Apr 25, 2014
During their exhibition Timelining, which closed on Saturday April 19, I had the opportunity to talk with Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly, the artistic partnership known as Gerard & Kelly, about their work at The Kitchen. In our discussion about time, memory, and movement Brennan and Ryan explained how placing two performers in Timelining beside each other serves as a metaphor for much of their work and personal practices.
(K = Katy, B = Brennan, R = Ryan)
Part One: Timelining
K: Can you describe the score that you worked with for Timelining? I know that you came up with it together, as a score for your own partnership. Can you talk about how it evolved to what you then gave to the various partnerships that are involved in the exhibition?
R: Timelining is a performance score to be enacted by two people involved in some form of intimate partnership, which includes a couple, but also includes siblings, parent-child, and non-familial relations. That performance score is a series of if-then rules that structure the speaking and moving of this partnership in the exhibition space, as each person recounts the events of his or her life, beginning at “now” and moving back in time to “I was born.” That process goes back and forth between the partners and when one's memory falters the other picks up at a point in his or her timeline that associates to where the first partner let off. There are jumps in time, forwards and backwards, and the discovery over time of how lives are similar and different. The performance score begins whenever a viewer enters the gallery for the duration of the exhibition, and it restarts whenever a new viewer enters the gallery, and as “now” is always moving forward in time, each restart must account for the events that have transpired since the last cycle of the performance.
K: How did you develop the score together?
B: Very experimentally, it came out of a previous work called Recto/Verso in which we were similarly considering questions of partnership and intimacy. In that project we were thinking about the couple as a formation, and also thinking about our own lives, our own relationship in relationship to that term of “the couple.” The performance score was kind of embedded within that project Recto/Verso, something we extracted and then expanded. What's interesting to me is that Recto/Verso is literally the front and back. It's one kind of formation, or orientation. And then in Timelining where we ultimately arrive to is beside, the two are neither facing one another nor turned away. They're next to, and I think that that, in a very simple way, indexes a kind of development in thinking, or shows a process of thinking about this formation of the couple and formation of partnership.
K: It's less black and white and more this kind of this gray line going together.
B: Yeah. And also the couple is almost always figured facing toward one another, in this kind of symbiotic, two-becoming-one model. And beside just at the level of representation or rendering already suggests a relationship of two inter-dependent beings.
K: That reminds me of your idea of queering time, in that it's no longer front-to-back, and one-to-two-to-three-to-four, but a kind of side-to-side. Can you talk about where you first learned about the idea of queering time?
B: Yeah, sure. Just to pick up on that aspect of beside, I think that also a lot of critical artwork or institutional critique, which is a tradition that I'm very aligned with, has been with the operative preposition beyond or behind. A lot of that structure around revealing something that isn’t there, works as if there's a behind. Thinking about beside opens up all kind of relations: identification, projection, intimacy, interaction – instead of exposing something, which I think has been the operative verb for a lot of critical art, exposing mechanisms at play. How has that really deepened our understanding? There are a lot of things that happen alongside that investigation. So for us the structure of beside is also related to, not just to the formation of the couple, but also art history, to the strategies within art history, and trying to think differently about how to analyze.
K: I imagine you studied peeling back the layers over the course of your studies at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and UCLA. Those practices that go behind the scenes to reveal how the gallery or museum functions, whereas I think you are extending from and complicating the project of going to the disguised root cause. You're trying to think how people work in relationship with each other.
B: It's like moving from beyond or behind to beside. And beside I think also opens the space for affect in a way that hasn't been a sophisticated theoretical discourse in art until recently, although it’s always been there. Even in a Brecht play, we feel great pleasure in identification. There's this whole other element to it. But to go back to your question about queer time – in the last project which was largely dealing with space we realized that time might be the kind of support in all performance, in terms of Rosalind Krauss's idea of the technical support, but it also might be the technical support of all intimate relations, definitely our relationship. It might be the technical support of relationality. So time became this thing of investigation. It wasn't until later when we encountered the work of Elizabeth Freeman who wrote this book called Time Binds in which she's exploring this idea of queer temporality. We found when we were reading that it had resonance with stuff we were already trying out in our studio practice about how a performance, even though it takes place in time, does not have to have a beginning or an end. And also that the time structure of the exhibition is something that no one spectator can contain. No one performer can contain. I have no idea what's going on, I can't be there for all of it. Also, the idea that in time, there's this kind of flooding of the present moment with the past, and that there's not such a clear distinction between history and now. But time is always advancing, and maybe history's catching up with it. You know, it's just thinking about it, trying to think about time differently.
K: I know in your past projects you’ve thought about how Tino Sehgal employs the couple. Could you talk a little bit about how Tino Sehgal approaches time in This Progress? Time in that exhibition is kind of circular and spirals upwards, even though you have some sense of a through line as you meet up with different people around the atrium.
R: Oh, that's very interesting, because I hadn't thought about this. In This Progress in fact, I think we have what could be termed a chrononormative representation, a normative representation of time. A real surface read – we begin with the primal kiss in the rotunda of the Guggenheim and then encounter the child, and literally move from the child to the teen, to the adult, to the elder, at which point we arrive to the apex of the Guggenheim
K: The heavenly orb on top. [laughter]
R: And then in fact we don't know what to do, which is the most interesting moment of that event because you take the elevator down, it's over. So in some way we're presented with a non-elliptical, continuous progressive representation of time. A normative representation of it. And it's actually really instructive, in that it might show that there is a relationship between heteronormativity, or ideologies of heteronormativity, and time. So if we can understand that there's a relationship between compulsive heterosexuality and temporal orders, then we can understand that there must also be a queer temporality or queer time.
B: I would even say there's another understanding of capitalist time, in which all time must be productive. Chrononormativity I think is also structured by the logic of this kind of post-Fordist economy, in which time is kind of segmented and regimented into these different sections, and that there is this understanding of linearity in that. I think with Timelining there's more of an elliptical sense but there's also these temporal jumps inside the score, which come from when a performer goes blank or loses track, and it produces these jumps in time in their lives, and in the other performer's life so even though they're moving forward, that going back in time has a series of jumps in it, and ruptures. But I also think that, as much as I’m interested in these ideas about queer time, I’m also interested in Zen understandings of time. From the little I know it is not linear at all. Maybe it is already queer, in a sense, in the sense that we're using it now. There's contemporary critical discourse but there's also a very ancient understanding of time that is not linear and that is not about progress.
K: When I came to the opening and watched a couple different partnerships I found that the sisters were very political in the things they referenced, like “George Bush was elected,” “the twin towers fell.” They were larger geopolitical events, whereas the mother-daughter pair that I saw was centered around, “I dated X,” and “I lost my virginity to Y.” It was very much based on relationships with men. When working through the score with the partnerships how did you help them embody the score? Did you dictate to them “pick twenty events as based on history and then twenty events as based on your personal sense of time?” How did you help them develop their own timelines?
R: The timelines – the process of actually writing the timelines – is a series of writing practices that we lead each partnership through. Basically timed free writing exercises. They’re filtered through memory. We lead each partnership through a series of writing practices that begin with and constantly return to an idea of – “I remember.” So we’re privileging memory as a way of connecting. It’s almost like the question is “what do you remember of your life?” What we’re trying to get to is the ways in which life is in part completely inscrutable – why do I remember these things and not these other things? Even those larger geopolitical and social forces that you talk about, if you approach them through memory, you might get to how those forces are structured. We understand that our lives are shaped by history, but I think that it’s hard to actually put your finger on how that happens. Memory helps us because it is the stuff that sticks, so we try to use the memoir – the memory oriented writing practice – as a way of getting to what sticks even from the larger kind of forces. I would venture to say even in the mother-daughter partnership, which may even circle largely around men and relationships, that imbedded within that is a large, in fact, hegemonic discourse, which would be patriarchy. And how they’ve each in their different generations and different lives negotiated the terms of men.
K: How did you choose your partnerships initially?
R: We did do an open call to see who presented.
K: Did people audition for you? Apply?
R: Yeah, it was more like a session or an application. Come in and do some writing. The criteria were really – are you introspective and are you willing to look back? And are you willing to share?
B: Each relationship for us had to be like a readymade. So this was like an assisted readymade, you could think of Timelining as that in the history of sculpture. The relationship comes on arrival as something already there. There were many people who were great performers and who had interesting resumes and everything, but the relationship was “we’re friends, we work together.” And that is one thing, but we were specifically interested in familial, romantic, and non-romantic partnerships. We were less interested in camaraderie as a category in this version of the project.
K: It seems like there are rituals that go into that performance. I noticed a couple partnerships mentioned “holding your hand in the green room.” Are there additional aspects of Timelining that you’ve built into the performance practice?
R: The only thing that we’ve really kind of built in is the continued writing practice. So when the performers arrive to the space before they perform they are encouraged to do a ten minute free write on what they remember of their lives since the last time they did the performance.
K: Because it changes every time.
R: It changes every time and that helps with what we call the recent history – the events that are happening now in the gallery, this morning, since last week, and that is stuff that’s constantly changing. I have no doubt that each partnership produces their own metascore or adoption of the score. But I would similarly doubt that any two are the same.
K: It’s very intimate.
R: I think so.
K: And it gives that to the audience. I found that both exciting and also uncomfortable at some moments. Especially the mother-daughter pair – they’re talking about things that are particularly private, usually, and I imagine even between a mother and daughter. Perhaps you don’t tell your mother when you first lose your virginity or when you first do drugs or get kicked out of school. But then to say that to the audience of this room and to acknowledge them saying, “I see the woman in the red coat.”
B: I think what you’re getting at is something that “besideness” really helps facilitate. Cause if you’re face to face I’m not sure if this amount or kind of communication can take place. I also think there’s structured in the score and in this work an idea of impersonality, a kind of impersonal intimacy. Things are not taken personally. I really believe that especially in practices like writing or dancing that you should be able to go deep, go where it hurts. When we’re working in this way it is no longer personal, you enter into something else. It’s no longer about me. I’m very interested in that kind of impersonality. I think that that might be part of what art is, what art can give us.
K: Yes, it’s that space I think.
B: These things can exist in the room, but they don’t have to be tied to an identity. They don’t have to be tied to a position or a body. They can be in the room together.
K: The partnerships give information, but they don’t attach it to “my name is Rosa and I’m 23 and I live in the Lower East Side.” So I think it’s easy, at least for me initially, to kind of question what’s happening. What is happening is very intimate and I can sense the validity and the truth that this is not an acted, fabricated partnership, and yet I keep thinking, “who really is this person?” I know so much about them, and yet so little.
R: I think that what you’re also describing, which is hard to, which is somewhat intangible, but totally significant to what is the work, is a fragile kind of materiality of the interactions that are happening in the room at the moment of enactment - between performers, among spectators, and between spectator and performer. And the way that different affects emerge in the room and exist in the room and that are contained and uncontained as different people take on different obligations. I think that this gets into a very dynamic, psycho-dynamic space. And that’s super important to actually preserve the subjective, the underived, private subjective experience of both the spectator and the performer. And I think this is very specific, but it exists in contrast to the critical distance from certain kinds of relational aesthetic projects that are about eroding that distance and kind of literally deriving the private.
B: Not just relational aesthetics and participation, but also I think our world in which we are compelled to perform our identities - I wouldn’t say our subjectivities - through social media, though this kind of increasing personalization of ourselves.
K: You have to brand yourself to know yourself.
B: Yeah, and that coupled with what we may be witnessing now which is kind of the annihilation of subjectivity. But I think that Ryan is right, that we are making a claim for something that is not those things, so it’s not the kind of participation where you’re forced to perform affective labor either as a spectator or an artist. But it’s also not this constant performance of “my subjectivity,” which I think is more about identity or self-branding.
R: Well I think at this point we’re given very stark options, you can either brand yourself and over share, that new term that we have now, and participate endlessly in social media and communication and deliver yourself and your experiences as a commodity; or you can go off the grid and not communicate and not share. And I think that that can’t be the only response. We need to interact with one another, we need to find a space where we can share and communicate and see ourselves in one another without losing our private sphere. If everybody goes to a farm in Nevada then we lose the public sphere. And if everyone submits their subjectivities to the branding process of identities then we lose the private sphere. So we’ve often called Timelining a private conversation rendered in the public. It’s a conversation between two people structured by this formality of the score that happens in public, and knows it’s in the public and accounts for that in a way. So it’s trying to articulate and create a space that is neither reactionary – we’re all out of here – nor celebratory or complicit with this reigning episteme, this thing that’s happening of losing ourselves.
K: It makes me think of the side by side again, like if you brand yourself then you’re like this (mimes people facing each other) – you’re just back and forth, and if we all go to the farm in Nevada we’re all turning our backs to the world. We need to be side by side in some way.