‘No one who uses money is unchanged by that.
No one who uses money can easily get a look at their own practice.’
– Anne Carson, Economy of the Unlost
Simultaneously I move with, and have been moved by, Adam Linder’s work Some Proximity, the second in an ongoing series of ‘choreographic services’ that have preoccupied his recent practice. Read the T&Cs of the contract that accompanies Some Proximity, to be displayed by each client – individual or institution – and you’ll note the choreographer:
‘Agrees that all three subjects – Adam Linder, Justin F. Kennedy and Jonathan P. Watts – will invest subjectivity into fulfilling the service’s function’.
No mute objects, subjectivities are Some Proximity’s media. Their interaction, those of two dancers, Linder and Kennedy, and a writer, myself, on display with viewers, produces one of its thematics: the real-time production of artistic and critical labour. Names shorthand subjectivities, accrued embodied experiences and characteristics: Linder’s and Kennedy’s bodies informed by modernist dance; my body the body of a writer (all cerebral, few consider writers’ bodies) who makes a living, in part, from contemporary art criticism. Taking turns, Linder and Kennedy, like skaters on a half-pipe ramp, compose dance in real-time (as opposed to improvising) ostensibly in response to my texts, dropping into the space of performance according to modalities of movement that bring the body more or less proximate to these texts. One calls the modality for the other:
‘Some Distance / Some Proximity / Some Other Proximity / More Proximity
/ Very Proximity / Pan Proximity’
Some Proximity might be a call to alter grammar and syntax, physically and verbally. Verbally, More Proximity might fuck with linearity and repetition, be more experimental physically, more tricky, incorporating more turns and holds. Meanwhile, I go about my employ, observing, eavesdropping and copying from my surroundings, in art fairs, museums and galleries, to produce new texts for the dance.
Since first performing Some Proximity at Frieze Art Fair, London in 2014 with Linder and Kennedy, later at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw and most recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles at ‘Step and Repeat’ festival, I’ve followed my contractual obligation to, when hired, invest my own subjectivity, which, well, I’ve been developing for some time previous. Sometimes the texts are consciously rhythmical, like this:
CUBO-SOL CALERO- CLIP ART-TOURISMO-
I NEED TO MENTION THIS BECAUSE
I SUSPECT IT MIGHT GO UNREMARKED.
IT OCCURRED AT LUNCHTIME YESTERDAY
— TUESDAY — IN NICK MAUSS’ PROJECT SPACE.
KIM GORDON SCRUBBED A FENDER JAG ON A
SCAFFOLD POLE AND GROANED INTO A MIC
WHILE TWO BOYS — BEACONS OF YOUTHFUL
ELEGANCE — REHEARSED BALLET BASICS.
AN ELDERLY GALLERIST, SOMEWHAT CRAZED,
TRAMPED IN, DEMANDING AN END TO
ALL NOICE. ‘I’VE PAID FOUR HUNDRED
THOUSAND FOR MY BOOTH,’ SHE SCREAMED.
THE CURRENCY WASN’T MENTIONED.
ANYWAY, IT WAS STOPPED, NO ONE
SAID A WORD. AND THE GALLERIST
WHICH MAKES ME
WONDER: WHAT WOULD
GENTRIFICATION OF THE
BODY BE? A PERVERSION
FROM OR TOWARD AN
IDEA OF PURITY OR
IN THE POSSIBILITY OF
A RETURN TO A PURE
BODY, OR AN EMBRACE OF
THE DEPARTURE (REPLACEMENT
THERAPY, PROSTHETICS, ETC.)
What is the service’s function? This is hard to define, but by signing the contract the client demonstrates she:
‘Is aware that by facilitating the choreography/writing to be at work the dancers, the writer, the viewer and the location
is accruing corporeal experience; though this may be hard to measure in usual terms of efficiency.’
Simultaneously, I move with, and have been moved by, Adam Linder’s Some Proximity: it thrives off my corporeal experiences as a critic while sustaining it, but not in any usual terms of efficiency. It animates my words, colliding the supposedly rational or the critical with the expressive, the undecipherable embodied. Several texts were important to us in the early stages of developing this work. Isabelle Graw’s ‘Talk Til You Drop’ on what she calls the ‘communication imperative of contemporary art’; Hito Steyerl’s riposte to International Art World English, International Disco English, in which she argues for productive mistranslations, a wreaking of havoc on the rules of grammar, and Brian Droitcour’s Vernacular Criticism, in which he suggests an ‘unobligated’ vernacular criticism, subjective and contingent, might be the proper mode for a compromised form. This article, in as much as it exists outside of the real-time labour of the performance, is extra-legal. However, at some point it will no doubt feed back into the performance. It is written from a simultaneously contractually obligated and unobligated position.
Throughout the summer, with the dancer Fran Chiaverini, Adam has been rehearsing his next choreographic service, Some Riding, which will be at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in September this year. When we spoke on Skype, a week after we’d performed at ‘Step and Repeat’, I began by asking whether he’d received criticism from others in the contemporary dance world for using a post-Fordist model often characterised by its conditions of precarity and immateriality.
AL: People have suggested I’m asserting a commodity form for dance. My response is that I’m using the same model as theatre, and being more blatant about it. When you go to the theatre you buy a ticket to experience a specific work for the duration it’s performed and you leave with the memory and experience and nothing else. The performers, directly, depending on whether they take a proportion from the box office, or indirectly from state funding or ticket revenue, are going to receive their payment through the channels of audience revenue. In the theatre you price according to nights. With Some Proximity, we agree in the contract that ‘x’ is the duration of the performance and it will cost ‘x’ amount per hour. By being upfront about it I’m trying to highlight the fact that the cultural capital that is going to be accrued from this performance is not supporting another economy i.e. that of selling objects.
JP: So you’re trying to be transparent.
AL: Yes. The transparency of the contract is me being like ‘This is all there is; this is not serving anything else but itself.’ There is an attitude that dance as a form, in its proximity to the individual subject, is a sacred expression. Someone might say I’m corrupting that. Actually, I do believe that dance is a sacred form but I don’t believe it can wholly retain its sacredness when it functions within the frame of the visual arts. Dance is really sacred when it’s in the club; at home in the lounge; at certain moments in the studio I have had really great experiences where I have felt very free and in tune with myself. However, I find it a little irresponsible to hold onto its sacredness or incubation from circulating in a thoroughly commodified world when it steps out of these zones. I’m like, come on let’s talk about this. If we perform in a public or institutional setting we cannot separate it from all circuits of value.
JP: How does the contract function on display?
AL: The contract is explicative for the viewer. But it’s also a conceptual framework for the notion of service, and it’s a receipt too for the institution. It’s the marker of the transaction – nothing else left behind. The contract produces transparency, it adopts the bureaucratic form playfully, that otherwise performers and the spectacularisation of bodies can obfuscate. Some Proximity has a conditional temporality and by the contract stipulating how many hours I think it leads to this idea of the conditional. And then a conditional work needs conditions. In my contracts the language does appropriate a bureaucratic form but then I very much also acknowledge that I am talking about something as linguistically ambiguous as the moving body. And that’s a fun thing for me because in my work there is this reoccurring theme, it’s a huge interest, of the objective or the rational or the critical meeting the expressive, the overlinguistic meeting the pre-linguistic. The way Justin and I work in a space is something so fundamentally different to the feel of the space. People are captivated or conditioned to think they have to behave in a ceremonious way. I’ve been surprised how many people don’t see the contract.
JP: Yes, and they often ask you what exactly is going on and you point at the contract. Does it matter if people don’t see the contract? Do you place equal emphasis on all elements of the work?
AL: Equal status is too hard to calibrate. For me the work wouldn’t function without one or the other. The dance we do could function if it wasn’t framed as a service, but when it’s framed as a service it needs some kind of version of a quote or receipt. Like when you hire a service there is some point where you’re given info through a pamphlet or introduction explaining what this service will offer because you’re paying for something and expecting something in return. For me, for it to stay as choreography, which is bodies, even the body of the writer, working in real time, the contract acknowledges performers and moves the work away from attempting to be some kind of object.
JPW: The contract, as contracts often are, is particularising, using the language of bureaucracy to stipulate, for example, our fees or how and whether the images circulate. Do you think institutions or individuals take it seriously as a legal document?
AL: Not as much as the contracts they produce. With both MOCA and Palais de Tokyo their contracts have stated that they will document the performance using still or moving image and these will be their copyright to be used at their discretion. I explained, if you want to sign the services contract you have to amend your release forms because it states that the rights of reproduction are not at the client’s discretion. No documentation can be used of the performance for publicity that will accrue economic value. I had four back and fourths with MOCA to get it out of their release form. It’s so entrenched that anything that happens in that space that they document is their own. To be real, there is an element of control: I wouldn’t want a shitty image of my work circulating when I know there can be images that represent the work better, but it came particularly from the intention of avoiding any other routes that would distract the institution from placing the value on the real-time performance. That is what is interesting for me. I also recognise that today, with the reducibility of images, channels, it’s an impossible task.
JP: To control circulation seems somewhat hubristic. Images of the performance circulate on Instagram.
AL: The institutions are more likely to profit from reproduction of images. Why would they have it in their release forms otherwise?
JP: The aesthetician Peter Osbourne calls this ‘image capital’. Images interchangeable with economic flows.
AL: It’s really not about control – I don’t care what people put on Instagram. The reason why it is interesting to underline this point is to re-pattern the thought. With the object the capital is so clearly signified by that object and the one who has that object in their hand at that moment can cash that in. But it’s very different with performance. It’s very much harder to locate and contain that capital. And translate it.
JP: Do you see the hourly rate increasing in the future, based on your increased experience or your sense of the increased value of the work?
AL: Yeah. It’s not gonna happen drastically, but I think it will increase with each service, although I have no idea how many I’ll make, if the service continues it will depend… Some Proximity is more expensive because there are three subjects involved.
JP: Do you factor rehearsal time into the hourly rate?
AL: It gets factored into the rate. The thing with the services is there isn’t much rehearsal. There’s no time spent staging the work. Justin and I arrive an hour before to warm up. The amount of rehearsal we did for MOCA, for instance, was 30mins. I think on any job it’s really hard to equate exactly how many hours you do… I’m trying to minimise the amount of hours outside of the service.
JP: It’s lean.
AL: It’s pretty lean. Compared to working in a theatre there would be eight or ten hour days sitting around waiting for lights to be focused. It’s a leanness allowing for me needing to stretch my wings outside of the theatre. I’m trying to think how can I… I never think it’s going to be airtight, that every minute that you and Justin spend on it is compensated. The thing is it’s sporadic. Not secured. That’s another reason for the contract…
In this new piece, Some Riding, Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer has written a text that says something along the lines of ‘of all this I’m talking about, our entrenched lives in an economic ecosystem of the 21st century, the only thing of real value is free time’. By underlining when we work we’re also underlining when we don’t work. The services are attempts to put forward an ethic.
JP: Does Some Proximity advance an institutional critique?
AL: Okay, people categorise. I hear it a lot and sure I have been influenced by the movement. It may have traces of that. I don’t see it as critique, or some critical object, actually I don’t see it as an object in any form. It’s more like critical practice. It’s practice. It’s a way I wanna practice. A proposition. It doesn’t take a definitive position or critical stance in relation to some institutional structure. The services are focused on the body and its labours, not so much the institution. There are maybe certain strategies or aesthetics of transparency but there is a messiness of a body dancing that I think moves it away from institutional critique.
JP: Institutional critique, particularly in museums, has a specificity that is implicit in the production of the work but this work because of its specificity of conditions in the contract doesn’t necessarily respond to specific spaces. It gathers that site around it, produces space.
AL: It’s much more malleable, open ended, open minded. I don’t see the work as being driven by critique. That’s one part of the content in the work. For me the work is like hey there has been certain ways that this material or this form, medium, has been handled and this is the way I wanna take care of the subjects that are practicing and labouring with me.
JP: Seeing Juliana Huxtable’s powerful performance at ‘Step and Repeat’ MOCA, on cyber fetish communities, her identity politics issued from her body in a reciprocal way with the psyche, and it made me think about how Some Proximity is less explicitly about identity politics despite being about subjectivity.
AL: It will always be in play. I’m working with bodies. You can’t separate politics from their presence. I don’t foreground identity politics in my work maybe because it’s not my interest. But it will always be there. I’m always accounting for it and especially that I work with different dances, glide, mime, ballet with certain origins. And there are questions of who can perform what. In the contract, for example, I note where the glide influence comes from: Storyboard P. I think that the identity politic of the works are still present given the forms that we work with and given who we are: Justin and I, Fran and I, two different raced men, a woman and a man, it will always be there. I want it to be there, not in a bubble, but in relation to other things. In the same way I am a gay artist and my gayness will always be in my art but my art is not about being gay.
JP: This question of permission – who can and cannot – risks becoming something reduced to identity as body, white skin, in a reductive way. Culture doesn’t move like that.
AL: That is where essentialism reductively is not the way to progress. We need to reformulate how to move beyond that fact taking into account that history has been produced based on that fact. Currently I am working on this hybrid popping adagio form Some Writing. In Parade (2014) I made a ballet, Some Cleaning is mime, Some Proximity is glide. I am interested in all of these forms and their specific histories because, as my friend Isabel Lewis would say, they are social technologies. Dance is produced through socialising bodies. That is how dance is learnt and transferred. It is not really learnt through the image or the word… It is not its pathway. I see it as, wow, if that is how dance operates then that is super powerful given the potential for plurality.
JP: This might be the reason that dance is the perfect space for identity politics.
AL: I don’t need to foreground identity politics because of the nature of the form: bodies socialising in dance is the ground zero of identity politics. As bodies dancing, enacting, working we are identified, we can’t help it, it is already there. What I can do is to be transparent about the complications the work is producing or safeguard things being drowned out. Dance is special in that the signifier is never fixed because as soon as it comes into being it has already gone. Theorists talk about choreography’s presence being the life and death of itself in that moment. The signifier is never fixed.