Artbooks in Review: TYPE Aby Maxwell Heller
Hatje Cantz / Indianapolis Musuem of Art | May 2010
Twelve years ago, New York artists Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin of Type A began examining masculinity through the lens of their individual experiences. But changes in the city’s cultural landscape following 9/11 and the economic crisis have broadened their work’s purview, bringing unexpected political implications to past installations and infusing new projects with cutting social commentary. Hatje Cantz’s book Type A, a richly illustrated survey of their work to date, finds the artists in transition, turning their attention from personal to communal, product to process, aesthetics to politics, as they question the exclusive nature of their collaboration.
Essayists Lisa D. Freiman and Richard Klein focus on “Team Building” (Align) (2009), a public sculpture produced in cooperation with the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) to be unveiled June 19. Comprising two monumental metal rings suspended among the trees of 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, the piece commemorates an “experiential education” trust-building course designed by Type A for IMA staff. It also marks an extraordinary leap for the artists. Since their initial video collaboration, “Dance” (1998), a video in which Bordwin repeatedly dominates hapless Ames on a wrestling mat, they have enacted dozens of one-on-one pissing contests, sometimes literally, but have rarely included outsiders or relinquished creative control. “Team Building” forced them to open their Abramović/Ulay-esque closed circuit and respond to constant input from IMA trainees. Readers must imagine how this interaction played out, as the essayists offer little tangible detail about the process, but a few things are clear—IMA staff urged radical reworking not only of the daily training plan, but also of the commissioned sculpture related to the session.
Type A has never before undertaken such a process-oriented endeavor. A few earlier projects involved improvisation and adaptation, but these also incorporated arduous documentation that emphasized the value of a final product. In dance-like “Push” (2004), for example, one artist repeatedly shoved the other in a test of strength and trust, but both artists detached themselves from the experience by stopping frequently to record their positions on the paper surface that would become the final art object. The collaborative component of “Team Building” created no such object, no mark. In fact, to borrow Rudolf Frieling’s words on relational aesthetics, the piece drifted so far from the standard museum context that it was almost invisible as art, vanishing instead into the fabric of real life.
As a publication, Type A does little to examine why Ames and Bordwin moved from intimate, polished, object-oriented work to a piece so collaborative and ephemeral. For over a decade, the two artists had performed by and for themselves, leaving everyone else out. Perhaps the outside world forced its way in—projects originally created as personal comments on gender and power began to resonate with larger political issues arising in the new millennium. “Outstanding” (1999), in which the two don business suits and shake hands ad absurdum at a financial building’s entrance, accrued bitter meaning after the day-late-dollar-short censure of Wall Street’s leading financial institutions. “Insertions” (2001) depicted limbs hidden in the crevices of Brutalist buildings in lower Manhattan just months before 9/11 permanently altered the meaning of that landscape. Type A’s intuitive and formalistic ventures became inextricably linked with current events, and the pair had to adjust. They followed up with a second “Insertions” series and “Barriers” (2002), addressing increased security measures stifling daily life in their “orange alert” city. Their work, which had pointed to concerns about conflict and codependence on intimate levels, suddenly expanded to discuss interplay between citizen and government, an exciting transformation.
Type A touches on these issues, but leaves us wanting to know more about the daily experience of “Team Building,” what led up to it, and the spirit of the duo itself. Tasteful euphemisms prevent full discussion of the prurient interests boiling beneath Type A’s immaculate surface. Freiman shies from the overwhelming sensuality of video works like “Bleed” (2003), in which the artists cut their palms and join hands in a convulsive grip just outside the visual frame. But the book is a much-needed introduction to Type A at a time when their interests are exponentially expanding. For 12 years they have produced work powered entirely by their own interpersonal tension, and one can only imagine what they might produce should they further open themselves to communal efforts.