HTNM Lecture – Elizabeth Freeman “Intermedia Dance”


Sex in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Gerard & Kelly’s Kisses

Megan Hoetger, a graduate student from TDPS, revisits Fred Turner’s recent History and Theory of New Media Lecture.

Last Thursday, February 19th, Professor Elizabeth Freeman of UC Davis’s Department of English kicked off the spring semester of the History and Theory of New Media lecture series. Her talk, “Sex in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Gerard & Kelly’s Kisses,” offered brilliant close reading analysis of contemporary performance duo Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly’s cross-medial translations of Tino Sehgal’s 2010 The Kiss. Working through the concept of chrononormativity first developed in her 2010 book Time Binds, Freeman presented a history of synchrony through the twentieth century, which has bound modernity and sexuality together in the pursuit of getting bodies “in sync,” from the assembly line to the bedroom. Her reading of the multiple iterations of Gerard & Kelly’s re-working of Sehgal’s work (including You Call this Progress? from 2010; Reusable Parts/Endless Love from 2011; and Kiss Solo from 2012) proposed how the timing of sexual normativity might be undone through the temporal gaps created in the processes of remediation. Over the course of her examination of Gerard & Kelly’s never quite in sync “gapped subjects,” Freeman raised broader concerns around the normalization and standardization of immediacy and proximity. In so doing, her talk spoke to new media interests across disciplines, from dance and performance studies, to critical and queer theory.

If you couldn’t make it out last Thursday, we’ve got two more lectures coming up soon: join us for the fourth talk of the series this Thursday, February 26th at 5:00pm in the BCNM Commons (340 Moffitt Library) when Professor Chris Goto-Jones from Leiden University’s Department of Comparative Philosophy & Political Thought will present “Gamic Orientalism;” or next Thursday, March 5th when Alan Liu of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of English will present the fifth talk in the series, “Against the Cultural Singularity,” at 5:00pm in the Geballe Room (220 Stephens Hall).



Elizabeth Freeman’s talk focuses on a set of dance pieces by Tino Sehgal (Kiss, 2002) and the performance duo Gerard & Kelly (You Call This Progress?, 2010; Reusable Parts/Endless Love , 2011); and Kiss Solo, 2012). This performance set moves from Sehgal’s live performance in a museum space, to Gerard & Kelly’s audio-recording a a reconstructed version of Sehgal’s score, their company’s live performance of that score, and their video installation of that performance. Gerard & Kelly’s movement of the Sehgal piece across media highlights and deconstructs the way that heterosexual sex play is, in Kiss, fluid, synchronous, eternal, “alive,” and aesthetically pleasing—even as the couple in Kiss mimic poses from high art and thus suggest the that heterosex, too, is a work in the age of mechanical reproduction. Gerard & Kelly pick up this hint by moving heterosex much further across media, disorganizing the flow of Sehgal’s choreography. As their three pieces move across media, we see the heteronormative function of the pas de deux and other pair dances undermined: the ease and regular pacing is gone, sequence is ruptured, the flow in and out of iconic poses is lost, soundtrack and image split such that sex is desubjectified and decentered. Yet critique is not Gerard & Kelly’s only mission. Their intermedia performance highlights the politics of rhythm as a bodily regime inculcated by specific power regimes, capable of contesting normative organizations of timing, pace, frequency, flow—specifically where sex is concerned—and able to manifest and materialize new social formations. In short, Gerard & Kelly’s work captures the transformative possibilities of rhythm as, itself, a medium: “between the somatic and the social,” as the philosopher John Protevi puts it, rhythm regroups people without turning them into subjects, multiplies people without reproduction, and muddles subject/object relations in ways that make it especially potent for a queer politics.

Elizabeth Freeman is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis, and co-editor (with Marcia Ochoa) of GLQ: a Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. She has published two books with Duke University Press, The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture (2002) and Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010). Her essays have appeared in American Literature, ALH, boundary 2, differences, New Literary History, Social Text, Women and Performance, and other journals.

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, this event is free and open to the public.