Critics’ Picks

A. L. Steiner and robbinschilds, C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience), Part I, 2007, still from a color video, 10 minutes 48 seconds.

A. L. Steiner and robbinschilds, C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience), Part I, 2007, still from a color video, 10 minutes 48 seconds.

New York

A. L. Steiner + robbinschilds

New Museum
235 Bowery
October 8, 2008–January 11, 2009

The project called “C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience),” installed in the museum’s Shaft Project Space, comprises the following: a series of looped videos on monitors in the closet-size gallery, with a driving instrumental sound track playing softly and piles of rainbow-dyed clothing stashed here and there; a projection, on a wall outside the museum, of a related video accompanied by similar music on headphones, beginning daily at dusk and visible through a window in the stairwell beside the gallery; and intermittent performances by the choreographic duo in the videos. The dancers are robbinschilds (Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs). The projection, titled C.L.U.E. Part I, 2007, is by artist A. L. Steiner, assisted by A. J. Blandford; they also shot the footage on the monitors. Avant-rock quartet Kinski contributed the music. When credits roll, the words A MOTION PICTURE hold for a significant moment on the wall, and indeed, “C.L.U.E.” creates just that—a picture in motion or a flowing series of tableaux, in which carefully wrought synchrony seems serendipitous, the physical expression of mind meld.

Costumed in a series of imperfectly monochrome outfits (everything might be bright yellow, but different bright yellows), robbinschilds perform what they call “extra-pedestrian states . . . time-travel and psychedelic filigree.” So there they are in the videos, folded up together wearing deep blue in a desert. Dressed in pink T-shirts, undies, and sneakers, they cavort and crawl on a western road; in purple fedora with zoot-suit-ish jacket and belted vest with elfin hood, they lean together in the gloaming at the ocean. In red, they syncopate by the pay phones under a string of red lights spelling OPEN. In other reds, they wave as a train of red boxcars goes by; in white, in a parking lot at night, they perform a pas de deux under harsh lights, handing their prop—a purse—back and forth while cars and pedestrians pass in reverse, the film running backward to show how robbinschilds and the regular world are in harmony yet in opposition.

It’s hard to describe this work without making lists, because its tenor is episodic, dreamlike, all about intertwined settings, gestures, hues, and sounds. The movement is precise but unprecious, structured by jumping, rolling, walking, wriggling. Touch is key. Though Childs is taller than Robbins, their smooth communication makes it difficult, sometimes, to tell them apart. They wrestle, pull, and restrain each other and are often holding hands, as if engrossed in haptic planning of the next move. Their rainbow motif might recall gay pride, little-girl fantasy, art school foundation classes, or thrift-store merchandising. But of course, it also manifests the visible spectrum, the principle by which color is locatable or ultimately experienced. It’s a clue as to how matter and energy, particle and wave, organize.

Steiner and Blandford photograph a stack of crushed cars in the same spirit as redwood forest or wind-sculpted sandstone, and robbinschilds’s choreography uses the objects of lovely nature and tawdry culture alike as things to be climbed, traversed, fitted into, and bounced off. Ugly-beautiful defines their sartorial style, too: Keds, flats, unflattering pleated shorts and downmarket business-wear, scarves, necklaces, even coffee cups. One thinks of liberated office drones (one of Kinski’s tunes is called “Hot Stenographer”) or weird high school girls who grew up to be, or were already, geniuses. Nonsexual lovers or intermedia nymphs, the “C.L.U.E.” dyad haunts not only waters, rocks, and trees but a power plant, a junkyard, and several desolate corporate plazas. The art diagrams a series of nonconfrontational yet nonhomogenous partnerships: Robbins with Childs; robbinschilds with Steiner, Blandford, and Kinski; big screens with small; visual with aural; indoor with out. It’s hopeful.