After a week of working on my taxes and reviewing receipts, invoices, and statements, I found myself revisiting my last year of activities. Dinner with a curator friend. Buying a catalogue after a museum visit. Donating to an alumni fund. What did I gain from these exchanges? Was I better off? With these questions in mind, it was fitting for me to finally see Gerard & Kelly’s Timelining at The Kitchen, curated by Tim Griffin. Timelining looks like experimental couples therapy, but it feels like the afterlife.
For Timelining, intimately related pairs of performers circumnavigate the gallery at The Kitchen while reciting items from personal timelines. These pairs include couples, ex-lovers, roommates, family members; these timelines include memories, milestones, and other life events, all the way back to being born. “We think of this relationship as a ‘ready-made,’” says Ryan Kelly.
Astride through circle after circle around the psychosocially loaded space, the performers take turns unspooling chains of memories in reverse chronological order, chains linked by the spatially specific connective, “in front of.” For example, “Got malaria…in front of…went to Ghana.”
Intermittently, one performer will stop while the other paces ahead. Or one pivots from the shared path and and orbits in the opposite direction, like the sun departing its ocean reflection, then reconnecting hours later. Occasionally, the performers rupture their text-based recitations and break into movement. Most of this movement seems literal and mimetic, and accompanied by narration: swimming motions, upward stretches, or twisting contortions. All of these stops, pivots, and movements are parts of a disciplined choreography made up of devices and maneuvers – rules – with names like “loop,” “link,” “trigger,” and “movement-memory-snapshot.”
Although these rule-based performances – “scores” – are based on scripts and crafted from rehearsals, they will appear to most viewers spontaneous and dynamic. That’s because the performers have a lot to juggle. In addition to the architecture of the performance, described above, each performer must tune into cues from his or her partner. Also, the performers respond to audience members arriving and leaving. During my first visit, I was referred to as “black sneakers,” a friend as “stripes,” due to his striped sweater.
Within one or two revolutions around the gallery, the memories can span from uncompromising adulthood to tender childhood. For example, one performer reached from adult decisions like “Got sober” and “Got into BDSM” to childhood caprice, such as, “My sister counting my toes.” Public events (“Obama was elected” or “Marine Le Pen won the primary” commingle with private encounters, often existential: sex, relocation, death, first times and last times. And because these memories resurface as the performers cycle through their timelines, their description varies each time (ergo, “A picture of my sister counting my toes”). They also stack up into interesting compounds. Take this sequence: “I realized that I do not have wealth… in front of… “I considered nursing school”…in front of… “I had a bulging disc.” But quotidian bits arise, especially at the beginning of each score: “I forgot to email someone” and “The C train was running express.”
The Kitchen’s gallery is painted in white cube drag, but it’s not a neutral tabula rasa. A bold black line stretches more than three quarters into the space, like a road surface marking. In one corner, colored lights shine through holes in the wall. On the walls, drafted lines connect nail holes to each other. These all are vestiges of the previous show. The space itself has a timeline. Moreover, copper panels in the gallery and entrance bear braille text: snippets from the transcript of Kelly and Gerard’s own timelines. Why braille? Perhaps because braille uniquely combines bodily movement and text, just like the Timelining performance itself. Or because it has an irresistible tactile appeal, as evidenced by the oily fingerprints that remain on the copper surfaces.
Timelining reveals ways an individual really is buffeted through life by external forces, or piloted (or hijacked) by seeds planted early in life. And you get to see the consequences laid out bare, revisited numerous times during each score. Yet, I also felt an uncanny sense of purgatory. There’s something abeyant about these memories and events when you hear them recounted in this particular setting. First, the only climax is the present, and only the present is the climax. Second, the memories and events are neutrally indexed without evaluation, without signifying the weight of goodness or badness through drama or expressive fire. (Though surely, a viewer projects his or her own.) Do these Timeline markers amount to a sum? A judgment? Or do they merely populate the otherwise null period between “Now” and “I was born”? What if St. Peter, at the Pearly Gates, read a dutiful index of events instead of a dramatic legacy of pluses and minuses?
Brennan Gerard says, “One of the other things that happens with memory is that when someone remembers and it’s so specific that when you hear it or read it, it feels like you had it too. That’s the weird thing about it. It’s totally subjective, but somehow impersonal—like it doesn’t belong to that person. In fact, it’s communal.” He’s referring to the role of memory in intersubjectivity – the ways identities build other identities. Or as Kelly says, “We are formed by being undone by one another.” -Indeed, the most trodden surfaces of Timelining, intentional or not, seem to be major unifying events that tower over the collective memories of performers and audience: Reagan, AIDS, Gulf War, Bush, 9/11, Iraq, Obama. What will Timelining look like ten years from Now?