Regenerationby Katy Dammers
Gerard & Kelly | CLOCKWORK
Pioneer Works | May 31 – July 1, 2018
I head out, walking past the construction constantly climbing higher to block out the riverbank, then New Jersey, and finally the sun as it stretches skyward.
The artists Gerard & Kelly placed colorful vinyl across various window panes in Pioneer Works, shading the sunlight to emit a rainbow whose rays reflect the passing of the hours, a built-in sundial recalling Gordon Matta-Clark’s incursions along the Hudson River. During their yearlong residency at the Red Hook nonprofit Gerard & Kelly took a photograph at 4:33pm on the first day of each month that captured the evanescent light cast through the refurbished iron factory’s cutout windows, a striking portrayal of the simultaneously subtle and monumental forces of the earth’s rotation around the sun.
I watch the overhead monitor slowly count down until the C train approaches. Remembering that I’ve quickly forgotten what it was like to wait for the subway without any register of its comings and goings, how that time used to stretch in its possibility.
“Relationships like clockwork” was a phrase repeated in the video Schindler/Glass (2017) that makes up the centerpiece of CLOCKWORK, Gerard & Kelly’s exhibition, installation, and performance at Pioneer Works. Created with dancers from L.A. Dance Project, Anthony Bryant in yellow and Nathan Makolandra in blue interlocked like cogs in a clock. Makolandra reached around to clasp Bryant’s butt cheeks, only for Makolandra to slide down as Bryant quickly grasped under his armpits, supporting him as his legs splayed open. Moving through a series of movements marked by numbers—“4” brings the arms together as the backs of palms touch; “12” forms a diamond with arms overhead—they remained intertwined, their relationship walking a tight line between intimate ease and automated precision.
Waiting for the bus I get a text from 511123: *B61: arriving (+layover@term.) I work backwards to figure out how much time that will leave for me to see the show before the performance starts, the continual countdown.
In their ongoing project, Modern Living, that considers three iconic sites of modernist architecture (Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut; R.M. Schindler’s home in West Hollywood; and the Farnsworth home designed by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois) Gerard & Kelly reconsider the notion of the domestic in these homes designed for relationships that challenged traditional notions of family, marriage, and commitment. Created between 1922 and 1951 the homes straddle World War II, and are imbued with a sense of foreboding anxiety linked to the speeding up of time as labor grew increasingly automated, authoritarian leaders rose to power, and the threat of the atomic bomb loomed overhead. In each site the architects sought to preserve the hearth as the sacred center of the home even as their use of glass, open floor plans, and natural settings made them beacons of voyeurism, unable to shake off a lingering sense of malaise.
The windows are tinted as I stare blankly out—taking in Atlantic Avenue as we pick up speed, my reflection a darkened blur to the outside observer.
He was first seen reflected in a pain of glass, his attentive posture at a large desk recalling the emblematic Madison Avenue businessman, captive in a corner office cordoned off by breathtaking views. Yet when he stood up and turned, his pants fell down, quickly upending any ideas of productivity with sexual morays. Throughout the film the glass of the Johnson house and the cut-out-crevices of the Schindler home brought forth scopophilia, further supported by the voyeuristic lens of the camera that silkily moved among the dancers and skirted corners to alternatively provide glimpses of an artist in the distance, and the tender intimacies at hand.
I walk in and immediately gravitate towards the standing tripartite screens, appealing with their geometric multicolored designs and the names Chase and Schindler inscribed where the diamond shapes touch.
Wall texted noted that Schindler’s home was described as “arguably the first modern home ever built” and was created as a living space for him and his wife Pauline to share with Clyde and Marian Chase. Composed of four rooms—one for each person to “express his or her individuality”—along with a communal kitchen and garden patio, the design crafted in cool concrete integrates the inside and outside space. Its pinwheel-like structure also recalls the backyard pavilion of the Glass House whose uniform arch clusters radiate outwards, crafting a seemingly unending warren of passageways that carve new, modular spaces for relationships like that of Philip Johnson and his longtime partner David Whitney.
I head into the large darkened structure, whose composition of two curving panels recalls the hulking arcs of Richard Serra. Their elliptical shapes enclose two rectangular screens on which the video is projected. I have no idea how long this piece is, and quickly shuffle in to take in as much as I can until 6pm.
Julia Eichten and Rachelle Rafailedes moved together, chirping in unison the numbers 1 through 12 as they completed a sequence of short movements with a swing of the elbow to the right, a quick jump. These shots in the video intercut with the dancers lounging languorously in the grassy patio of the Schindler home, letting down their hair. Their unbraiding and untying it in an easy intimacy that belied a single categorization of their relationship—were they lovers, sisters, friends, or acquaintances?—the nearby the wall text described the dancers as “a family of siblings”, and the work itself seemed to reconsider this bond-stretching and recasting its traditional notions.
I thought the performance was supposed to happen now. I confirm on the website that it is the stated time, the given date. Nervous I might be missing it, I check in at the front desk and am told it won’t start until 6:45pm. I have time to watch the beginning now.
Dancers in dark suits were visible through the glass, with one raised arm as the hand of a clock counting down the hours while the other arm persistently beat at their side with military-like precision as the sun set behind them. In the video time had an authoritarian hold, its measurements cordoned off and accumulated in assertions of power that recall the brewing fascism of the 1930s. This exactitude is paralleled in Johnson’s geometric design and, perhaps not surprisingly, his own sentiments as revealed in a telltale letter written by Lincoln Kirstein to authorities. Composed while both men were serving in World War II—long before Kirstein would become a ballet impresario—he described that while Johnson had said, “I was number one on his list for elimination in the coming revolution,” since being in the army Johnson had “sincerely repented of his former facist beliefs [sic].” This letter, excerpted in Franz Schulze’s candid biography of Johnson, was included in a sculptural assemblage by Gerard & Kelly entitled Private—its title recalling both man’s rank in service and the secret of their homosexuality.
I slip into the back of the atrium as the video circles around to Eichten and Rafailedes weaving through a concrete structure floating atop a pond, Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored balls floating on the water behind the Philip Johnson glass house—a space not normally accessible on tours, only visible in the beyond.
There were moments throughout the video where dance in the foreground of the frame aligned with movement in the further reaches of the given perspective. This linkage, often employed as dancers transmitted movement in a cannon, recalled Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece (1971) in which dancers conveyed a sequence across downtown Manhattan. The movement quality throughout Gerard & Kelly’s video, with its fluid collapse and fold of the joints, also evokes Brown’s work—its easy efficiency conjuring the quick turnover of pistons in an industrial plant.
A warm breeze filters through the exhibition hall, fluttering a blue banner in front of two large panes of glass installed vertically like modernist monoliths.
Nearby wall text noted that Dr. Edith Farnsworth described her home designed by Mies van der Rohe as an “X-ray,” its glass structure immediately revealing its insides to the outside viewer. This transparency portended a sense of radical openness that, while letting in light and allowing an expansive view, when placed on the ground level also opens up the home, threatening to undercut its shielding function. While fragile and transparent, the glass itself retained a barrier—creating a lens that, however subtle, defined the viewer’s perspective. The glass panes making up sculptures in the atrium entitled skin and bones (2018) began to waver as the subwoofers supporting them emitted sounds of the Fox River that routinely floods the Farnsworth home. This quivering made it harder to read the text affixed on the glass window beyond, tacked onto the thick panes of Pioneer Works whose own cracks and condensation foreground their relationship to the world around them—there’s only so much they can keep out, and let in.
I’m not sure where the performance is taking place and repeatedly check my phone for the time as I scan the space, alert. As I see Ryan Kelly enter the space I think nothing of it, imagining he’s approaching Brennan Gerard across the room until he sits on the floor, and in contrast to us standing around gawking, shifts attention to himself.
Kelly patted his thigh, keeping time, as Hillary Clark undulated back and forth and gradually began to extol details—the time of day, what was eaten, a birth—that stacked together to evoke a sense of someone. As Kelly joined her, standing up to perform movements reminiscent of the 1-12 sequence included in the video, his own spoken details began to intersect with Clark’s. These moments of alignment recalled Timelining, a work I first saw when working at The Kitchen in 2014, in which various partners (lovers, twins, mother and daughter) circled the gallery space, telling points of their lives and other markers of time (political administrations, notable deaths, natural disasters) as they collided, moved parallel, and turned away—orbiting planets connecting by a shifting gravitational pull.
Joshua Lubin-Levy quickly steps forward as our clapping subsides, immediately eliding into his introductory remarks as the moderator for the evening’s discussion on the topic of relation. He notes that we are free to leave, adding with a laugh that we won’t be watched if we depart.
In Schindler/Glass, the dancers intoned the axiom: “the family is a system of regeneration”—evoking both a conservative, heteronormative register consumed with conception and a queer questioning of the construct of the family writ large as the partners split, recouple, and alternate. Theorist José Esteban Muñoz described straight time in his 2009 text Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity as a “here and now,” suggesting that queer time’s consideration of the “there and then” gave an opportunity to consider the “warm illumination of a horizon of potentiality”—a future utopia. Gerard & Kelly’s CLOCKWORK did just that—plumbing the alternative roots of modernism, an architectural style quickly coopted as the now ubiquitous corporate environment, in this moment riddled with resurfacing strains of fascism, the ever-accelerating pace of technology, and a political administration that is increasingly focused on traditional family values.
Looking back, Gerard & Kelly posited these iconic homes as sites of social gathering, their architecture designed to shelter relationships that challenged societal norms and yet were sheathed in glass, revealing the structures that sustained them and tempting others to watch.
KATY DAMMERS is Assistant Curator and Archive Manager at The Kitchen and also works as the General Manager for Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener. She is part of the inaugural Dance Writing Laboratory at the National Center for Choreography in Akron, Ohio.