The Bell, the Digger, and the Tropical Pharmacy
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla live and work in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They employ a research-oriented practice as a means to uncover intersections and complicities between history, cultural institutions and geopolitical events. The interdisciplinary nature of Allora and Calzadilla’s research leads to multifaceted art works that include performance, sculpture, sound, video and photography. The internationally acclaimed duo represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2015.
The Bell, the Digger, and the Tropical Pharmacy (2014) shows an excavator demolishing an industrial building. The excavator has been fitted with a cast-iron bell that transforms it into a “sonic digger.” The structure is a controversial GlaxoSmithKline prescription drug plant in Cidra, Puerto Rico, closed in 2009 after a female whistleblower, who had worked as a quality assurance manager for the company, exposed serious contamination problems.
The tolling of a bell suggests a moment of public memorial or commemoration for this site, which had been previously associated with health and progress. The sonic digger, however, creates a cacophony when it smashes into the building and claws away the architecture. From this perspective, the noise evokes the discordant exploitation wrought by U.S. and multinational corporations on the people and land of Puerto Rico. Allora and Calzadilla present a moment of liberation and reclamation over colonialist and capitalist oppression. As artists living on the island, they have worked fearlessly to create works of art that are materially rich and engage the senses, while also providing moments of reflection on the violence of militarism and harm of corporate overreach that take place in occupied territories.
The Bell, the Digger, and the Tropical Pharmacy continues the Museum’s program of significant video art installations on the third floor of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art. This work by Allora and Calzadilla is on loan from the collection of Matt and Jasmin Felton.
Curated by Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.