In most of Yan Duyvendak’s performances, he uses a television monitor as a prop, putting it on his lap and talking and singing to it as if it were a child or a friend. This 10-year retrospective of the Swiss artist’s work featured video documentation of performances, works conceived as videos, and a program of live performances. The exhibition also included preparatory drawings, newspaper clippings, clothes and props.
What Happens Now? (1999), the earliest video shown, documents a performance in which Duyvendak lip-synchs the dialogue of actors in clips from Rebel Without a Cause, Contact and The Name of the Rose, which play on the monitor he cradles. Sometimes he translates the dialogue into French, but otherwise he flawlessly mimics the actors’ words, even their breathing and facial expressions. Betraying no emotions of his own, Duyvendak reflects those the actors express, mirroring their interactions with corresponding gestures toward the television in his lap: he fusses with its cord, or strokes it empathetically. If the moviemaker’s camera executes a wide sweep, Duyvendak moves the monitor from side to side.
One of his most ambitious pieces, My Name is Neo (for fifteen minutes), first presented in 2001, is a wry comment on Warhol’s concept of 15 minutes of fame for everyone. Casting himself as Neo in The Matrix, Duyvendak enacts the climactic fight scene, performing in sync with the movie, which plays on a monitor behind him. Clad in black military gear, he mimics Neo’s every move and word—and resists the role of passive viewer—for his allotted quarter-hour.
In Game Over! (2004), Duyvendak mimes a character in a military video game. Walking repeatedly through a narrow basement hallway, he moves as if controlled by a joystick. With a paranoia-inducing camera following closely behind, he occasionally reaches a wall and mechanically continues walking into it for a moment, then backs up and proceeds. Unlike characters in real video games, he never finds a target to shoot, though he is always on the alert. His futile actions make him seem more a laboratory rat than a lethal mercenary. Here as elsewhere, Duyvendak skillfully walks a line between media critic, serious actor and obsessive fan.
Photo: Van Duyvendak: Game Over!, 2004, video, 6 minutes; at Plug.in.