Kate Gilmore appeared in this year’s Whitney Biennial with the installation Standing Here, for which the artist videotaped from above her attempts, and ultimate success, breaking out of a drywall monolith. The video was paired with a sculptural prop, the broken wall. In Walk the Walk architecture returns, resilient and cumbersome as ever.
Walk the Walk took place in Bryant Park as part of the Public Art Fund’s “In the Public Realm” program. It’s Gilmore’s first public performance, and the first in which she herself does not appear. Atop a ten-by-ten-foot yellow platform elevated eight feet from the ground, seven women pace the perimeter of the structure. The structure is populated from 8:30 until 5:30, the workday, during the show’s week-long run. The women wear yellow dresses, with beige “career woman” pumps that gently pummel the cube’s top. At 1:30 each day (lunch time, of course), the women switch shifts. One group descends by ladder; momentarily, the second group takes its place atop the block.
WALK THE WALK. PHOTO BY AMY C. ELLIOTT, COURTESY PUBLIC ART FUND
While the women accomplish no task except that of successfully navigating the platform, Gilmore has praised the actors as highly productive “athletes,” for whom the task of walking continuously requires the same stamina and concentration as marathon runners. And in fact, these women walk the equivalent of a half-marathon each shift.
Underneath, inside the gazebo-like box, visitor hears their steps as a muffled barrage of rubber on plywood, not unlike the sound of shoes in a washing machine. But, the artist specifies, Walk the Walk is not meant to invite the comparison between these women and machine-like actions. Rather it is intended to place their (albeit restricted) individual autonomies among art-historical citations, including Minimalism and the legacy of rudimentary, crudely formed public sculpture, both of which the structure’s form references.
While I am not entirely convinced that the individual is retained in such a public simplification of task-orientation, the work successfully operates as a sort of experiment about looking and occupying space. Both days that I visited, the women seemed hyper-aware of their observers, and their actions were affected both by this collective gaze and the limits of the platform.
Walk the Walk’s public, the workers and tourists who populate Bryant Park in Midtown, react with expressions of alternating bemusement and curiosity. On Tuesday, the artist fielded questions from onlookers, many of whom were unfamiliar with Gilmore’s work or the art-historical context in which it is situated. Much of her audience clearly read the piece as performance. An audience member understood it in relation to the Marina Abramovic retrospective currently on view at MOMA. Another viewer related her work to that of Tino Sehgal. While Gilmore explained her position as one of working through a hybrid form of kinetic sculpture, the finer points of her practice will probably be lost in the formal shock it yields to the unsuspecting passersby. In the realm of public sculpture, the shock that invites a closer look from those who were not expecting it is an accomplishment in itself.