On Thursday evening, artists Seth Price and Kelley Walker presented their first-ever collaboration, a performance titled Freelance Stenographer, to a capacity crowd at The Kitchen. Receiving special permission from director Debra Singer to “not share very much about the work in advance,” many audience members wondered—perhaps nervously—whether their participation might be required. The performance, an exercise in instant archiving and accelerated obsolescence, paired a video with an unassuming stenographer who quietly recorded the evening’s dialogue (on-screen and off-) on a machine, which transmitted the results to a nearby laptop. Cutting between band-practice footage of artist friends Emily Sundblad (of Reena Spaulings), Cory Arcangel, and Stefan Tcherepnin captured in a Manhattan recording studio, found clips of the Manhattan skyline, and documentation of an Oskar Schlemmer performance restaged by Debra McCall at The Kitchen in 1981, the artists interspersed readymade aftereffects redolent of their signature work as individuals (Price: picture-in-picture, lens flares; Walker: a decidedly Aquafresh-hued fog). Their manipulations “might look hip or hot today,” as Walker told me afterward, “but won’t look so good in ten years.”
The video evidences the artists’ Benjaminian infatuation with the recently outmoded, at one point incorporating an entire music video for a démodé Alice Deejay dance anthem that Arcangel finds on YouTube. “I’ve watched this like six hundred times,” he marvels. At another point, Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot” serves as the sound track to the salvaged Schlemmer performance (Gen-X audience members involuntarily mouthed the lyrics). “‘Teenage Riot’ is particular to a moment that we have moved on from,” Walker explained. “And it sounds good when you keep recording it from lower and lower sources,” added Price. Singer suggested that, perhaps unbeknownst to the artists, Sonic Youth’s Kitchen performances probably overlapped with the Schlemmer restaging.
After screening a few outtakes (featuring the bandmates singing and beating tambourines while drinking beer and Perrier), the artists previewed a work in progress by filmmaker (and friend) Jason Spingarn-Koff that documents the virtual-reality community Second Life, typically used by homebound gamers to create alternate personas in a fantasy world of computer-generated beach bums and clubbers. Cyber-babe Tee-Dye, Spingarn-Koff’s ethnographic subject, is narrated by her single-mother real-world counterpart and navigates Second Life’s virtual galaxy on a trip down memory lane. Directing her avatar to a pulsing dance floor and arming her with nunchakulike glow sticks, the unseen gamer indulges in the same nano-nostalgia as the earlier video’s stars when she muses, “We used to rave up here, back in the day . . .” (Indeed, Arcangel appears—as himself—in both works.)
When the lights came on, the performance, in a sense, really began. (“The Q and A was the performance,” Singer assured me later—a concept clearly lost on those audience members who made for the door while the credits rolled.) First question: “Why did you pick this title?” Second question: “Is that a stenographer over there?” With her presence formally acknowledged, Price admitted to “feeling uncomfortable” and offered the stenographer’s name (Casey Klavi) while she continued to type, smiling wanly. The stenographer served to “demystify” (as Walker put it) the art world’s dual modes of hype and criticism by publicly recording a process (the Q and A) and producing the transcript as an artwork. During the ensuing reception, while the artists and the on-screen protagonists Arcangel and Tcherepnin mingled with the audience, copies of the transcript were run off on The Kitchen’s own Xerox machine and distributed. “There were two actors,” Singer explained, “the stenographer and the copy machine. But no one asked about the copy machine.”