In his 4½-minute film Foe (2008), artist Brendan Fernandes addresses the camera nonchalantly as he reads and rereads a selected text from J.M. Coetzee's novel of the same name. Included in the Guggenheim group exhibition "Found in Translation," the film features an off-screen acting coach curtly interjecting; she instructs him on how to properly pronounce the dialogue with an African (Kenyan), Canadian or Indian accent—Fernandes's own three ethnic backgrounds. Occasionally zooming in uncomfortably close to his mouth, the artist tries, and often fails, to properly articulate the phrases. Pulling his lips apart with his fingers or moving his tongue this way and that, we are privy to the almost comical distortions of ethnic stereotype.
Having installed a multicolored luminescent dance floor, Untitled (Dance Floor) (2000), on MoMA's outdoor terrace in 2000, the Polish-born artist Piotr Uklanski took to a supplementary leaflet to offer a self-evident polemic: "Entertainment/art-please tell me what the difference is." Since the 1990s, Uklanski has made a career out of that thin line. With an almost Duchampian disregard for art with a capital A, he's infiltrated museum and gallery spaces with the guilty pleasures of consumer culture-pop music, cinema, commercial imagery. For Untitled (Twin Moons) (1999), he tethered a giant, floating helium balloon filled with tungsten light to PS1. Untitled (The Full Burn) (1998) featured a man at MoMA briefly bursting into theatrical flame-effects. And with his iconic dance floor, whose thumping dance music and tacky design offered a gauche retort to the museum's cool, modernist genealogy. The work looked to create common social space and unearth vested spatial issues of class.
Beginning this past Wednesday, five pianists take turns playing the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony upside down in MoMA's vast atrium. For the museum's hourly re-staging of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla's Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano (2008), each pianist stands in a small circle carved into the center of an early 20th-century Bechstein grand piano. Hunched over the keyboard, the performers play the score from the opposite direction while shuffling the altered instrument across the space-an awkward dance negotiated between pianist and object.
One of two works in Tino Sehgal's recent exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York featured one male and one female actor, straddling one another on the museum's rotunda. As they changed positions, his hand reaching up her back or her face grazing his, artists Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly recorded the movement comprising The Kiss (2006) in real time. The performance was—unsurprisingly, considering Sehgal's past as a dancer—rather tightly choreographed. The artists' auditory score of the work sounds something like this: "Her right knee on floor standing on left foot, his left knee on floor standing on right foot, facing each other, his right hand around back of her neck..." At that time, Gerard and Kelly were completing the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, and found the work's gender-specific pronouns problematic. They re-performing the work at Volta Art Fair, among other locations, using a couple or trio of homosexual males, re-titled You Call This Progress? (2010).
This same score is the foundation for the artists' most recent work, performed at The Kitchen in New York. Ideological Formation (2010) opened with Gerard and Kelly's recorded Sehgal score, played over the black box sound-system. Three variously sized, mass-produced white boxes lay on a bare stage, two of them concealing dancers. Moving across the floor and interacting on stage, the two boxes finally tipped over and two dancers spilled out. The choreography that followed integrated simple, pedestrian movements, militaristic drills, and gestures that evoked voguing. About midway through the dance, the sound of Kelly's voice reading the score was overwhelmed by Madonna's song "Material Girl," inflecting the work with the pop star's paean to consumerism and materialism. The queer politics that marked You Call This Progress? were here broadened, vis-à-vis a Minimalist vernacular, to question the confluences of identity, capitalism, and commodification.
Two slide carousels, 80 slides each, approx. 9-minute loop. Courtesy Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.