Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kate Gilmore at the Whitney Biennial

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.



  1. I am not familiar with how video is made but I agree with you the the film quality is impeccable. There was more damage done to the walls than to her physically but psychologically the personal affects are palpable as she struggles to make her way in the art world as well as the physiologically metaphor of endurance in it. I think to a somewhat lesser degree, while still applicable, its about woman's fight for equality. I find this multimedia performance works as an unintentional installation too as it points in some broader sense to the present discomfort of our political culture. This piece would have had more feminist resonance had it been done 30 or 40 years ago but I do believe that she is excavating the modernist era of the 60's and 70's for her ideas. I find her piece has more universal relevance especially in light of the the curatorial premise of the show regarding "anxiety and optimism of the moment" which she fulfills successfully bridges in her endeavor as she addresses a multiplicity of issues while demonstrating how she is central to her performance work.

  2. Standing Here, by Kate Gilmore,

    Erte, it is a great response to finding a piece at the Whitney Biennial that you were effected by. Your description of her process of real kicks and grunts to break through the confined space is detailed and articulated. I differ in my viewing of seeing a woman (the artist) “brutal and sympathetically painful to watch,” I never felt like I was doing anyone a favor or guilty of watching the video projection. The museum declaring her clothes, feminine clothes is a bit lazy and obvious. Maybe the hindrance is not the clothes she wears but the wall and confine space with the goal of shutting off that ubiquitous eye of the camera (which of course, is the eye of the viewer…) I still find it difficult to get passed the old cliché, Look, I’m a woman trapped in a box, see! Your dead on about the total installation (movie set) of the work. It may be a new feature in how she presents her work and in this case, it was welcomed. Now reflecting on her piece at the Biennial and many others may be erotic more than anything. I noticed you said the shaft to name the space she is breaking. It’s great to see young blood combining elements into a work. We’re have to wait and see what she does for an encore!