Kate Gilmore's labored ascent documented by her video and sculpture installation Standing Here, on view at the Whitney Biennial, is brutal and sympathetically painful to watch. Filmed from above a narrow shaft with four solid white walls, the video tracks her breaking in and climbing upward, toward the camera, to manually end the recording. She forcefully (probably painfully) kicks, punches, elbows, and rips holes in the walls to make hand and foot holds, all while dressed in a red and white polka-dot dress, black stockings, black gloves, and black heels. As declared by the museum, the "feminine clothes" are meant to be a hindrance to completing the task, injecting a feminist rhetoric*. However, she doesn't appear to be held back, busts that sheet rock like a construction worker, and makes steady progress up the shaft to the camera. It's not the clothes, but the wearer, that matters; a moral implied by the work.
The sculptural aspect of this installation is proof of the performance. In her private little room at the biennial, the structure subjected to her blows stands as a column, and a peek inside reveals the debris and destruction that correspond with the video. This aspect is auxiliary, though, and weak as an art object by itself. Rather, it's like a used movie set and operates as reference for material, scale, and object-specificity — certainly not integral to putting the work across.
Standing Here follows suit with most of her previous work. The format being: she gives herself a physically challenging task, wears brightly colored clothes not suited for manual labor, sets up a camera, and sees it through. They are conceptually guided performances with masochistic and feminist tones, and a straightforward presentation. Her demeanor is earnest and choices of color light hearted, which is a refreshing change from the more severe historical precedents dealing with these issues (Nauman and Abramovic, for example).
Her inclusion in the biennial, and subsequent subsidization, seems to have prompted a move from a DIY look to the more institutionalized aesthetic of seamless white, putting her actions in the 'white cube' with a sterilizing effect. This heightens awareness of technique and technology, and allows little video problems, specifically auto focus pumping and a mid-take zoom adjustment by the camera operator, to undermine the project's seriousness.
All this being said, the work is exciting to watch. There's some suspenseful expectation for her to fall, or bleed even (no question she'll get to the top). Most of all, there is a sympathetic corporeal sensation in watching and hearing the video. Her strength and tolerance for pain is felt in the gut, and the dull thud of unyielding sheet rock under the blow of her bare elbow resonates in the chest.