Allison Kaufman: Temporary Arrangements
HERE Arts Center
There’s something deeply appropriate about this solo show of video and photography work by Allison Kaufman being hung in the intermediate spaces of HERE (through August 25), which is best known to most people as a space that shows a variety of performance work, from dance to contemporary theater to puppet work.
In the past decade or so there’s been a great deal of emphasis within the performance community on the liveness and ephemerality of the work, driven in part by a desire to communicate why having an audience present to witness the work necessarily changes the dynamic not only for the artists but also for those who come to see the performance. Much of the talk ends up highlighting the temporary community or shared experience created by those present, which cannot be replicated and sometimes bonds those people after the performance is over.
Kaufman’s work, though understood in this show primarily through the media of video and photography, is very much tied to performance and fleeting connections with strangers, which sometimes endure and sometimes don’t.
The bulk of the work on display—including a five channel video work, “Trust Falls,” that has been adapted for three flatscreens that face into the lobby/café space; a looping video, “Dancing with Divorced Men,” on a single screen downstairs, and a series of photographs in downstairs hallways, “The Divorced Men Series”—all show Kaufman either briefly interacting with or occupying the private space of individual divorced men. The interactions range from the two trying to climb into a large hammock in tandem, to her shaving one man’s face, to dancing either arm-in-arm with or opposite the men. In the photographs she is pictured with the men in ambiguous but intimate pairings that, to someone approaching with no background information, might appear to depict either a father and daughter, a long-married couple, or old friends.
Knowing that these interactions are only of a short duration and that the artist is entering the private space of these men, necessarily evokes questions about desire, discomfort, the rituals of men and women meeting for the first time, the limitations of our encounters with one another even when they last for many years, and also the generational differences in the rituals and boundaries of male-female bonding.
Kaufman’s lack of irony in these works, and her genuine openness to these situations, is what makes the work unique and affecting. She is never winking at the camera in these interactions, nor does she belittle her partners’ lives or spaces. That willing entry into uncomfortable and uncertain terrain in such intimate settings, paired with a similar willingness on the part of her partners, opens up the opportunity to reflect in earnest on what it means that we as humans regularly seek various kinds of partnership, and allow ourselves to be redefined by these relationships, knowing full well that they will eventually, if not quickly, come to an end.
Other highlights from the exhibition include a matrix of close-up photographs of upholstery that bear the traces of those who have used the furniture they cover, as well as a looping video titled “Friday Nights at the Guitar Center,” which depicts a series of men playing instruments at this popular musical chain store, offering performances for ambiguous audiences of fellow customers or staff.
There’s an obvious discomfort in these works, an obvious self-consciousness, as all the subjects are aware of both being on display and offering something very private to a relative stranger. But it’s the strangeness of the situations, and the way we read narratives into them, which evokes in the viewer a quiet desire for some short relief from loneliness; this allows the work to speak powerfully about the many ways we seek or reject connection with others.
Another highlight of the exhibition is that for less than $25, you can see Kaufman’s exhibit, catch a show in one of the performance spaces, and grab a glass of wine or a beer.