The Gilmore Girls: Performance Art in Bryant Park

Friday, May 14th, 2010

What we have to work with: Seven women, dressed identically, pacing atop an eight-foot tall, ten-foot wide wooden cube in Bryant Park in two shifts for 10 hours a day all week. So, Kate Gilmore’s performance piece “Walk the Walk” is about working women. They’re trapped, or perpetually on display, or going quietly insane in their corporate cubicles, or something. The piece is intended to depict women collectively, and though Gilmore told the New York Times that diversity was a particular concern in “casting” them, age was evidently not a factor: They’re all under 35—reflecting about a third of working women.

When I saw them Tuesday, they wore canary yellow skirts, pink tops, and beige pumps–get-ups no New York working girl would likely be caught dead in. Their perplexing fashion semiotics are complicated by Gilmore’s observation that the yellow matches, er, taxicabs. More immediately, they looked like a bed of tulips come to life, an alluring sight that–to Gilmore’s credit–drew in viewers who might not otherwise approach a piece of performance art; they regarded the women thoughtfully, then walked in and out of the cube to hear footsteps thumping overhead and read about the piece. The horizontal flow of the onlookers moving through the structure made a nice duet with the circular motion of the women above.

But the problem with using people in art–especially art about labor–is that the temptation to fixate on their experience of the piece often overwhelms yours. (Case in point: I clearly recall the stony expression of a museum guard forced to wear Ryan Gander’s bloody tracksuit in the New Museum’s 2009 “Generational,” but not the tracksuit). What were these women–many SUNY Purchase grad students–thinking? I’m making art history? I’d rather be a Vanessa Beecroft girl? I left the iron on in the bedroom and there’s not a thing I can do about it? When I saw them at around 2:00 on Tuesday, at the beginning of the second shift, their movements were relaxed and fluid:

Later, coming up on 5:00, the women looked like cold, caged animals trying to avoid each other:

“Walk the Walk” follows a long tradition of performance artists or their emissaries doing repetitive and vaguely degrading things,for better or worse, from Linda Montano and Teching Hsieh to Chu Yun, who paid his sleeping beauties $10 an hour to drop a pill and play dead last year. As a working woman, I stared at the Gilmore Girls with a feeling of pity, not recognition. I wondered why they weren’t allowed to wear sweaters and worried that their pumps hurt. A few looked back at me, but not for long; they were on the move, going nowhere.

Knit Pick

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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If you gave Yayoi Kusama a crochet hook, she might mount the kind of fuzzy spectacle you’ll find on the corner of 47th St. and Lexington Avenue this week. “Covers,” a collaboration between choreographer Carrie Ahern and fabric artist Olek, is a silent performance/installation piece in which two women wrapped (or trapped?) in bolts of kooky knitwear move in slow motion in a storefront gallery itself webbed in wool. It’s as if a spider on acid had spun out of control, trading silk for yarn and catching moving mannequins in its web.

Between the buzz of fashion week in Bryant Park and the bustle of people rushing along Lexington Avenue at rush hour (the only time the women appear) the performance is a midtown island of calm, craft and counter-consumerism. Nothing here’s for sale.  Step closer and you’ll notice random crochet-covered objects—an iron, a sled and a t.v. —along with crazy little phallic sheaths (and balloons) dangling from the ceiling. While the two artists perform in a trance, a third figure, wearing a head-to-toe fitted number (half burqua, half spidey-suit) knits maniacally in the corner, stopping only to glare at random spectators. This is an only-in-New York moment:  Linger, and you’ll be glad you did. Hurry past, and admit you’ve lost your sense of urban wonder.  The Covers women are at the Lab Gallery, next to the Roger Smith Hotel, September 16, 18, 21, 23rd and 25th from 5:30-6:30.