"I Remember": Gerard & Kelly
One day in late 2018 I got a letter in the mail, a dreaded jury summons. But it wasn’t for any ordinary jury duty, it was for “grand” jury duty. I’d heard of it—mostly when some high profile, white collar criminal gets nailed by an indictment—but didn’t really know what made it grand. Super special? VIP? Canapés and champagne? It’s more like watery coffee and chopped salad, if the state of the Brooklyn courthouse is any indication. It’s like the LaGuardia of the criminal justice system, except covered in wood veneer. When I went in for the first time I made mental note of the sad lot of mismatched office chairs in the courtroom, thinking, is it really so difficult to find decent, non-hideous chairs? It was like a Salvation Army with “In God We Trust” writ large over the judge’s seat, flailing at something noble.
A common misconception about grand jury duty is that you can get out of it, like by claiming you’re a racist against white people or are the reincarnation of Liz Taylor in the flesh. It doesn’t work unless you’re blessed with a stupid baby or are a powerhouse partner in a law firm. If you don’t fit those two criteria, you’re tasked with serving two weeks, two months, or for all eternity. Another misconception is that you determine someone’s guilt at trial. You don’t sit at trials. You determine whether a prosecutor has sufficient evidence to prove that someone likely committed a crime and should go to trial, something called “probable cause” (a much lower standard of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt” required for and you don't hear a defense. It’s a little bit like determining whether someone is guilty-ish; you’re not given enough information to make a judgment call, but just enough so you can assume a judgment could—I don’t know, maybe, perhaps, conceivably—be made. This half-story presentation of facts is why the vast majority of federal cases end up in an indictment, and also why, in 1985, former chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, Sol Wachtler, famously claimed “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, if that’s what you
I entered the downtown Brooklyn courthouse at 9 A.M. on my first day of patriotic duty to find a queue of endless switchbacks, as the filthy hoi polloi waited to clear security. Funny enough, one row in front of me was Anne, a neuroscientist who had been in conversation with two artist friends of mine, Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly—who together form the duo Gerard & Kelly—about potentially collaborating, since the artists’ work revolved around turning memories into performance scores, and she, well, studied memory. They had met when Gerard & Kelly were in residence at Pioneer Works. While the collaboration never came to be, the exhibition of theirs that I organized did, called CLOCKWORK, and the show had just ended a couple months before seeing her at court. The timing was uncanny; I hadn’t seen her in years. We kept walking past each other as we inched towards security, making awkward eye contact. One row behind me, meanwhile, was Ralph, a guy I used to hook up with in Red Hook years ago; he fell asleep once jerking off, wasted, as I sucked his toes. He also has the notable distinction of being the only man whose dick I’ve ever thrown up on while deepthroating. He and I had been drinking heavily at a bar in Red Hook, naturally, and we went around the corner to fool around, picking up an absurdly large bottle of beer on the way. At that time, Red Hook had yet become so gentrified that bike trails snaked their way down all the side streets; they were basically empty, save for the occasional passing car and parked four-wheeler. He stood in the shade of a tree and took out his dick, which I sucked on hungrily, my chin pushing into his balls each time I went down on him. He started skull-fucking me, which was hot; there’s nothing sexier than being on your knees getting skull-fucked. It was a little intense though, and I caught chunks rising in my throat. I didn’t take his cock out in time, and a bit landed on it. He batted it away quickly with his fingers, muttering lustily, “That was hot.”
We were too preoccupied with our naughty little street porn to notice a police car driving by, oops. We probably looked shady, so naturally they pulled over and jumped out of the vehicle, and we were forced to sit on the curb with the cruiser’s blindingly bright headlights trained on us while they took their sweet time running our IDs. We were like a pair of slutty, gay Hester Prynnes on parade. Cars drove by here and there; I practically waved. He, however, was freaking out, muttering something about getting a lawyer. “Don’t be stupid, they’re not putting us in jail,” I said, rolling my eyes. This wasn’t my first rodeo with the police (Cop: “Sir, are you urinating?” Me: “Yes, what does it look like I’m doing?” Cop: “Is that a drink in your cup?” Me: “Yeah, it’s a margarita!!”). “They’re just gonna give us tickets,” I told him. Sure enough, they gave us open container violations for the beer, a case-in-point of the benefits of white privilege. “Whatever else you were doing,” one said sternly, as if giving a wink, “bring it home.”
Back at the courthouse, Ralph and I caught up.
“Remember the time we almost got arrested?” I asked him as we crossed paths in the queue, waxing nostalgic.
“Of course! How could I forget?”
“Where are you living now? Are you still married to that guy?”
“No, we broke up. I’m in Bed-Stuy now. Are you still in Red Hook?”
“Yeah, I’m like an old barnacle. Never leaving.”
We continued our conversation in the courthouse. Anne and I also caught up, talking a bit about Gerard & Kelly. Both of my jury pals, however, were eventually dismissed (Anne because she had two children, and Ralph, I dunno, because he was a gay yoga instructor), while I was sentenced to two weeks. I groaned.
Every day was a blur of time slowing down to endless, boring agony. The courtroom was windowless, and the look of the place was throwback 70s, down to the snack machines, which doled out chips seemingly from an era before “natural” was a word describing more than trees.
While there was a WiFi connection that kept us plugged in to the outside world, the inside was like a hushed anechoic chamber. The days were mostly marked by long periods of waiting, punctuated by brief bursts of energy as young prosecutors swooshed in, slamming briefcases of papers on their desk, and us jurors snapped to attention. Flipping through our blue books, we often asked each other which case this or that was, as each one sometimes came in two to three times over several days until it came time for a vote. “Which one is this?” I’d turn and ask an adjacent juror. “The eBay guy who was mugged.” “Oh, right, thanks.” At first, the legalese was near indecipherable, with first degree, second degree, and third degree charges sounding nearly the same. We often asked the prosecutors to repeat themselves slowly, because they would not, and legally could not, just state the accusation in plain English. It became clear they had to deal with new grand juries all the time, who were not yet practiced in stomaching—or noticing—the nuanced differences in legal jargon so confusing as to be almost impossible to understand for non-lawyers. Eventually, we became more skilled at listening.
One particular case stood out from the rest—a hate crimes charge. Its prosecutor had a distinct, sing-songy voice so theatrical it made us all laugh whenever she strode in, as if it was just another sunny day in the neighborhood of hate crimes. In this instance, she marched into the courtroom spitting out the rote, rehearsed announcement “caaaaaase number 21430, New York…versusss Jeffersonnnn,” drawing out the syllables for emphasis as if trying to make the more prosaic parts of her job entertaining. She slammed her briefcase down and looked up, her eyes closed as if it pained her to be so officious. “Calling the witness, Adele Brooks.” A young, black teenager took the stand.
“Can you tell me what happened the night of November 12th?”
In a halting, tentative voice, Adele replied, “I was walking home from a party.”“What time of night was this?” the prosecutor asked curtly.
“Um, around 1:30am.”
“And what happened next?”
“I was walking past these two guys, and one of them called me a dyke.”
“And then what?” She turned and walked towards us, her eyes following her feet as if deep in thought.
“I kept going, trying to avoid them.”
“And then what.”
At this point, the young woman began to cry. “They said, ‘Come here dyke.’”
“Can you tell the jury what happened next?”
“I walked up to them slowly. Then they punched me in the face.”
“And then what?”
“I fell to the ground, then they grabbed my hair and pulled me up, then spit in my face.”
“Where were you when this happened, exactly?”
“Right next to their car.”
“What happened after that?”
“They slammed my nose into the driver’s side window, near the rear-view mirror.”
“I…I was in shock, and just…just kind of stumbled back, holding my nose.”
“Did they say anything to you after that?”
“’Stay the fuck off this block, you fucking dyke,’” She stammered.
“Did you suffer any injuries?”
“My nose was broken, and my right eye swelled so much I could barely open it,” she said, her face streaked with moisture. Looking at her, she seemed both agonized and embarrassed. You could still see the remnants of a black eye, but the swelling was nearly gone.
“What did you do after this encounter?”
“I went home and told my sister, who called the police.”
During her testimony, I looked away most of the time, staring at my blue book as if trying to crawl into a hole. I had a pretty easy time as a gay guy in high school, luckily, but when I was new in New York I was assaulted twice; one time I was punched in the face by a group of kids while returning to my apartment from the corner bodega. I fell to the ground, and they kicked me several times in my kidneys and stole my six-pack of beer. I went to the ER after my piss ended up bloody. This was in East Harlem. The other time was the day after I moved from East Harlem to Red Hook. A group of teens followed me from the subway, then threw a rock in my face. It hit one of my eyebrows, causing blood to gush down my eyes and nose. I could barely see when they surrounded me, demanding my iPhone. I was only able to get away when a stranger pulled up in their car, swung open the door, and told me to get in. They followed the kids while I called the police, who showed up in force at a local, Chinese fast-food place where the group had ordered takeout like a bunch of dummy dumbs. The hottest EMT I’ve ever seen showed up to look at my wound, like a Ken Barbie from my dreams, a fit knight in shining armor—he was a former Bertolt Brecht scholar, no less! I was smitten. The cut required two stitches and left the hair of my right eyebrow permanently scarred. He told me I would always have to deal with that shit in Red Hook. Luckily, he was wrong. While neither incident was directly attributable to me being gay, it certainly felt like that was the implication. Upon hearing her testimony, an overwhelming sense of sadness and anger washed over me as I recounted what it felt like to be victimized, though certainly I had it easier than her. Nonetheless, you’re forever changed afterwards, with a lingering fear of strangers that lasts a long time. It’s really a terrible feeling. My eyes grew watery as I stared at my shoes. After she and the prosecutor left the courtroom, I looked over at the other jurors. “Jesus,” I said, “that was brutal.”
In 2014, the Guggenheim acquired three performance artworks for their permanent collection out of the one hundred and thirty-three “objects” they purchased that year: Tania Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper #6 (Havana Version) (2009), Roman Ondak’s do not walk outside this area (2012), and Gerard & Kelly’s Timelining which was one of the most moving performances I’d seen in recent memory. In fact, I think the piece even made me cry, which is rare for someone who sees so much artwork—much of it mediocre—that it makes me glaze over like a fresh shot of Botox; a painting could punch me in the face and I probably wouldn’t blink. Typically, if I like something, I nod in approval, or mutter, “This is nice.” Rarely do tears run down my cheeks. It’s truly embarrassing to admit that one time I had to leave the Whitney’s Jeff Koons retrospective, bawling, after seeing that monumental sculpture of a kitten in a sock; the curator, Scott Rothkopf, had built it up to an emotional crescendo, as a charged metaphor for the pain Koons suffered when his then-wife, Italian porn-star La Cicciolina, abducted their son. Another time, I broke down looking at a bunch of thread at my feet, which Olga Balema had stretched around nails drilled into the floor at Bridget Donahue Gallery, creating a kind of crisscrossing rat nest. One careless step and the whole thing would’ve unraveled—literally a threadbare existentialism. Sometimes it’s a little hard to pinpoint what it is, exactly, that’s so affecting. In between calling various art critics “very stupid,” the withering art historian Rosalind Krauss once said in the New Yorker, “Presumably one gets involved with this rather particular, rather esoteric form of expression because one has had some kind of powerful experience with it…you must have at some point been ravished, been seduced, been taken that still rings true.
My emotional encounter with Timelining occurred at venerable New York non-profit The Kitchen, during the performance-exhibition’s opening reception on March 18, 2014. Gerard & Kelly solicited “partnerships” of various stripes to perform the piece. There was a gay, male couple; a straight, male-female couple; and perhaps most arresting, two mother and daughter pairs, among other close relationships. Working with each performer, Brennan and Ryan helped them craft a unique “chronology” of memories, starting from observations in the present moment and going back in time to birth. As stipulated in the Timelining Tool Kit, a seventy-five-page document that defines how, when, and for how long the piece is performed—and which every owner of the work receives, including the Guggenheim—memories are jogged by free writing prompts that begin with “I remember,” such as, “Has anyone in your family died during your lifetime? If so, write that down. And if you remember, write down when,” “Tell me about the time you met your partner (i.e., the person with whom you are performing Timelining). Be as detailed as possible,” “Write for ten minutes beginning every sentence or new thought with ‘I don’t remember.’ This is another angle, the underside of memory. Go. (10 minutes),” and “Tell me what you remember of your sexual experiences. Begin every sentence or new thought with ‘I remember.’ Go. (10 minutes).”
After several days of various memory compilations, a final chronology, or score, is made for the performance itself. Walking side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, each pair moves in a wide circle, keeping their eyes on the horizon, their peripheral gaze observant. One partner begins with a current observation of something in the space, then methodically goes back in time, ticking off memories with an “in front of” before each recollection.
Now in front of the green dress / the arrival of the green dress in front of tripping / tripping in front of you started talking / you started talking in front of waiting / waiting in front of arrived to The Kitchen / arrived to The Kitchen in front of missed a bus / missed a bus in front of an apple and half a sesame bagel / an apple and a bagel in front of church bell alarm / church bell alarm in front of dream of not graduating from high school / my dreams in front of burning in Ukraine / Ukraine in front of phone call from Mom /
When one performer forgets or pauses, they stop walking, and the other picks it up, starting with “Now” and similarly going back in time. One person’s memory may “trigger” the partner to start somewhere similarly in their own timeline, such as when “the other may have left off saying something about a phone call with his mother. This performer will begin with an item in the chronology that is about a mother, a phone call, or the rotary phone in her grandfather’s bedroom”; shared memories also may provoke one or the other partner to walk their circle in another direction; and at any time, either member of the pair may branch off impulsively into a a kind of rudimentary choreography in the vein of Judson Dance Theater, that West Village movement in the 1950s and 60s that intentionally tried to “de-skill” dance so, in theory, anyone could do it.
As specific as these directives are on paper, to the lay observer watching this unfold in real-time, the effect is that of an almost trance-like, call-and-response interplay between two people who often share experiences that are sometimes vague, sometimes boring, sometimes very personal, and sometimes involve collective cultural touchstones, such as 9-11 or the Challenger explosion. In that sense, while the “score” is specific to each partnership, it’s also specific to all. This collective buy-in is, in my opinion, where a lot of the piece’s power derives.
Slumped against the wall, I watched Timelining play out for maybe an hour. It was being performed by one of the mother-daughter pairs, Lissy Vomáčka and Anna Vomáčka. The walls and floor were painted a flat, almost glaring white. Two vertical pieces of thin, floppy metal sheet rested side-by-side against a wall, like a static, sculptural manifestation of a pair. Anna began first while Lissy stood stationary. Walking almost militarily in a circle around the room, Anna started, “Now…in front of woman with candy corn socks entered the space / candy corn socks entered the space in front of people coming and going / people coming and going in front of…telling you it was a crane and not a sculpture on the High Line.” At this point, Lissy joined her daughter’s circular rotation, occasionally looking at her daughter next to her and smiling. After a few beats, Anna stopped and Lissy started her score, “Me caring for you in front of I nursed you while I danced / I nursed you while I danced in front of Jan visiting me in dreams / Jan visiting me in dreams in front of coma for two and a half weeks / coma for two and a half weeks in front of Jan’s accident.” Occasionally glancing at her daughter, Lissy spoke these very personal, ostensibly painful memories in the most dispassionate, matter-of-fact way. While perhaps evidencing time’s ability to dull even the most visceral of moments, nonetheless this public sharing laid bare the performers’ vulnerability and kindled a kind of blisteringly direct intimacy that was somehow both mechanical and theatrical, veering wildly between intense recollections and ordinary observations. The large age gap between the two women—meaning that Lissy’s timeline was probably twenty years longer than Anna’s—made the inevitability, and finality, of time all the more apparent; for a large part of Lissy’s life, Anna wasn’t even a thought, let alone a breath. Trying to fathom Anna’s existence before she was born made her appearance on “stage” an even more powerful thing to witness, like something miraculous. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is.
Our lifetimes are short, and the performance, most of all, made one’s own mortality keenly apparent: we are only given a finite amount of seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years, and we tick them by without even realizing it. Timelining slowed this process down, making these “ticks” themselves something to make note of and not take for granted.
I first met Brennan and Ryan in 2010, when they were in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, a kind of intense, year-long immersion into critical theory for young artists, curators, and historians. I’ve often thought of it as the place where good art goes to die, as the glut of reading can sometimes infiltrate artists’ work, leaving nothing but jargon in its place (to be fair, at the time I was in my own theory-drenched boot camp in grad school, which killed my writing practice for several years). Brennan and Ryan seemed to be handling it pretty well, though.
Earlier in the year, pioneering performance artist Tino Sehgal staged his exhibition Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim Museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright building on Madison Avenue, creating quite a stir in the art world. Discounting bodies, there were no objects in the show, only performance. For the marquee work, This Progress (2006), museum visitors made their way up the building’s spiraling ramp talking to guides, or “interpreters” as Sehgal calls them, one-on-one; the guides asked them questions about progress—what the word means to them personally and how they measure it—before passing visitors off to other, progressively older guides as one walked further up, starting with a child and ending, at the top of the atrium, with an Riffing off of conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, and Sol Le Witt—all preoccupied with language, its enactment in space, and a work’s execution by others in order to question the idea of ownership and authorship writ large—Sehgal pushed that legacy to its natural breaking point, though really it never broke but became like an apotheosis or climax of the ultimate conceptual end-game: an artwork that was totally immaterial. In this case, the artwork was all about the discussion and the two people having it. It only needed an artist to deem it a work, proper. Going through the performance myself, it kinda felt like a cross between a networking mixer and therapy.
Ironically, Sehgal’s This Progress was the first performance work ever to be acquired by the Gerard & Kelly would join this esteemed company four years later, when Timelining was acquired. The overlap doesn’t end there. Also included in Sehgal’s 2010 show was Kiss (2002), in which the artist combined various amorous poses from art history to form a constantly unfolding choreography for a man and a woman who performed literally, in an ever-shifting tangle on the museum’s floor. Gerard & Kelly watched the performance from above, notating the movements aloud and recording their observations to create a score of art historical heteronormativity, or “compulsory as Brennan noted in an interview I conducted with them years later, describing the way straight couples are codified into art and culture at large. Gerard & Kelly’s “score” went 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.” Transposing this imperfect narration of movement onto a homosexual couple, Gerard & Kelly titled this new work You Call This Progress? implicitly critiquing Sehgal by reperforming Kiss in their own, queer terms. The performance was later turned into a subsequent work, Reusable Parts/Endless Love (2011), in which four dancers, standing alone, listen to this same score of Kiss on headphones, speaking the choreography aloud. Inevitably they’d make mistakes, such that Gerard & Kelly’s own mistakes were doubled.
The piece then became about the mistake itself—the mistake in transmission, the slip in communication, and the imperfections of a score. While they spoke, the four dancers performed both male and female roles, collapsing the opposite genders into one. As Brennan noted further,
In Reusable Parts/Endless Love we were really thinking about how you queer a space. For one thing, we had simultaneous events happening so the spectator was always missing something. There were also moveable walls throughout the space. The performance insisted upon a partial view or an oblique relationship to the event. In and of itself, that formally queers the space. With Timelining, we were thinking more about queering time. How is time also
Initially, I had proposed that Timelining enacted something of an anti-chronology, in that the performance score jumped around from big moments to small ones in ways that defied logic. Why is a humdrum phone call from Mom in there next to an uncle’s suicide? They don’t seem to be equivalent in scale, let alone content. But in hindsight, I think it would be better to think of it as a wild chronology. Gerard & Kelly’s timelines don’t make sense really. They’re not always understandable to the lay public, they’re erratic, they start and stop, and they make time queer, as in not only strange and disorienting but politically different and rebellious in intent; relationships are not seen only in one way but many, while romantic partnerships are spread across sexual and gender lines, seeking greater representation for both. It is a wildness as theorist Jack Halberstam sees it,
challeng[ing] an assumed order of things from, by, and on behalf of things that refuse and resist order itself. Wildness names simultaneously a chaotic force of nature, the outside of categorization, unrestrained forms of embodiment, the refusal to submit to social regulation, loss of control, the unpredictable. Wildness…disorders desire and desires
One of the more memorable nightmares to make it into my Rolodex of fucked-up dreams—besides the one about the elderly Haitian man bursting out of a closet to sedate me during a threesome—is undoubtedly the invading, straight breeders who broke into my apocalyptic compound in the forest. The building was a prison-like stack of dirty concrete slabs ringed by surveillance cameras and barbed wire, though a tower at the top was something like a glass box. Its floor-to-ceiling windows offered panoramic views of the surrounding jungle, which was so dense light could hardly pass through. The woods were a suffocating presence, pressing up against the structure as if trying to infiltrate its walls. We rarely ventured too close to the glass, lest “they”—the straight people—might see us, if they were there. To keep as low a profile as possible, on sunny days I’d crawl along the floor to the window’s edge, peering out on my belly at fog floating above the treetops, watching for signs of movement. Mostly, there were just birds. At night, we kept all the lights off. Surrounded by an opaque, inky blackness, you could stand comfortably at the edge, peering into an impenetrable outside. We lived like this for close to a year in perpetual hiding, eating reserves of canned food and playing board games to pass the time, while one of the fifteen of us always kept an eye on the CCTV screens, watching for anything and hoping for nothing. The Normals were feared.
A few AI creatures traipsed around the structure’s perimeter in defense, though they were old and clunky. A fragile sense of safety—perhaps complacency—set in.
One day the alarms went off, tripped by movement of objects outside that fit a human profile. Ben ran into the room, having first seen—in grainy black and white—a group of people emerge silently from the dark understory and approach the building, stepping over fallen logs and clumps of branches with focused conviction. Minutes later, another camera showed them inside an inner courtyard.
“What’s going on? Is this real?” I practically screamed over the sirens.
“How did they get in?”
“I don’t know, but we need to hide.”
“Maybe shut off the alarm so they don’t think anyone’s here.”
“There’s no time for that,” he blurted in a panic, sweeping empty cups and cans into the trash in a futile attempt to erase any evidence of habitation. I glanced out the window from where I stood in the kitchen and could see them walking across the wall below, in more or less single file. “Fuck,” I muttered to myself. My sister Jenny and I quickly glanced around the room and spied two large cabinets of chemicals that were mostly empty. She got into one and I crouched in the other, pulling the door shut. I waited, listening to the ear splitting alarm and watching the thin ray of light between the cabinet doors, watching for movement. There was a rustle, and a shadow passed in front of the thin sliver.
“Wait,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t real. I’m dreaming.” I opened the door and got out of the cabinet. Three men and their three pregnant wives, all white, were standing at the far end of the room, looking behind the couch. They turned to face me. One of the women lovingly placed both her hands on her distended belly and cocked her head, her face registering a kind of disapproving pout.
“I’m taking a shower” I said, matter of fact. I turned and headed down a hall towards the bathroom. I could hear them shuffling behind me. “This is so stupid,” I muttered, “I’m dreaming, and this isn’t real.”
When I reached the bathroom door, I turned around to face one of the women. She was probably eight months pregnant, and so big she waddled as she walked, like she was about to give birth to a manatee. She wore a sunny yellow muumuu that barely covered her baby bump, which was so large it seemed like touching it might make her explode into a torrent of blood, amniotic fluid, and screams. Her straight, blonde hair was styled with all the tact of a rushed ironing job in a cheap motel room.
“This isn’t real,” I said to her. She looked at me then suddenly went for my throat, squeezing it so tightly I couldn’t breathe.
I woke up in a sweat.
The main premise of CLOCKWORK, Gerard & Kelly’s summer, 2018 exhibition at Pioneer Works, was how to conceive of relationships—and living in general—differently. In many ways it was a logical extension of Timelining, which not only tried to present a variety of couples that weren’t “normal,” but also to queer time structurally. With CLOCKWORK, they specifically turned to architecture as a framework. The physical exhibition revolved around a massive video installation called Schindler/Glass (2017), in which the duo filmed dancers in and around two trailblazing, modernist homes that sheltered radically nontraditional living arrangements. The Schindler House (1921-22), in West Hollywood, was built in a pinwheel shape for two couples to live in communally. Each person had a room of their own to “express his or her individuality,” and a shared kitchen and patio areas, along with sleeping quarters on the The other house was Philip Johnson’s famed Glass House (1945-49), the walls of which are, as the name implies, entirely see-through; in and of itself this was a political statement, since Johnson lived there with his same-sex partner, David It became something of a safe space for homosexuals to hang out in, out in the open—though the ironic twist is that the building is surrounded by dense woods, thus making the space still something of a closet.
Johnson modeled his house on Mies van der Rohe’s equally striking Farnsworth House (1945-51), a horizontal box of glass floating 5 feet 3 inches above a wooded landscape (the nearby Fox River flooded frequently), framed by delicate, thin white I-beams. Mies built it for Dr. Edith a single woman, which, if you can imagine then, was unusual. The building also made an appearance in CLOCKWORK, in the form of a sculptural installation of freestanding glass panes sandwiched by chunky subwoofers that held them in place. Sized to match the panes in the house, they vibrated as the subwoofers emitted a low rumble, a recording of the Fox River which the artists distorted to an almost unrecognizable bass signal. The effect was ominous, like the panes might shatter at any time, and perhaps reflected some of the bad energy around the house. Farnsworth hated living there, complaining in House Beautiful that “I don’t keep a garbage can under my sink…because you can see the whole ‘kitchen’ from the road on the way in here and the can would spoil the appearance of the whole house. So I hide it in the closet farther down from the sink.” This is something of a shame; when they met at a party there was fireworks, with Mies telling her that, “I would love to build any kind of house for you.” At one point, they sued each other over cost It was this kind of lurid gossip that made CLOCKWORK, in part, so fun; it was an exhibition of stories, of relationships, that also made vivid the real stakes of an almost utopian, nascent modernist movement.
There was, naturally, a performance involved, titled after the show. It also entailed a score, but this one was structured around timestamps indicating the twenty-four hours in a day, beginning at noon and ending at 11 A.M. Within this ordering system, chronologies were even more scrambled, with each timestamp containing between ten and twelve memories from different years, in no particular order. At Pioneer Works, the performance always involved two dancers, and began between 6 and 7 P.M., when on sunny days the light was spilling onto the floor from the long, nave-like space’s two rows of windows. A grid of twelve, framed prints at one end of the gallery showed where on the floor the light fell throughout the twelve months of the year. The performance always began with one person resting on the floor, in the light from one of the windows, and the choreography, in part, was synced to the “light show” of the sun traveling through the space, like an abstract map of planetary movement—an unfathomable timeframe stretching millenia, against which our lives are but a blip, if even.
While one performer keeps time by slapping their thigh, the other recites their score. Hilary Clark’s went something like, “12 P.M.…height of sun…lunch with Elizabeth, and strawberries. 1 P.M. 2 P.M.…I arrive. 8 P.M.…the tone of our voices blending. 8 P.M.…silent commitment…staring at you from wing to wing.” At a certain point, both people move to the back of the space and start reciting their Clockwork scores simultaneously, moving as they do so. Ryan himself performed at Pioneer Works several times. Sitting on the floor watching him one Saturday in June, the space was empty, save for two other viewers. Like Timelining, Clockwork wasn’t amplified, so his voice was sometimes hushed, giving the proceeding a very intimate quality.
A pair of thighs the color of cherry wood in the middle of the afternoon
A piazza in Parma, a plane strikes the World Trade Center
Rushed Italian voices
Scouring your neck for the marks of some anonymous other
You whispered—this is our first time in a body of water together
Laughing in syncopated rhythms
Farmer’s Iced Tea and joke books
While he uttered these lines, he went through a series of quick, slightly percussive movements—a few turns of the head, a bow of the torso, a slap on his back thigh, and back up again, then a turn.
Counting pubic hairs in the workout room
The empty black hills where no trees grew
Bleached kitchen floor
A turn to the left. He looked up.
Falling asleep with your head on my chest
I knew I loved you then
Luther Vandross on the radio // "Two hearts...two hearts that beat as one...our lives have just begun....forever, I’ll hold you close in my arms...I can’t resist your charms....And love, I’ll be a fool for you...I’m sure, you know I don’t mind…"
Sequences were repeated, then chopped up, sped up, and slowed down.
We fucked like criminals
Ate strawberries in the dark
The sun had already passed your window
He spoke as if only speaking to himself. It had the uncanny effect of a cosmic conjuring, or a kind of spell.
You broke up with me on the phone to Paris
Waiting for the whir of a passing
9 P.M. I’m at a bar with my best friend, Natalia, and her new roommate, Ian. It’s his first day at their place, which is around the corner. He’s American, but fresh from Spain, where he’s been living for several years. Heart’s Crazy On You is playing on the sound system—which is perfect, and I’m belting it—and the bar is crowded, each stool taken. Loud chatter makes everyone talk even louder. Handfuls of people are hovering over the bar on one end, sipping on beers, doing shots. The neon Pabst and Budweiser signs hanging in the window impart a reddish glow on tables full of people, announcing that this is a popular dive bar and everyone’s buzzed by now. The table to my left is playing Jenga; when the whole thing tumbles they shout loudly. It’s a Friday night, and the air is electric.
For weeks the running joke between Natalia and me is that I couldn’t wait to fuck her new roommate—sight unseen—since he’s also gay, and everyone knows that gay men always fuck each other, no matter what. It’s like a primal urge that man has yet to tame despite all the advances in science. There is no pill yet that curtails sluttiness, only one that prevents HIV, so at least we’re not getting AIDS left and right. I could be bound and gagged, shackled in iron in a cage, dropped into a vat of concrete then dried, dropped into the ocean two hundred miles from land, and resting in the dark of the seafloor two miles down, and my ass would still find a cock to sit on. The parting of the sea has met its match.
Over brunch one day:
Me: “Wait, so when does your new roommate move in?”
Natalia: “Next month.”
Me: “I can’t wait to fuck him.”
Natalia: “You better fucking not. I’ll kill you.”
Shopping at IKEA, looking at a set of summery, striped hand towels, FOSKÅN:
Me: “Doesn’t Ian move in soon?”
Me: “Oh my God, I just can’t wait to fuck the shit out of him.”
Natalia: “Fuck you!”
That was a line I was told I couldn’t cross. Fucking roommates makes everything really complicated.
Of course I crossed it, because luckily he ended up being really cute. He was short and muscular, and had a doofy demeanor. He was also an artist, and I always fall for those. Dancers too. That’s probably what drew me to Gerard & Kelly in the first place, because everyone knows artists and dancers are fucking perverts. Ian also had a boyish, handsome mug, with a square jaw, proportional features, and a devilish smile. I’d imagine a lot of guys crushed on him. At the bar he was quiet but laughed at my jokes and my narration of the time I spent a night in jail, in The Tombs. I had been sitting on a bench in a park in Manhattan, which incidentally had a playground that I didn’t pay any heed to. I didn’t realize there was a law against that, unless you were accompanying a child—children ruin everything. I was reading an art magazine and drinking coconut water, likely hungover, waiting for a haircut appointment. There were a few guys on the surrounding benches, all pedophiles. Some cops sauntered in, ran everyone’s IDs, and let everyone else go with a warning, one by one, except me. Since I was last, I sensed something was wrong.
“Did you know you have a warrant out for your arrest?”
“Oh. Was it for an open container violation?” It just dawned on me I never paid or showed up in court for another infraction I got years before, when I had joined a friend smoking just outside the door of a gallery I used to work at, beer in hand, the same place where I first met Gerard & Kelly, actually.
“Yes, from three years ago. We’re really sorry, but we’re going to have to handcuff you and bring you downtown. But don’t worry, it’s early on a Tuesday and you’ll be in and out in no time!”
I laughed, thinking this was totally hilarious, and I wished someone had been there to witness this, me, David Everitt Howe, getting arrested. A mother looked on in disgust as I was handcuffed and led out of the park. During my booking they took my mugshot, in which I looked really sexy, I must say, slightly grinning, amused, with my hair perfectly unkempt and my mustache giving off slight Jeffrey Dahmer vibes—which by then I had gathered maybe looked a little too pedophile-ish. I asked if I could have a copy. The cops laughed and asked if it was for my Mom. Ian, in turn, laughed at this. Later in the night, after we finished our drinks at the bar, we went upstairs to their apartment to hang. After Natalia went to bed, he and I were left alone on the couch. What do you think happens next in this story? The obvious. My hands went for his pants as we made out, where I groped his erection through the fabric.
We decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and make out in as many places as possible. It was a warm, balmy night, and the cobblestone streets of Red Hook were, as always, dreamily empty, with streetlights casting a woozy glow on vast expanses of nothingness leading to sweeping vistas of New York Harbor. Tugboats glided by with only their navigation lights visible against a dark sky, while the financial district glowed sentinel in the distance, as if keeping a watchful eye on its unruly neighbor across the channel. Red Hook has always seemed situated at the end of the Earth. At one point he climbed over a fence surrounding an old New York Dock Company warehouse, which formerly stored tobacco and cotton. Now, the building was abandoned and empty, destined for luxury condos. A year later he would roam its cavernous interior alone at night, high on heroin, somehow managing not to fall six flights down an empty elevator shaft. After he climbed over the fence, he slipped his dick through it and I sucked him off, looking left and right to make sure no one was around but enjoying the thrill. It wasn’t a big dick, but it was a nice size, and very, very hard. It practically pulsed in my lips. I didn’t barf this time, keeping my dick-sucking credentials intact. I stopped at one point to sniff his armpit as he pressed it up against the metal. I don’t really remember that last bit, but he wrote it down later in his journal as something of note.
Before meeting Ian I had never really wanted a boyfriend, and was always happily single. But something about him triggered a deep desire in me for companionship. Unfortunately, while he and I did have something of a romantic relationship, at least fleetingly, he fell for someone else, and my love for him—with all his dopiness and stupid smiles—went unrequited. To add insult to injury we maintained a close friendship, which was torturous. One night with Natalia we drank at the bar late at night and I let it all go, sobbing into my whiskey shot. The endless hookups and perpetual fear of commitment from anyone I went on dates with was starting to wear me down. It seemed that in New York at least everyone always had one foot out the door, waiting for something better. Or maybe I was just going about it wrong. I’m still not really sure why it took so long for me to be finally, happily partnered as I am now. Maybe it was just a matter of timing. In any case, I looked down at the wide, wood bar, my chest heaving with sobs. I was that drunk person who cries in public, the one everyone gawks at. Every bar has one at 11 P.M.
“You will find someone,” Natalia said while comforting me.
“What if I don’t? I’m going to die alone.”
“I will always be around.”
She and I also had a running joke that we were going to move to Cognac Drive in Fort Myers, Florida when we were in our sixties and suffering from alcohol-induced dementia, and open a bar in a trailer park called Cocktails “R” Us. We would grow old together with our partners or whomever, and she would develop a raspy smoker’s voice and I would relentlessly hit on and/or fuck our pool boy, who would always wear denim short shorts and tennis shoes, and nothing else. Cognac Drive was a place we discovered while typing in various kinds of alcohols into Google Maps as a kind of drinking game. It’s a real shithole, though the houses are quaint, in a way. I’d rather kill myself than live in the suburbs. At this rate of drinking though, I’m killing myself faster than I realize.
Speaking to a therapist one day about Ian, she asked me, in a kind of aha moment, “Do you reallywant a boyfriend, or do you think you should want one?” I had never thought of that before, the kind of latent pressure people feel to be partnered, to move in together, to get married, the whole rigamarole.
It’s so ingrained you don’t even realize how pernicious that subtle form of peer pressure is, which pervades advertising, movies, TV shows, and most of all your parents, despite their best intentions. The question changed my outlook forever.
Perhaps one of the most interesting questions Timelining and Clockwork pose, at least for me, is not only what memories compose a performer’s score, but more generally what experiences are committed to memory to begin with—what’s of note enough to “make it”—and what, by default, we forget. The process is complicated. Our hippocampus—which is far behind and a little below our eyes, in the brain—processes an infinite amount of stimuli every second of the day, and ultimately decides what’s entirely irrelevant (we can’t make mental note of everything at all times, that would drive us nuts); what’s useful for short-term memory, which lasts between fifteen and thirty seconds and is generally useful for carrying out tasks in the here-and-now; and what we will want to recall hours, days, and years from now, otherwise known as long-term memory. Long-term memories are split up into groupings that deal with automatic skills, generalized knowledge, and events that are specific to the individual, which are called episodic. Those are primarily what Timelining and Clockwork are concerned with. The hippocampus is ultimately like a big sorting machine, doling out different kinds of memories as needed. While short-term recollections don’t take up physical space in our brains (they’re “composed” of neural patterns), our long-term remembrances have permanent homes in the form of neurons and synaptic links. Whether or not you’re using a memory at any given time, its place in our mind always remains, though it does move over time from the hippocampus to other parts of the brain.
While more rudimentary things can be coded into long-term memory—like when you brushed your teeth this morning or the walk on the way to work—the hippocampus more effectively codes “important” moments. Often, these are either short-term memories that are used often or memories that have a lot of emotional My Dad’s last breath, for instance, will probably remain as vividly recorded as a photograph forever, or for someone else, the time they got into grad school or the birth of their child. Interestingly, in their scores, Gerard & Kelly harness both the humdrum and the extraordinary in equal measure. With Timelining specifically, each score usually begins with more lay observations in the present and proceeds to the more stand-out or impactful recollections from the far past, as if tracing a path from short-term to long-term memory-making in real-time.
Unlike Sigmund Freud, who thought that these recollections remain sacrosanct and as-is forever, buried deep in the subconscious, Elizabeth Loftus compares the brain’s memory storage to a set of drawers constantly being rifled through sloppily. When we remember something, the brain empties the drawers, scatters their contents, and then stuffs them back in almost willy-nilly. In the process, she claims, “Little details are added, confusing or extraneous elements are deleted, and a coherent construction of the facts is gradually created that may bear little resemblance to the original event.” Even a memory itself isn’t one thing, but a cluster of fragments pulled together to form a whole. And to form a whole when the picture is incomplete we fill in the gaps with inferences and insinuations, so that the memory “makes sense.” To back up this claim, Loftus wrote a whole book on various court cases in which memory was determined to be anything but There’s even a phenomenon that psychologists call “weapon focus,” where a victim remembers the more frightening moments of an event clearly while its peripheral edges remain such as how many chairs were in a room at the time a crime happened, or what an assailant was wearing while he was brandishing a gun—all details that are important in crime-solving but make eyewitness testimony all the more Does the hate crime victim I encountered in grand jury duty really remember the circumstances of her attack, aside from certain key moments—say, the color of the car that her face struck? Is even my retelling of the event, to the best of my abilities, very dependable at all?
In a way then, Gerard & Kelly’s whole project of queering time almost comes off as unnecessary, or simply an exercise in terms. They’re simply foregrounding what was already there: in its fundamental inadequacies and inherent disorder, the brain’s conception of time has always been queer. It was always, from the get-go, wilder than we could ever imagine.
While we like to think of time as some kind of predictable, stable chronology, it is anything but. Like the madeleine that Marcel Proust ate in In Search of Lost Time, dunked in tea, which precipitated a flood of memories spanning time and our memories are constantly being rearranged, like an image being broken down and built up again, changing a bit each instance. Time is as finite and dependable as our dreams and memories, which make a scramble of our lives being lived as the present becomes past faster than the blink of an eye, or an electrical current between neurons. As we age, we realize how much we haven’t done and what we haven’t been present for. Watching Timelining or Clockwork, we look for the omissions in between the lines, the fragments that didn’t make it.
As if to compensate for the limitations of his attention, Proust recorded nearly all of his bodily functions in He also sent back proofreading galleys to his publisher with no proofs actually done and nothing corrected, just additional text, spilling down the margins. His life’s work was about the spill—being ever more perceptive to the point of gratuitousness. The implication was that it was never enough. To philosopher Walter Benjamin, Proust had the “insight that none of us has time to live the true dramas we are destined for. This is what ages us. The wrinkles and creases in our faces are the registration of the great passions, vices, insights that call on us; but we the masters, were not
Gerard & Kelly, if anything, make this reality emotionally, palpably apparent, by framing our lives as a set of experiences of which the order isn’t important, the experiences are. If we don’t have those, what do we have? ♦
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