The late Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres is well-known for appropriating minimalism–the Establishment for his generation–and for imbuing that movement’s self-consciously impersonalized, content-free, manufactured forms with deeply resonant emotional, biographical, and political metaphor.
So it is again with the next generation, I thought, when I saw Land Marks (foot prints), photographs by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla.
Gonzalez-Torres made several works, including a billboard and a series of black & white photographs, of sand churned over with footprints. They’re legible but barely, approaching a very painterly monochromatic abstraction. They speak of human presence, multiple people, and activity, but they’re only sentimental in their impermanence.
Without knowing their intentions, I don’t want to draw any hard and fast parallels, but Allora and Calzadilla seem to be referencing these works in Land Marks. They stake a claim to the iconic forms of a looming, preceding giant, and ratchet up the work’s content, from the personal and identity themes of the 80’s and 90’s to larger, more explicity political activism.
In Land Marks, the artists put political messages on the soles of shoes, which were then worn by protestors infiltrating the beaches of Vieques while the US Navy was conducting weapons tests. When protestors tripped the Navy’s sensors, the tests would have to be halted; eventually the military agreed to abandon testing and its base on Vieques altogether. These photographs are documentation of repeated messages being directed specifically at the military security guards on the island; they’re a form of psychological counter-operations meant to disrupt or unsettle the larger, vastly more powerful opponent. And on top of that, they’re pretty badass.
Land Marks are on exhibit in a group show of the same name at Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris through 18 June. Allora & Calzadilla also have work in the Venice Biennale opening next month.
“Land Marks” [crousel.com]
Insurgent Inquiry: The art of Allora & Calzadilla [adbusters.org]
Paul Schmelzer also interviewed A&C on his weblog [eyeteeth.org]