December 20, 2010  |  Artists, Performance Series
Allora & Calzadilla: Making Joyful Noise at MoMA

In the video interview above, artists Allora & Calzadilla (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla) talk about their piece Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on “Ode to Joy” for a Prepared Piano, which is being performed at MoMA through January 11 as part of the Performance Exhibition Series. The duo have the remarkable talent for being playful and political at the same time. In their work they often juxtapose two contradicting elements, creating something new and unexpected. For Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano, the artists cut a hole in the middle of a grand piano and hired professional pianists to stand in it and play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” upside down and in reverse, while walking the piano around the exhibition space. The result is a marvelous performance piece that is at first startling, then hilarious, and lastly, thought-provoking.

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on “Ode to Joy” for a Prepared Piano. 2008. Prepared Bechstein piano, pianist (Terezija Cukrow shown). The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf. © 2010 Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

The artists chose “Ode to Joy” for more than just its universal recognizability—it is probably the best-known melody of the classical-music genre—but also because it is highly charged ideologically. Over the last century the lofty tune has been appropriated by such politically contradicting movements and institutions as the Nazis, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and, most recently, the European Union.

The hole in the instrument renders two octaves inoperable and leaves the ode structurally altered and incomplete. Each of the five pianists performing the piece at MoMA have their own arrangements and choreographies. Some purists might say the work is an attack on Beethoven’s composition; a Museum visitor recently booed during the entire performance. But to people more open to change, the work infuses the clichéd melody with new life. By reconfiguring the dynamic between pianist and instrument, Allora & Calzadilla found a way to infuse “Ode To Joy” with, well, joy—without neglecting its problematic past and pathos.