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Jennifer Allora, SM '03

Artist explores the political power of music
February 24, 2009

When Jennifer Allora listens to music, she perceives more than sound qualities. In the past two years, this accomplished artist and her partner, Guillermo Calzadilla, have created several works that “examine how power, militarism, and war are encoded through sound.”

Artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla

Last year, for example, Allora and Calzadilla–whom she met in 1995 when the two studied in Florence, Italy–conceived “Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on ‘Ode to Joy’ for a Prepared Piano.” For this work, the artists cut a circular opening in the resonance box of a grand piano, providing just enough space for a pianist to stand in. The performer plays Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” while pushing the piano around.

The performance piece was created for the Haus der Kunst (House of Art) in Munich, the former Nazi hall where Adolf Hitler delivered his infamous speeches on culture. The piece closed there last September and was presented again in January in New York’s Barbara Gladstone Gallery.

Allora and Calzadilla, whose works also include sculpture and film, have been hailed as “the shooting stars of the international art scene” by the Kunst Bulletin. Among their many awards, the duo received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) fellowship award in 2008. They were also among the six artists short-listed for the Guggenheim Museum’s 2006 Hugo Boss Prize.

Born in Philadelphia, Allora earned her BA in 1996 at the University of Richmond in Virginia and studied in the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York from 1998 to 1999. When she was applying to graduate school, she was drawn to “the way MIT mingles art with architecture and science,” she says. “I was very excited by MIT’s recognition that we can and should learn from one another.”

Since 1998, Allora’s works have been shown in galleries and museums from Korea to Puerto Rico, France to Prague, and in a variety of venues in the United States. She and Calzadilla make their home in Puerto Rico, where they live with Loba, a six-year-old fox terrier. “She’s a wonderful little dog,” Allora says. “She travels everywhere with us.”

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