Lisson Gallery

Art Basel's Meet the Artists

Art Basel's Meet the Artists
Allora & Calzadilla

‘There’s something poetic about electromagnetic energy,’ says Guillermo Calzadilla, one half of the acclaimed Puerto Rican-American duo Allora & Calzadilla. For their latest series of works, the pair set out to tap into this latent poetry. They built an electromagnetic field in their studio in San Juan, Puerto Rico. To produce a piece, they place a canvas above an array of electrical cables on which they pour iron filings. Activated by the electrical current, these particles produce dramatic forms, bearing witness to the invisible forces shaping so much of what Jennifer Allora calls ‘concrete reality’.

One of the four fundamental forces of nature, electromagnetism is this series' subject and object. Iron filings are dropped on top of a canvas, covering the entire surface. The canvas is then placed above an array of copper cable laid on the ground; the cable is connected to an electrical breaker; and the breaker is connected via a power cord and inverter to an outlet in the studio, which in turn gets its power from the Electric Authority of Puerto Rico. When the electrical breaker is turned on, the iron filings self-organize into an assemblage of lines and shapes governed by electromagnetic force. At the same time, their arrangement is also part of a continuum of multiple sites and actors that make up the electric grid – as political theorist Jane Bennett described in 'Vibrant Matter' (2009), the “volatile mix of coal, sweat, electromagnetic fields, computer programs, electron streams, profit motives, heat, lifestyles, nuclear fuel, plastic, fantasies of mastery, static, legislation, water, economic theory, wire and wood—to name just some of the actants.” The resulting compositions manifest the beauty, complexity, and awe that these entanglements of power inspire.

While seemingly a departure for a duo that has made headlines for their spectacular installations – including an upside-down tank whose caterpillar tracks served as a treadmill – these new pieces are connected to the heart of the artists' practice. In this latest episode of ‘Meet the artists’, they discuss why energy has always been a key theme and the wide-ranging issues it allows them to uncover.

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