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Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker
b. 1966, Atlanta
b. 1975, Ecuador
Donna Conlon was born in Atlanta in 1966. She received an MA in biology from the University of Kansas in 1991, and in 2002 earned an MFA from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. That same year, she undertook a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Her collaborator Jonathan Harker was born in Ecuador in 1975. In 1999 he graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in film and media studies. Harker first moved to Panama in 1986, and Conlon in 1994.
Conlon and Harker have worked together since 2006, making thirteen videos between that year and 2013, all of which use a playful approach to address serious sociopolitical themes. Specifically, they examine apparent contradictions in the construction of Panamanian national identity, political and societal disparities in Panama’s rapidly changing urban fabric, and the ironies generated by consumerism and competition in contemporary capitalist society.
Drinking Song, a video made for the Mercosul Biennial in 2011, employs visual and auditory cues to explore the experience of living in a developing country colonized by North American cultural and economic imperatives. Conlon and Harker use Panamanian beer bottles and cans to play the national anthem of the United States, finishing with a satisfied belch. The beers’ names reflect the imagery of their nation of origin and the conflicts faced in the development of its identity. The tune of the U.S. anthem was originally borrowed from a British drinking song, and by juxtaposing it with Panamanian imagery, Drinking Song underscores the arbitrary nature of national symbolism.
In Capapults (2012), the artists play a game using disposable spoons as weapons, launching plastic bottle caps toward a concrete platform that was once part of a U.S. military installation during that nation’s occupation of the Panama Canal Zone and is now an observation deck in a park. As the video progresses, the viewer sees that the bottle caps that fall through a hole in the platform are accumulating on the forest floor, suggesting a disconnection between actions and our awareness of their consequences.
Conlon and Harker have been the subject of solo exhibitions at Samson Projects, Boston (2007); Centro Dragão do Mar de Arte e Cultura, Fortaleza, Brazil, and TEOR/éTica, San José, Costa Rica (both 2009); and Diablo Rosso, Panama City (2014). Their work has also been featured in the group exhibitions Weather Report, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (2007); Consumer, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2009); Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, El Museo del Barrio, New York (2012); and Salón (inter)Nacional de Artistas, Medellín; (2013). The artists also participated in the Havana Biennial (2009); Pontevedra Biennial, Spain (2010); and Mercosul Biennial, Porto Allegre, Brazil; and El Museo’s Bienal: The (S) Files 2011, El Museo del Barrio, New York (both 2011). Conlon and Harker, who also exhibit individually, live and work in Panama City.