Los Angeles

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Moving Backwards, 2019, HD video projection, color, sound, 20 minutes.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Moving Backwards, 2019, HD video projection, color, sound, 20 minutes.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz

In a glowing fifteen-foot-wide projection, a figure walks into the video frame, taking measured steps despite the fact that the individual’s orange sneakers are on backward, such that the toes are awkwardly pushed into the shoes’ heels. Over the next nineteen minutes, four other performers move in and out of the slowly tracking frame, carrying out various other reverse gestures in brief vignettes. The premise of the film, titled Moving Backwards, 2019, is explained in a letter written by the artists Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz on the occasion of the work’s debut this past summer in the Swiss pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Their contemplation of what it means to move backward initially arose from their despair at the rise of reactionary politics and the seeming reversals of leftist gains. Retrograde policies tend to affect the most vulnerable communities, but what if reverse movement could be willfully inhabited and explored to instead serve the very liberation struggles that it ostensibly undermines?

In the video, moving backward isn’t a straightforward proposition—in the choreography, forwardness and backwardness are often collapsed onto one another. With the opening scene, for example, the artists cite an evasion tactic said to be practiced by Kurdish guerrilla groups: Wear your shoes backward while walking in the snow to confuse any pursuers. Another scene features a figure whose face is hidden by chest-length hair and whose body is equally veiled by an oversize, clamorous sequined sheath. The figure treads slowly forward—or is it backward? The pair of bright-blue cowboy boots make it difficult to tell, as a boot toe extends from both the front and the rear of each shoe. Eventually, the figure halts and the camera continues to track slowly to the right until only wiggling fingers are left in the frame.

These scene transitions, which rarely involve traditional cuts, are one of the most striking features of the video. Performers move in and out of the frame as the camera tracks left, then right, continually tracing and retracing its steps. Exits are entrances, and ends are beginnings, suggesting a queer temporality. Theorizations of queer time question the usual association of time with progress, challenging an insistence on developmental, teleological, or linear movement toward meaning. For example, the scholar Annamarie Jagose has described queer time as “cyclical, interrupted, multilayered, reversible, stalled.” By embodying queer time, one unhinges oneself from the expectation that time will always accumulate toward positive and enduring change or the salvation of a revealed truth. Boudry and Lorenz’s video is physically structured by multilayered and reversible time and movement: the tracking of the camera, the configurations of the body, the rewinding of pop songs and national anthems, and the reversal of footage. The video doesn’t aspire to supply solutions to the global march of the reactionary right (twice in their letter, the artists emphasize that the work is a “starting point”), but rather to provoke viewers to imagine different ways of finding liberation, outside of systems of linear progress.

In the last few minutes of the video as it was installed at Joan, a ringing techno beat filled the room as the on-screen performers seemed to abandon measured movements in exchange for something closer to improvisation, calling to mind Jack Halberstam’s remark that “queer time for me is the dark nightclub.” The screen went blank, but the music continued, and white lights suddenly overwhelmed the dark space outside the video in the gallery, flashing in time with the music and inviting the watcher to become an agent of the artists’ provocation: Maybe you could start by dancing backward.