by Tyler Matthew Oyer
As part of their contribution to the 2014 Made in LA biennial at the Hammer Museum, Gerard & Kelly presented
Reusable Parts/Endless Love on June 21 and 22.
As described on the museum’s website-
Reusable Parts/Endless Love is a score-based, interactive performance for a rotating cast of four dancers, presented on a potentially infinite loop. The dancers transmit and transform the instructions for a kiss between a man and a woman into a machine-like production of unscripted representations of intimacy. Each manifestation of the work begins where the previous one left off, accumulating continuously over the course of these two days of performance.
Upon arriving in the space I see two large movable partitions painted white like temporary exhibition walls and a small, barely raised white stage in the center of the room. The walls are positioned so at first glance one must walk to the opposite side of the room to find the solo action of performer Nick Duran tucked behind the white monoliths. He stands at a microphone in pedestrian style clothing wearing a yellow and black headset, an accessory that all four dancers are equipped throughout the performance(s). Duran speaks into the microphone, repeating recorded audio that is transmitted from an Oz-like sound technician on the left side of the gallery. Duran listens intently and attempts to accurately transmit what he hears not only back into the microphone that is recording his voice, but also for the audience to hear and envision. This is the beginning of a 72-minute cycle devised by Gerard & Kelly which, for this permutation, in addition to Duran features Loren Fenton, Ryan Kelly, Jose Tena, and Julie Tolentino.
What Duran speaks is extremely visual: “he touches her shoulder, she sucks on his wrist, he slaps his right thigh, they roll over, he spits”. The description of someone’s description of someone’s description of Tino Sehgal’s infamous Kiss, presented at the Guggenheim in New York in 2010. Gerard & Kelly became interested in Sehgal’s piece for a variety of reasons: the curation and presentation of dance in a museum, the choice of heternormative representations of intimacy, the staging of coupling, and Sehgal’s incessant restriction of the visual documentation of his works. These particularities became issues for the artists to examine and analyze. Prompts. So over a series of weeks Gerard & Kelly frequented the museum and recorded what they saw as spoken monologue documentation into their iPhones.
From the audio generated the artists devised a cycle or loop; a series of translations and transmissions. It goes something, roughly, like this:
Visual performance (Kiss) becomes verbal documentation (iPhone audio file) becomes audio task (heard by performer in headset) becomes recorded choreography (heard by audience) to be interpreted through movement for an audience. Repeat. Endless.
I begin my interpretation at the projects’ source: Sehgal’s Kiss. In it there are two people of opposite sex/genders engaged in a kiss for the public to observe. (I group sex/gender together here because Sehgal’s piece doesn’t seem concerned with their distinctions). This is an artwork; therefore this Kiss is a representation. A representation of a heterosexual kiss. A “straight” embrace. A cast heternormative couple. Casting is key when analyzing Gerard & Kelly’s interpretation of the piece. The artists - both queer men - have explicitly and poetically addressed the politics of gender representation, psychosexual memory, and sexuality throughout their 11 years collaborating. Under these concerns, one could argue the taught and learned versions of self are present in Sehgal’s performance, but at the risk of almost being silenced by the superfluous normativity of a straight embrace. The kiss between an attractive woman and an attractive man saturates advertising, cinema, media, narrative, and even the museum lobby… In his review for the New York Times, Holland Carter said “It’s sexy, driven, complete, but radiates a familiar chic”. Anyone concerned with Feminist and Queer histories could find this as a critical loophole or weak spot in Sehgal’s artwork. Although certain aspects of public and private are displayed and questions of intimacy can arise, the normative perspectives of Sehgal’s Kiss provide a large, generative foundation for Gerard & Kelly to enact their own political concerns.
As with most translations, something is lost. In the case of Gerard & Kelly’s, the two-person kiss becomes a solo. An impossible act? In order to maintain its possibility, a transmission is enacted via the loop: the ongoing re-enactment of the Kiss through multiple solo performers, on what the artists have crafted can be an endless cycle of permutations.
Their reactionary work is bold, poetic, and political. Their response, a queering of sorts;
The couple is divided from its physical half, producing a solo. The transmission of one couples’ embrace into one performers’ action. A kiss solo is impractical in most regards. It’s an activity that most of us play as children, role-playing with a teen heartthrob from a television show or our invisible crush from the elementary school playground. Kissing the mirror. You can indeed make out with your own fist, but I must admit I haven’t tried in a few years! The coupling fantasies continue and change as we mature, often becoming physical acts like hand holding, kissing, fucking and marrying. These metonyms of the couple are socially cemented everywhere, psychopathologically omnipotent.
In this case the perfomer is masturbating in public, to audio porn. No metaphors here! Try again. In this case the performer is situated somewhere between someone else’s spoken interpretation of action - an imprecise facsimile - and the audiences’ immediate gaze. Taking directions from a recording to spontaneously enact what’s heard. In the transition from Kiss to Reusable Parts/Endless Love, live performance stays constant. Improvisation is also part of both works except Gerard & Kelly’s framework for it is available for the audience to experience, observe, deduce. Where Sehgal’s Kiss performers all but theatrically erase the presence of training and scoring through naturalized interaction, Gerard & Kelly allow their score to resonate and almost rebuild itself publicly, illuminating the politics of what we, the audience, are seeing and why in fact, we should reconsider it.
Time is, of course, part of the performance. But the cycle of Reusable Parts/Endless Love considers and materializes time as a key element for understanding how the framework runs, and what it could mean. As with their work Timelining, Gerard & Kelly shape time in ways that content begins to unravel, becoming simultaneously clearer and simple while producing affects that become increasingly more complex. This is very hard to do, in my opinion. Days after leaving their installation of Timelining at The Kitchen this past April, I circulated their score through my own psyche, unpacking memories and feelings from moments I had long forgotten. Upon each memory’s awakening an array of simple, practical, phenomenological, and existential questions arose.
Perhaps it is their backgrounds in dance that make Gerard & Kelly so sensitive to the way time can unfold the simplest of concepts. Perhaps it comes from the years of navigating the negotiations of collaboration. Perhaps self-reflexivity and analysis of their own coupling presents a myriad of ways to experience the affects and effects of time.
The time spent with Reusable Parts/Endless Love reminds us that the personal is the political and that poetics are messy experiments located in great works of art, not just tidied up in plastic Pop songs, Hollywood films, and in goopy abstract paintings. In this case reactive is not reductive; it is meticulously considered and crafted into a refreshing interpretation and reinterpretation of our daily mesh. Seen. Spoken. Heard. Re-spoken. Re-heard. Re-seen. Reusable Parts/Endless Love is a perversion of a hetereonormative representation that becomes embodied, interpreted, and misinterpreted endlessly. A beautiful kissing machine for eternity.
More on Gerard & Kelly at gerardandkelly.com
TYLER MATTHEW OYER founded tir journal in 2015. He is an artist, performer, writer and organizer based in Los Angeles. His work has been presented at MoMA PS1, REDCAT, dOCUMENTA (13), Hammer Museum, Kunstnernes Hus Oslo, Art Basel Miami Beach, Bergen Kunstall, Rogaland Kunstsenter, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, High Desert Test Sites, Highways Performance Space and the Orange County Museum of Art. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2012.