Going the Distance: An interview with Alan and Michael Fleming

April 20, 2012 · Print This Article


Marissa Perel : Here we are in Brooklyn talking about your solo show, “Game On” at threewalls, March 9-April 21st. You are going to give an artist talk at the gallery on April 21st?

Michael Fleming : Hello. Yes, we’ll be giving our talk from 2-4 PM that day.

Alan Fleming: Then we open our solo show, “Spatial Reasoning” at the Happy Collaborationists that night at 6.

MP : So busy! I wanted to ask you guys about your studio practice. Your threewalls exhibition has sculpture, works on paper and performance for video, which is a lot to cover at one time. I’d like to know specifically what your practice was while you were apart in from 2010-2011, and then what it was like when you came together in Brooklyn in 2011.

Psychic Color Calendars, 2011, calendars, 24" x 24"

MF: After working together for several years in a practice that was mostly focused on performance and video and our bodies physically being dependent and in the same proximity, we were were trying to wrap our heads around what to do not being in the same place. How do we collaborate if we are not doing the type of performance and body-based work that we’re known for? So, I think it started to lead us into these questions about communication and connection. People used to poke fun at us or asked us about these issues in our daily lives as twins, like if we had telepathy, or our own language. We tried to take that as a starting point, playing with the idea of latent twin “psychicness,” but also investigating it as a metaphor for how we stay connected when we’re not in the same physical location. How do we collaborate across distance?

One of the pieces that we started the first month of last year resulted in these calendars but it originated from this game where we would try and think of the same color and shape at the same time every day for one month. We were both spending time thinking about these things. We came up with drawing and sculpture, as a means of working out a problem but still trying to hold on to an embodied practice.

MP: I can see that happening in this show, testing the space between game and science experiment, and modes of embodiment. I really enjoy your games, especially the rock, paper, scissors sculptures. I heard that you both didn’t actually know who won until you made the molds? Is that true?

Rock Paper Scissors, 2011, hydrocal, 3" x 36" x 20"

AF: We actually didn’t know who won until we installed the show. So, we had the molds made and we were like, “ok we’re ready to go,” but we didn’t know until the day of the install, which is probably nine months or something after the initial game which we played over the phone. So, we didn’t know until that moment who won.

MP: Because you had to set them in chronological order?

AF:  Yeah, so even though we saw the casts in our studio, we didn’t know what permutation of the game they represented. I knew from left to right, this one, this one, this one, and then Mike had something to match that, but we didn’t know which one matched up with which. And, that’s kind of the point of that game. There is no stronger piece, like there is in chess or something, where you have better odds if you go with a certain one in terms of probability. Rock, paper and scissors are equally good choices no matter what you choose.

MF: We were really interested in this idea of a really ephemeral game that we would play when we were younger that was kind of a low-stakes game. But, that if we stretch it out over time and distance, and we embody it in this classical medium, it becomes something larger than itself, or something larger than a game between us, it becomes this metaphorical, conceptual object.

MP: Yes, I noticed that about your mis-matched chairs, too. They made me think of Kosuth’s semiological deconstruction: what happens when you see a thing and then a definition of the thing? Does the language equal the object? But, for you guys, it’s like, each half of the chair is supposed to symbolize you, and then you’re putting them together, and it creates a third idea of what you are.

MF: I think there’s definitely something related to that in terms of the disconnect, because we had a prompt for each other where we said, “Ok, at the same time on the same day we are just going to find a generic, wooden chair; just four legs and a back.” Those were the parameters we used to work with this readymade object. But then, other factors came into play, like what were choices in picking out the chairs and what the limitations were of what was available.

Conjoined Chairs, 2011, wooden chairs, 36" x 24" x 24"

AF: Yeah, our location, too. A chair from Brooklyn Heights versus a chair from Lakeview, not that you can tell which is which…

MF: I think the manifestation of them became these readymades that were dependent on our own choices and the difference inherent in that, along with the difference of our locations and places and two different sites, even though they’re generic chairs. This idea of a readymade that is spliced in half and superimposed on another to make this third, new thing that isn’t either of our chairs.

AF:  The point of that wasn’t to have two distinclty different halves of a chair. We first thought that it would just look like a chair with a line down the middle – that the two sides would have a kind of a similar character to them.

MF: We kind of thought of it as one thing split in two by its origin.

AF: The most interesting thing to me is looking at the different rungs of the chairs and how they don’t match up.

MP: It’s interesting that once the chairs are conjoined, they are no longer functional.

AF: Yes, they become nonfunctional objects. That reinforces the readymade nature of these things because they’re not meant to be sat on, they’re meant to be looked at. But, it’s also this weird psychic collage that we made.  Conjoined chairs that no longer function separately.

MP: You also show the sculptures that I saw in your thesis show [at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago] of the measurement of your height and weight and the measurement of time between when you were each born. Those objects are highly refined and manufactured, they’re in plexiglass as opposed to the readymades that you used in the rest of the exhibition that are definitely from the everyday and meant to be low, like the cardboard box. In thinking about difference and how you’re recording distance and communication, how do you discern between these refined objects and the everyday materials?

MF: Even though they’re refined in their look and feel, I think, for both of us, we think of them as a kind of farce in that way. They have the austerity of minimalist sculpture, but they point to something very human. It’s showing an objective difference from each other, but the mathematical reduction doesn’t tell you anything about either of us. The piece points to difference being found in other things. Individuality is found in ways that can’t be measured objectively. That’s the lesson of that piece to me.

Our Difference in Height and Weight, tungsten metal cube, 1.5" x 1.5" x 1.5", 2.5 lbs. (left), Our Difference in Age, six minute silver-plated sand timer, 6" x 3" x 3", (right) 2010

AF: The “Our Difference” sculptures are analogous to how I think of “100 tilted cans of beer.” Even though there’s a high and low, or readymade to highly manufactured comparison, I feel like this idea of embodied practice is still present in each of those. The beer cans balancing for two months on their edge reference our bodies just as much as this little cube with our weight difference. But, as far as the plexiglass and this sterile environment, I felt like we created those as units. Before digital times, I guess, scientists had a certain weight that they kept in this big vault for the measurement of a kilogram. Everyone referenced it as this one truth, everything pointed toward this one unit, which our whole system of measurement is based on. We are creating a unit from a system of measurement to show the difference between our bodies, and putting meaning and truth to that as something that defines what a twin is. It’s an idea of a protected unit, and why those were on a different level, or plane, but I feel like they still have the physicality of the rock, paper, scissors, or the balanced cans.

100 Tilted Cans of Beer, 2012, cans of Budweiser, 6" x 8' x 8'

MP:  In talking about units of measurement, I’m thinking of the Tetris drawings that you each made. Did you each make a drawing for every lost game? Explain how you went from playing Tetris to drawing it.

AF: We went to an arcade and played an hour’s worth of Tetris and we did these drawings of all the “Game Over” screens. The point of Tetris is to keep this grid of blocks completely clean by completing lines. A “Game Over” screen records your failure to perform this task of puzzling together these different shapes. We each have different ways of failing at that task. What gets recorded in each drawing is the inability to perform this puzzle.

MF: I think the ways [we’re failing] are important because one of the reasons we wanted to find an actual arcade with Tetris, is that for the original two-player Tetris, if you’re playing against someone else, you both get the same Tetris pieces at the same time. So, if you were to mirror each other perfectly, you could go on endlessly. But because of the choices you make, how you decide where you place the pieces, variations start to occur.

AF: It’s a record of human error.

MF: A colorful record. The game pieces made for these beautiful drawings of failure.

Game Over (Tetris Drawing Series), 2012, set of ten drawings, ink and colored pencil on grid paper, 8" x 10" each, 1 of 5, (drawn by Alan Fleming)

MP: I do want to carry on with talking about failure as material in your work. There is something between farce and failure that’s constantly at play in this show that, to me, is a huge departure from your previous work as I’ve known it. I want to hear a little more about your interest in difference now and what you’re bringing out about it through playing these games.

AF: I think we definitely tried to have fun in a new way with this work, where we might have been more serious in other work in the past. I think it comes from this time when we were apart, asking ourselves if we wanted to keep collaborating. Is it fun? Is it something…

MF: Of value?

AF: Yeah, and I think a lot of the value for us was this idea of play…

MF: I think that came through for us in “Lessons in Gravity” because that is a video work where we tried to create these short clips where it was us just going out, doing these actions, and not knowing the outcome of it. They were kind of down and dirty, quick video shoots at all different locations. “Who’s Bad?” is a departure from our past work because it’s not edited. I think that’s something that’s changed, how we’re now showing our process of collaborating, showing this discovery, which is an experience of going through something instead of going for the final product.

MP:  Which is definitely revealed in “Psychic Color Pour.”

AF: Yeah, exactly. It’s putting out on the table how we’re going through these processes, or how we’re collaborating, and how having fun is a part of that.

MP: Al looked really excited to pour paint on you, Mike [in that video]. I feel like between that one and “Who’s Bad?,” I was seeing the individual in this way that I haven’t seen in your previous work.

Psychic Color Pour, 2012, single-channel video, 6:39 (looped)

AF: I don’t think we’d allowed that before because I think we felt like deadpan humor required this seriousness about it in order to get our intended reaction. I think Mike put it perfectly, [when he said that] the video works  show a process. Our personalities leak out in that moment, when we’re not posing for the picture. It’s recording just before that moment of performing or putting forward your ‘best face’; it’s a little bit more raw…

MF:  And unrehearsed.

AF: Yeah, it’s rehearsal takes. For “Who’s Bad?,” after I had been teaching Mike the moves, we were becoming precise, performing the whole combination. But when we started to look at the footage, we were struck by the moment of learning. So, I told Mike, “Don’t learn any choreography before you get to the subway.” The only times he would learn were in front of the camera. So, I would introduce new material to him, explain it, and he would have to learn it on the spot, on site, with people looking.

MP: You have that experience with intervening in public space from your past work.

AF:  This is funny because one of the things that we learned when we were doing those performances in architecture, is that if any authority figure would come over and tell us not to do it, we would tell them we were dancing. It was a more legitimate response than saying we were doing performance art. If we told them it was dance, they were like, “Oh, I understand what that is so I am going to keep watching.”

Who’s Bad?, 2012, single-channel video, 10:44 (looped)

MF: But if you’re climbing a building, then you’re a burglar.

AF: Yeah, basically!

MP: Tell me more about this turn between the deadpan and this place where you’re being sincere or serious about what you’re doing, but what you’re doing is totally ridiculous.

AF: Well, I think the turn comes in this idea of no rehearsal that we talked about with “Who’s Bad?”. In the “Psychic Color Pour” it’s just inherent. We can’t rehearse it, it’s a game, it’s always going to be this live recording of reactions and choices and, therefore we can’t know the outcome. It’s nice because then it is just about that process of playing this game. Guess wrong and it’ll be colorful. [laughs]

MF: It’s important that we made this body of work that was interdisciplinary and experimental for our practice. We’re in the same city again and trying to make performance and video work again, but it feels more open and more complex. It felt like we were ready to have fun in a new way.

AF: Since we have a studio together again in New York, it has become this really generative site where we we’re like, “Ok, are we going to make a drawing today? Are we going to make a dance? Are we going to make a sculpture? Is this going to be something that lives on for us?” Basically, it’s very open-ended, the studio feeling after this roundabout journey. I don’t know if any of that makes sense.

MF: It’s good!

Alan and Michael Fleming will give their artist talk for their threewalls SOLO exhibition, Game On, April 21 from  2-4 PM in the gallery. That same evening, their show Spatial Reasoning, opens at Happy Collaborationists, 1254 N Noble, Chicago, IL, reception: 6-10pm.  Spatial Reasoning runs through May 9th by appointment.

Marissa Perel is an artist, writer, and independent curator based in Brooklyn, NY. Current projects include “Days of being good to you, always,” a collaboration with Anthony Romero for the ITINERANT Performance Art Festival, NY  and co-curation of the Movement Research Festival Spring 2012: Push It. Real. Good. She is co-editor of the on-line dance and performance journal, Critical Correspondence. Perel is also the author of Gimme Shelter, the exclusive column on performance for the Art21 blog.



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