Ryan Kelly, that is. Here’s his response to C.C.’s recent review of Ann-Liv Young:
My responses are entirely derived from my reading of the Counter Critic’s thoughtful review of Ann-Liv Young’s The Radio Show. I did not attend a rehearsal or performance in the gallery earlier this month, though I did see the seed of the work at Young’s performance at the Kitchen last season.
I agree with the Counter Critic’s identification that what may be both transgressive and aggressive about Young’s work is her approximation of reality, or more finely put by the Critic, her “reality aesthetics.” What unsettles us as a public is the same equation of elements that unsettles us about Britney Spears’ debacle of a performance at the MTV VMA this past Sunday. [Aw yeah...he goes there!] This is not to suggest that Young could have possibly performed with such lackluster as the recumbent star, Spears–indeed, it is Young’s charisma, her “IT” quality, that strikes us and punctuates even her dullest conceits. It’s the rest of the performance that sisters her with someone like Spears. Young’s work is fundamentally a performance of self; at the heart of the work is always Young in that interminable performance of ego that, yes, can only be claimed by this generation. Young may or may not be an authoritarian, belligerent, self-aggrandizing person, but the performance of herself always is. Like Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, and countless other “celebrities,” Young is the story we are interested in. We expect outlandish behavior (who among us wasn’t waiting to see how Britney would top an open-mouthed kiss with Madonna?) and naughtiness (the Snow White dildo) and bitchiness (Lindsay Lohan hounding her personal assistant in a high-speed car chase or Young chastising her fellow dancers.) We come to one of Young’s show to see Young duly perform the tropes that we have come to identify as her own. We expect her to reinforce what we already know to be true about her. Any derivation from this path is abhorrent to us and our puritanical singularity of expectation. It is the emptiest of performances, the kind that privilege what we already know over what we haven’t dared to consider. In this way the work is far from a critique of consumerism. It panders to the spectator the way advertising is played for a potential customer. It entices, makes you feel smart (in the know) and doesn’t ever make you feel uncomfortable. That’s not to say that it isn’t quirky, angular, libertarian, or even down-right nasty. But in a media culture in which absurdity, surreality, neurosis, and violence are passed off as “normal,” a loud, lude, young mother of one who performs naked with her boyfriend, is not odd at all. Really, who felt “uncomfortable” or “transgressed” during the 30 seconds in which Young partnered the dildo in Snow White? Was it anything but the inevitable fulfillment of our insatiable, consumerist need? The need to reinforce all that we already knew about Ann-Liv Young?
Perhaps this is the critique I’m most eager to deliver. Ann-Liv Young does not surprise, does not shock, does not transform, and will never change. Even if she wanted to, she’d never be permitted to. She has become the product of her work, the celebrity. And as evidenced by Britney Spears’ painful performance of self last week, a public can never have enough reinstatement of what it already knows to be true about its celebrities. They wanted Spears, and they wanted her to be a mess. The song was not the point, the appearance was. Had she shaved her head again on stage, MTV would have made even more money than they did on her uncomfortable hip rolls. Spears’ onstage performance finally engaged the performance that really matters–the performance she plays everyday for a million gawkers. Young’s project is either a symptom of this pervasive celebrity epidemic or an attempt to draw our attention to it.
There is no fair critique of Ann-Liv Young’s work without, as the Critic mentioned, a clear statement of her unembattled talent. When Ann-Liv Young screams along to a Michael Jackson song or dances her modern dance routine or insists on a clapping rhythm to “Help Me Rhonda” she does so with the sort of passion reserved only for the elect. Her commitment is visceral and contagious. Unquestionably, it is the fact that she cares that makes us care so much. The question that remains unanswered, for me, in this work, is why do I care and what do I care about? Before alcohol and anti-depressants silenced her verve, Britney Spears could make you care about the simplest, most uninteresting bit of choreography. But Spears IS a celebrity; the par is low. Ann-Liv Young is an artist; isn’t the par higher?