Try it: Hold your hand out, thumb pressed against middle finger, steady, unmoving. For 37 minutes.
Watching Erica Love do this - yes, for 37 minutes - in a performance captured on video and projected in a gallery space, makes your own arm want to rise, twitch, convulse and collapse in some kind of uncanny identification. The artist's terrific 2009 video, titled Remote Control, is currently on view at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City as part of a show aptly titled For a Long Time...
The show includes pieces dedicated to duration, process and performance by seven artists. Visitors to the spacious gallery stroll from project to project, taking in each conceit, perhaps appreciating each challenge before continuing along. Kehinde Wiley's 2001 video Smile features a grid of four faces of people asked to smile without stopping for 60 minutes. The grins gradually morph into grimaces in a wry commentary that you glean as the smiles slowly contort. In contrast, Whitney Hubbs' paired video loops, Untitled, show quick glimpses of repetitive activity as bodybuilders rise and fall in an unending series of pull-ups.
Love's piece is neither so short that you can simply walk by, nor so long that you don't have much interest in staring. Instead, it invites the patient - and stalwart - viewer to engage the project entirely.
The hand in the video attempts to replicate the photograph of a hand on the cover of Barbara Kruger's significant 1994 book Remote Control: Power, Cultures and the World of Appearances, which stands against a wall. The juxtaposition is provocative; Kruger's collection of essays centers on power, control and the role of visual media, and was a central text in '90s art criticism and its attack on sexist, homophobic and racist representations in media. Love's attempt to emulate the hand and the image, with her own hand poised convulsively above the word "control," seems at once an homage to a previous generation's critical work, and a query about a new generation's ability to either reckon with, continue or reimagine a faded yet entirely necessary project.
The video is also scaled properly. You want to keep watching, but wonder if you can sustain 37 minutes. You wander, return, wander, return. After starting at the hand for a while, it begins to seem monstrous, with weird orbs of flesh and creepy wrinkles coming to the fore. Gradually, you start to wonder about the end. What will happen? Will the hand finally collapse? Withdraw? Or will the piece loop without end? Love nicely draws you in, inviting you to question your own ability to sustain control, to continue, to endure. And the end? You'll have to see for yourself.
For a Long Time... is on view through August 6, 2011 at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City.
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