Allora and Calzadilla have lived in San Juan since the early 2000s. (Allora was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey; Calzadilla was born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico.) Their collective practice has explored the perils of colonization, globalization, and nationalism.
Flavin never visited Puerto Rico, but he dubbed several of his iconic fluorescent works Puerto Rican Light (to Jeanie Blake) (1965). Allora and Calzadilla came across the series while flipping through an art history book, and were intrigued by the title—and the story and cultural context behind it. Why did someone who never visited the island name his work after it?
In the 1940s through ’70s, when Flavin was making the majority of his work, the U.S. government pushed “Operation Bootstrap,” an initiative that would send a new workforce of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. with the goal of “bootstrapping” both the island’s and mainland’s economies. It stimulated one of the first major migration of Puerto Ricans into the U.S.
The genesis of Flavin’s title is fairly simple. In 1958, New York’s first-ever Puerto Rican Day Parade animated a stretch of Fifth Avenue. And in the mid-1960s, a woman named Jeanie Blake, who worked at Green Gallery, where Flavin had his breakout show in 1964, saw one of the artist’s fluorescent lights. She told him it reminded her of Puerto Rico, whose colors she knew only from attending the parade, which became a perennial New York celebration.