Butter Balls

Brian Sholis on Gelitin's “Tantamounter 24/7”

New York

Left: A woman holds up Gelitin's copy of her bra. Middle: Inserting a white shoe into the “Tantamounter.” Right: Dean Daedarko wearing the copy of his suit and T-shirt.

The toughest decision facing visitors to Vienna-based collective Gelitin’s “Tantamounter 24/7”—a weeklong performance and exhibition featuring a homemade “duplication machine” that was presented recently at Chelsea gallery Leo Koenig, Inc.—was what to bring. After casting about my apartment at midnight Tuesday for something suitable for reproduction, I settled upon a cork bulletin board covered with sentimental relics. Stuffing it in to the back seat of a cab, I was smugly confident that the lateness of my visit would mean a smaller crowd, but soon discovered that others—artists and students, thirtysomething businessmen, passersby lured out of the cold—had had a similar idea. The cramped space reserved for visitors at the front of the gallery was nearly full. (This being the most recent iteration of their playful installations-cum-endurance-tests, the Austrian pranksters were ferreted away inside a large sealed wooden box.) I found a spot in line, but what I brought wouldn’t fit inside the top-loading compartment marked for receiving.

No matter. The atmosphere was collegial (“I’m going for beer. Who wants beer?” queried a bike-messenger type) and the objects regularly popping out of the box broke up the monotony of waiting. Some duplications took minutes, others over an hour. The artists, who had already been locked behind the partition for six days, seemed to enjoy making sculptures. A blue-glass seltzer bottle was returned quickly, along with its copy: two blue plastic cups that were stuck together and speared with a turkey baster balancing a bent metal spoon. Brilliant. We played guessing games: Whose object would arrive next? How accurate a copy would it be? And would it involve pornography? Behind the wall the Gelitin boys (plus artist Naomi Fisher, who lent a helping hand) were obviously having fun: Most two-dimensional objects were returned accompanied by raunchy imagery excised from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of triple-X magazines.

Dean Daderko, an independent curator, put all of his clothes into the machine and wrapped himself in a copy of the newsprint exhibition poster while awaiting the results. No one who entered after he disrobed seemed to mind (or even notice) the unseasonal nudity. An hour later, his black T-shirt, suit, and wallet came back, along with its duplicate: a blue flower-print dress, some green rope mesh, a small belt, and a note: “Dean we love that you are naked so close to us.” Five minutes after that, a second note emerged: “Dean send us a picture of your new clothes.” The cameraphones immediately went to work as Daderko gamely struck a pose.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I had the invisible alchemists duplicate a greeting card that featured a photograph of a turkey. For good measure, I stuck in another card (depicting a monkey raising a mug of beer) as a gift. I should’ve guessed that the result would incorporate porn. (I leave it to you to guess what unclothed body parts best resemble the holiday bird.) Pocketing my treasures, I waved goodbye to those still waiting and headed home. It was 2:30AM: Gelitin had twenty more hours to go. Two afternoons later, the turkey on my dinner table seemed a little less appetizing than usual.