Washington, DC

Bradley McCallum

Conner Contemporary Art

Since the early ’90s, artists Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry have consistently engaged issues such as racism, police brutality, and homelessness, interviewing and interacting with some of its victims through a variety of mediums, including photography, video, and sculpture. In summer 2002, they and several teenagers living on Seattle’s streets organized Civic Endurance, a twenty-five-hour performance in which one teen after another stood for an hour’s duration on a street corner looking directly into the lens of a video camera, which filmed them from a location across the street. The resulting time-lapse footage collapses each hour into five minutes, to engaging and provocative effect.

The solitary figures, immobilized by their gaze into the camera, stand still while the world seems to spin around them at high speed; pedestrians are transformed into ghostlike blurs that stream across the screen. An experience of asynchronicity is the result: It’s as if the teens are not only socially dislocated but temporally out of place, and everything exterior obeys an incomprehensible schedule that outpaces them. If Civic Endurance expresses the physical stamina required of these youths, many of whom dedicated their performances to recently deceased friends, it’s also a tribute to the staying power of the homeless, who in Seattle are forced to suffer a law that criminalizes standing in place on the street, and to endurance performance works of the ’70s, now put to sociopolitical effect.

Through the video the teens set up a sympathetic correspondence with visitors to the gallery. The still, vertical bodies of viewer and performer tend to match up. As we identify with the camera’s eye, held in prolonged contact with the gaze of the subject on the screen, a kind of communication results that transcends video’s anonymous flow. As viewer and viewed come to share a single time and place, a social and economic chasm is at least temporarily bridged. The video’s audio track offers the standing teenagers’ brief confessionals—individualizing, haunting, accounts of family hardship, loss of friends, and ongoing battles with addiction. But they’re consistent in their claims to integrity in an otherwise callous world where, as a youth named Billy asserts, “home is where the sky meets the ground.”

Across the room are glossy, full-size color portraits of some of the young participants, posed against black backgrounds. Highly saturated and lit so as to detail each piercing and tattoo, these images unfortunately reaffirm the very sensationalism the video struggled to disrupt. If the artists’ intention was to beautify their subjects by framing them within high-art conventions, they failed; the results too closely and uncritically mimic fashion’s tired co-optation of outré styles or art’s neo-primitivist fantasies. Even though the video brought them to a near standstill, in that work the teenagers effectively told their own stories.

T.J. Demos