair

From “Raptor’s Rapture” (2012). Image courtesy Allora & Calzadilla.

The Puerto Rico-based collective of artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla has had the prestige of representing the United States at the 2011 Venice Biennale; yet Intervals marks the largest solo exhibition the collective has shown in this country. The enormous, multi-story show includes many new and recent projects never before seen in the States.

Allora and Calzadilla also created many of the new works of Intervals exclusively in Philly. Several are part of the ongoing projects of The Fabric Workshop and Museum’s Artist-in-Residence program.

Woman playing flute
Flautist Bernadette Kafer in “Raptor’s Rapture”. Image courtesy Allora & Calzadilla.

My first introduction to the show began at the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Entering the building’s Levy Gallery, I saw three highly conceptual films. Presented as part of the museum’s Live Cinema series, the films “Raptor’s Rapture” (2012), “Apotomē” (2013), and “3” (2013) run about 20 minutes each.

Each film focuses on an intersection of history, material artifacts, and human relationships to those artifacts. “Raptor’s Rapture,” a visually crisp documentation of performance, features flautist Bernadette Kafer playing the oldest musical instrument in the world–a flute carved from the wing bone of a griffon vulture 35,000 years ago.

Live performances

Clip from “In The Midst of Things”

Following the screening of the three films, viewers gather in the building’s Skylight Atrium, awaiting the premiere of the performance piece “In the Midst of Things” (2014). The performance erupts from the middle of the idling crowd. The performers, plainly dressed and of varying demographics, assemble and begin to sing in tight harmonies, becoming a solemn, echoing choir. The 12 choral singers move in sync with the interrupted and reversed composition: a reconstructed and altered arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” (1796-98), based on the Book of Genesis.

The collaborative fusion between Allora & Calzadilla, composer Christopher Rountree, and the performers, a Philadelphia-based musical ensemble called The Crossing, struck me as truly unusual. In performance, visual artists often collaborate with musicians, but the incorporation of an element of surprise–the flash mob choir–took this performance to the next level.

This partnership between artists, artifacts, and media continued to the next installation site, The Fabric Workshop and Museum. The next performance served as a foil to the tonal and sonorous composition of “In The Midst of Things”.

Clip from “Lifespan”

For “Lifespan” (2014), installed on the first-floor gallery, three members of The Crossing assemble around a rock sample estimated to be over four billion years old. The vocalists perform a composition by David Lang, breathing, whistling, and hissing at the rock sample, which dangles precariously from the ceiling on a nearly-invisible wire. The atonal breathing and vocalization starkly contrast with the musicality of “In The Midst of Things,” yet in both pieces, Allora & Calzadilla orchestrate a musical interaction between present humanity and objects from its past.

With the joint efforts of two prominent museums, two internationally acclaimed artists, and musical collaborators, Allora & Calzadilla: Intervals prevails in interpreting history with a spirit of collaboration. Through a large range of media and an even larger body of work, the exhibition thoughtfully juxtaposes interactions between living, non-living, animal, and human elements. For the audiences of Philadelphia, Intervals offers a unique series of pieces and performances, artistically reframing humankind’s natural history.

Allora & Calzadilla: Intervals is on view at the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Fabric Workshop and Museum from now until April 5, 2015. Hours at The Fabric Workshop and Museum are Mon.—Fri., 10 am – 6 pm, Sat. and Sun., noon—5 pm. Hours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art are Tues.—Sun., 10 am – 5 pm. For a full schedule of events and performances, visit and