The Berlin-based duo Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz showed two recent films at Ellen de Bruijne Projects that continue their pursuit of “queer archeology”—the artists’ term for mining archives and history books for characters and texts engaging queer politics. The artists, who have worked together since 2004, aim to flatten hierarchies and complicate gender norms, often casting musicians and performance artists with fluid gender identities in their work.
The more successful of the recent pieces is also the more ambitious. Titled To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation (2013), the 18-minute 16mm film captures a group of musicians coming together in a Berlin studio to perform the eponymous score by composer Pauline Oliveros.
As is typical for Boudry and Lorenz, the film has several beginnings and endings, frustrating traditional narrative arcs. We first encounter the performers—the electronic musician Peaches among them—as they wander through the studio building’s public spaces, performing en route. One memorable scene features a woman clad in a purple leotard with an electric guitar strapped to her torso rubbing her body against a pillar and later against a set of stairs.
The group’s performance is no less eventful. Per Oliveros’s instructions, no performer outshines another, making this an aural democracy, at turns low-key and, as the sounds builds, dissonant. While the soundscape grows and expands, Boudry and Lorenz’s camera circles the room, lingering on costumes and bodies. Later, when the musicians decompress after their gig, the camera remains with them, watching them chat among themselves as a fly on the wall might.
The film’s joys were of a voyeuristic kind, lavishing attention on the performers’ colorful garments and foregrounding the collaboration’s erotic undertones. This approach may underscore the artist’s interest in the plurality of gender identities but it also reminds us of our own tendency to objectify difference. Boudry and Lorenz chose Oliveros’s score not for its melody but for its musical expression of equality and the composer’s attempts to overthrow hierarchies; for Oliveros, the work is a model for negotiating tensions between the individual and the group.
Where Solanas offered visual pleasure, the two-person performance captured in the artists’ Opaque (2014) veered toward the polemical. The film features two of Boudry and Lorenz’s regular collaborators, the nominally male actor/drag performer Werner Hirsch and the artist and musician Ginger Brooks Takahashi. The two appear inside an abandoned (and drained) indoor swimming pool in Berlin. Their makeshift stage is denoted by a screen and some curtains; they speak through those screens until Takahashi and then Hirsch eventually reveal themselves. For some time the camera stays with Hirsch, dressed in black latex or leather shorts, who lip-synchs words spoken by Takahashi. The text, adapted from Jean Genet, expresses a wish for an opponent who is purely bad, and so the easier to fight without guilt: “I want the whole enemy,” Takahashi, through Werner, says. The lament was itself quite touching, but the resulting work came off as nonsensical, and Hirsch, in his short shorts, seemed a sorrowful figure indeed.