Working at the intersection of video, performance, and sculpture, artists Jennifer Allora (b. Philadelphia, USA, 1974) and Guillermo Calzadilla (b. Havana, Cuba, 1971) are a major reference in the art of the past two decades. The Tropical Pharmacy exemplifies the consistency and diversity of works made by the artists in Puerto Rico—a territory they investigate as a prism for geopolitical, ecological, and cultural history issues.
The Bell, the Digger, and the Tropical Pharmacy (2013) spectacularly documents the demolition of one of the largest US-owned pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in the island, an event that is emblematic of its political and economic framework of colonial exceptionality. The dismantling of the facilities exemplifies the pace of capital flight in an “un-incorporated” US territory, while it illustrates the low levels of corporate accountability regarding the region’s resources. While the idea of a “tropical pharmacy” evokes the potential of the Caribbean-specific biodiversity, the expression ironically recalls Puerto Rico’s situation of abandonment and medical deprivation in the aftermath of its financial collapse and recent hurricane catastrophe. In their piece, Allora & Calzadilla intervene a bulldozer whose bucket gets replaced by a bell. The destruction of the manufacturing plant is thus turned into a singular form of sound performance marking this moment of closure. As the architecture crumbles, the bell signals what could be an epochal change, a twist of fate, an event of disease, or an ecological scandal.
This screening alternates with Sweat Glands, Sweat Lands (2006), a video made in collaboration with musician René Pérez Joglar, a.k.a. Residente Calle 13. The enigmatic, brief scene is set in a partially built roasting structure or lechonera, where a man patiently smokes inside a vehicle that has itself been hacked as a barbecuing device. He rotates a pork roast using the gas pedal and we hear Residente’s vocal performance of a poem written by the artists, where descriptions of organic processes, prehistory, and capitalism chaotically intermingle with flashes of animal perception in a tropical ecosystem in crisis. This composite situation is rhythmically dominated by the drone of the car’s engine, and visually saturated by fumes coming from each character—car, driver, pig.
Both projections are in continuous dialogue with Deadline (2007)—a 16mm film, made on the wake of hurricane George in San Juan, that captures a frond precariously dangling midair between two palm trees. Suspended from an unseen kite filament, the floating branch challenges gravity in its arrested fall, introducing an uncanny delay in the devastation of the landscape.
As an articulated whole, The Tropical Pharmacy exemplifies Allora & Calzadilla’s characteristic operations where the functions of everyday objects are transformed, collaged, and reinvented within contexts of urgency. In their transformative drive, these works are responses to material despair and attempt to reactivate hope.
Curated by Manuel Cirauqui
48001 Bilbao | Spain