Jennifer Allora (b. 1974, Philadelphia) and Guillermo Calzadilla (b. 1971, Havana) have been working together since 1995. They are based in Puerto Rico.) Ted Chiang (b. 1967, Port Jefferson, USA

The Great Silence, 2016
Single-channel video, 16’ 53”
Courtesy of the artists

Allora & Calzadilla’s work, produced in collaboration with the science fiction writer Ted Chiang, focuses on the world’s largest (at the time the video was made) radio telescope, located at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and the last wild population of endangered Amazona vittata parrots, which inhabit the Rio Abajo forest surrounding the observatory. Told from the point of view of a parrot, the story is full of paradoxes: humanity has built an enormous machine to transmit and receive radio signals from the far corners of the Universe in the hope of finding intelligent life on other planets, and yet cannot recognize the existence of a different intelligent life form on Earth.

While humanity persistently searches the universe for vibrations that would indicate the existence of life in the lifeless “distance,” it is indifferent to the disappearance of life forms closer to home. This is particularly surprising, as parrots are one of the rare species which share our ability for vocal learning, a process which also involves vibrations. The “great silence” that humanity hears in response to signals sent into space creates a feeling of “great loneliness” on Earth. And while the parrot’s story tells of the amazing discovery in humans of another thinking creature, the artists suggest that the viewer cast doubt on humankind’s ability to think rationally. The video ends on a heart-wrenching phrase that a real parrot named Alex said to his owner before dying.