Documenting DOCUMENTA: A haudenschildGarage Project with Matthew Schum

banner image
Bird Bunker with Allora & Cazadilla

Some of this Documenta’s most intriguing works dealt with human development in the most remote and prehistoric sense. Art super-duo Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Cazadilla gave one of the strongest examples of this. Their contribution is a video entitled Raptor’s Rapture, installed in Kassel’s World War II bomb shelter. This bunker made for a haunting black box with its arched, brickwork ceilings and drafty cellar air.  The space holds within it an ominous history. Visitors must wear a hardhat and after descending into the caves, it is difficult not to imagine the horror of being trapped in the bunker during the aerial raids that flattened Kassel.

Weinberg Bunker

Allora & Cazadilla,  ‘Raptor’s Rapture’

Unlike some of Allora & Cazadilla’s previous work that was criticized for being over the top, Raptor’s Rapture is extremely simple. It shows a musicologist playing a 35,000-year old flute found in southern Germany. Next to her sits an equally ancient species of Griffon Vulture. The latter stares curiously at the musician as she struggles to elicit notes from the primitive flute. Close-ups of the bird on its perch and the flautist’s strained face contrast the blackened background of the recording studio.

The woman breathes into the flute from different angles to varying effects. Most of the sounds are hollow. Each reorientation suggests that she is enacting a list of conjectures made in scientific journals as to how this flute was played by the ancient virtuosos that crafted these instruments. When the montage cuts away to the searching eyes of the vulture, though, it is clear that this is more than a visual musical essay.

Allora & Cazadilla, ‘Raptor’s Rapture’

With each gaze from the vulture in her direction, the mystery of the animal eclipses the high-tech certainty of the moving image that seems to want to recreate a primordial scene of animal and human face-to-face, gazing at the strangeness of the other. In the wall text, the artists’ described the encounter as an analogous moment, “when the birth of music, the birth of speech and the birth of humanity took place.” All that is missing is a crackling campfire.

Despite being quite captivating, nothing in fact occurs—except for the intensity of the musician’s face contrasting the expressionless face of the scavenger. Even with the shrill sounds of the flute, the bird-image imposes silence into the suspended space of prehistoric music. The animal stillness that suggests the bird is listening with its Old World vulture ears to the flute’s bird-like sounds absorb the viewer in the act of listening to the minimal shrieks. At one point the peculiar creature seems to sleep or meditate on the noises, groveling its head downward before it stirs once again in response to a penetrating note.

The effect of the interaction is unusual: strident tones escape from the flute yet the visual impression is utterly soothing as the high-definition lighting shows the calm disposition of both actors. It is easy to be drawn into this uncanny interaction and the discordant yet tuneful drift through time. It was both theatrical and absorbing.

Allora & Cazadilla’s video-art tact was very much on display here. Added to their well-documented talents, the setting in the bunker was ideal and it made this work one of the standouts among numerous offsite installations.