New York

Type A

Ten in One Gallery

Type A, the collaborative team of New York artists Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin, has been exploring various forms of male competition, often of the phallic sort, for nearly four years. A 1998 video, Urban Contests, featured a pee-off, while Prize, 2000, a Matthew Barney-esque installation of a pair of cast-resin athletic supporters, conjured locker-room discussions of penis size. Their latest work continues to mine the one-on-one dynamic (homosocial rather than homosexual) but branches out a bit, exploring not just male behavior but what might be described as a masculine aesthetic.

The centerpiece of Type A's recent exhibition was Reach/Reach (all works 2001), a looped two-channel video displayed on adjacent monitors. We are shown both sides of an outdoor handball backboard, over which a rope has been slung; Ames and Bordwin approach, grab opposite ends of the rope, and dispassionately begin to climb. Ames gets to the top fist (not without some effort) then leans over to help the struggling Bordwin, but the latter can't quite make it; he finally lets go, falls to the pavement, and after a moment gets up and walks away as Ames blankly looks on. The piece is silent except for the ambient noises of the city (it was taped in a park in Washington Heights) and the muted sound of the competitors' efforts.

Also on view were color photographs from the “Insertions” series, in which Ames and Bordwin interact with industrial architectural structures. In some photos only fragments of the artists' bodies are visible. A hand and arm appear on a wall in Untitled (handball); each guy's torso can be found in the diptych Untitled (watch). The most striking image, Untitled (handstand), shows Ames inverted between a large concrete cylinder and a small metal one. The photo not only references grandstanding stunts (showcases for physical prowess) but also serves as a kind of competition with art-historical forefathers, as it draws on Charles Ray's 1973 Plank Piece photographs-although Ray hangs limply on a wall while Ames executes a full-body push-up.

Drawing on the history of video, photoconceptualism, and performance, Ames and Bordwin address the notion of a man's world: hard, gray, and immutable. Introducing their bodies into industrial environments, the artists suggest that the empty, hard-edged site is an analogue of (straight) male sensibilities—emotion and friendship expressed ritually rather than spontaneously. It is a visual language familiar from the boys' dub of Minimalist sculpture and modernist architecture. The difference is that Ames and Bordwin insert their own bodies. Despite the stark settings, there is a lightness to Type A's work, a buddy-movie quality that is charming, if complicated. The introduction of the element of failure adds a new layer of ambiguity to the project. While the implications of male competition on and off the handball court can be much more sinister, in Type A's insular realm your competitor is also your best friend and collaborator, the person who will also benefit from your success.

Martha Schwendener