This past week, I went to an artist talk at California Institute of the Arts by Martin Kersels, who is the current co-director of the Art Program at the College. I must admit to seeing two pink works, one by Kersels and one by a current second year MFA student, so next week I will be posting about the pink work by the student.
Martin Kersels dominates the room with his presence. A large man with a large presence, one cannot help but notice him when he is in the room, and this is what he plays on within his practice. Kersels began his talk where most artists don't, at the beginning of his practice, before he completed his MFA at CAL Arts. He showed us works he produced between 1984-1993 while being a member of an all male art group called SHRIMPS. The influence of this group on Kersels performance practice can still be seen today. They performed live performances where they explored 'daintiness' and other characteristics not normally associated with large men. One such performance was the men taking on feminine attributes while wrestling with female wrestlers, with their movements being restricted by small platforms. The result is often humorous and fun and Kersels definitely knows how to make his audience laugh.
Pink Constellation was created in 2001 and is a two part work, the other titled Tumble Room. The work revisits the movie technology of the revolving room, famously used by Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding in 1951, where a camera is fixed into place as it looks into a room. I wanted to concentrate on Pink Constellation rather than Tumble Room as I have seen similar works to Tumble Room before, but I will briefly write about it towards the end of this post. The image above and below are video stills of Pink Constellation. I really searched hard to find a copy of this video on the net but was unsuccessful. You will just have to imagine it.
Kersels uses the image of a teenage girls room as the backdrop to the performance and throughout the nineteen minute video performance, strange things happen (as if watching someone dance on the walls and ceiling wasn't strange enough!). The beginning of the video sees Kersels himself entering the room, dressed in outlandish zebra print pants that look like he just stepped out of the eighties, paired with a brightly coloured orange top. One is completely struck by this image as it contrasts so vividly with the image of a sweet looking teenage girl and the girly pink bedroom. My first impression was, 'what the hell is this?!?!'
The video wavers between Kersels and a teenage girl and their individual interactions with the room. Where the teenage girl looks graceful and totally comfortable within the room, sometimes seen just reading, Kersels looks awkward, clumsy and a little creepy. They both dance at some stage during the nineteen minute performance; the girl, graceful and seamless in her dance as the room is revolving, Kersels jolted, unrelated and awful to look at throughout his dance. It reminded me of those scenes where the drunk Uncle gets up to dance at your party and is a total train wreck but you can't seem to look away.
This is where Kersels interest in contrast and expectations lies, of what a big guy should be within our society and how we may view them. We don't see big men as dainty, nor do we see them as being graceful, even if they are. There is a point where the room is not nailed down anymore and the video comes to a crashing end, literally, when the last five minutes or so, sees Kersels struggling with a collapsing room around him. Not only is Kersels himself thrown around the room, unable to get his balance, but he is now struggling to protect himself from the harm the teenage girly room is about to inflict. The bed, the desk, the lamp and even the bedside table, all become weapons against this middle aged male intruder. What a fitting end to an attempt to relate to the life and thoughts of a teenage girl.
I did like this work by Kersels, even though at first viewing, I was a little creeped out by his initial entrance into the pink room. This work is successful at portraying contrast because of the teenage girls room backdrop. It becomes the antithesis of daintiness and gracefulness, prettiness and the entry point to femininity. It is all that Kersels is exploring within his practice as a large man trying to fit into a world that seems to want to continually put stereotypes onto people like himself.
The picture above is Tumble Room. It has been shown at various museums around the world. It is the teenage girls room slowly tumbling into a destoyed void. Kersels mentioned that he buys the furniture from Ikea, and then 'updates' the posters on the walls so it becomes a contemporary teenage girls room. He showed us collages he had created for its recent showing that included pictures of Justin Bieber and Edward Cullen to be taped to the wall of the bedroom. He seemed to take delight in imagining himself as a teenage girl and what and who they would idolize at that age.