New York

Nancy Kitchel

112 Greene Street

Nancy Kitchel exhibits her diaristic documents in a dramatic literary installation. The viewer sits in turn at each of four lighted desks in a darkened gallery, examining groups of artifacts in a pool of light. Reading the art is a carefully arranged invasion of privacy, like a late night session with incriminating documents. The subjects Kitchel treats—the decomposition of her love affairs, the gestures and social strategies of her aging relatives, and her own failing memory are the stuff of letters and private journals.

Such material is usually advanced into the domain of art as literature, and Kitchel’s work resembles staged narratives. Her autobiographical mode, however, and her insistence on evidentiary material—sound tapes, snapshots, slides, a postcard, some door keys—patinas her tales with truth. Journals like casebooks, artifacts like medicine bundles glance her autobiographies and confessions into realms of analysis, criminal investigation, and shamanism.

One work, Kitchel’s book about aspects of her life with Vito Acconci, labeled “transformation of my face into Kathy Dillon’s through a shared experience over a month in 1973,” adds depressing new information to what Acconci himself has revealed about this most public love affair. Kitchel writes, “after two months almost constantly in his [Acconci’s] company, I began to see my face changing into her’s [Dillon’s] without my will.” She describes her efforts to analyze and ritualize this process, and includes photographs of her face interspersed with Reichian drawings in which directional lines indicate areas of muscular tension. The piece is a Byzantine mosaicist’s patternbook for representing martyrs, a compelling record of deliberate masochism.

Is this art about love? Lawrence Durrell has written of “the sophistries which console—the lies which keep love going.” Kitchel seems determined to reveal, distort, and break down the lies. In her books she covers and recovers the lost ground of two old love affairs, making her acts of art into ritual tools with which to explore the edges of perversity and the damage people can do to each other and themselves.

––Alan Moore