Allora & Calzadilla’s Stone Age Performance

THE DAILY PIC: The art duo link our present to the planet's deepest past.


This is an image from a performance called Lifespan, by the well known art duo Allora & Calzadilla. It’s part of a survey of their recent work that’s split between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Philly’s Fabric Workshop. I’ve covered the museum show with my friend Christian Viveros-Fauné in our latest Strictly Critical video–released today as the premiere of our second season—so my Daily Pic is dwelling on this piece from the Fabric Workshop. My photo gives several views of a four-billion-year-old rock, fist-sized, that A&C hung from the ceiling of a gallery at the Workshop; it was set gently swinging by three performers blowing and whistling in its direction. (Click on my image to watch a clip.) The performance seemed to me to represent a desperate, whimsical, deliberately absurd attempt to forge links between human actions today and a pre-human terrestrial past­–as a kind of failed shamanism for the 21st century. The video installation that I covered with Christian was built around an attempt made in Enlightenment Paris, in 1798, to talk to elephants via classical music. Lifespan seems an update on that, reaching even further across time and further from our own species to see if meaningful contact can be made – and discovering that it can’t, that we’re all alone out here, living in our strange human heads as the world goes on around us.

Or maybe the piece makes another, almost contradictory discovery. The idea that the rocks are so ancient is almost meaningless; they help us realize that all of us are precisely as old as the Big Bang that gave birth to our matter. That means that we are all, always, in contact, and in a kind of physical communication–or communion, or commonality–with everything else in the universe. We don’t have to blow on a rock to be part of its motion.

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