Walk around Me in Circles until You Get Tired and Then Go Home” is the title of a performance by Sarah Mendelsohn and Fred Schmidt-Arenales, a duo of multidisciplinary artists living and working together in Pilsen. It could also be a good name for Forever and Always, the West Pilsen gallery where Mendelsohn and Schmidt-Arenales performed on Friday night, because I almost did just that before I realized that the unmarked bungalow in front of me was, in fact, the gallery.
I knocked on the door and found a hangout of five friends in the living room. Schmidt-Arenales pulled out a chair for me and genially placed a can of beer in my hand. In a few minutes we all turned toward the kitchen table, where he and Mendelsohn sat down across from each other, and the performance began.
WAMCUYGTTGH consists of of several different stories. A young American woman begins an affair with a Greek teenager, who later turns out to be Giorgos Katidis, the professional soccer player infamous for his “Heil Hitler” during a March 2013 game. A young American man, not affiliated with the military, travels to Baghdad in his brother’s army gear to watch the now-iconic dismantling of the statue of Saddam Hussein. The simple visual similarity between the two images—a toppling Saddam and Giorgos’s Nazi salute—suddenly emerges: a man with one arm raised up. These are stories of individuals on the periphery of global news spectacles, both of which involve the contemporary threat of fascism.
And then there’s the story of Yvonne Rainer and Robert Morris, an archetypal couple in performance art history. Mendelsohn and Schmidt-Arenales pass their identities back and forth; sometimes she’s Yvonne, sometimes he is. It was more difficult to fit this narrative into the rest of the piece, but the title of Rainer’s memoir, from which Mendelsohn reads at the beginning, offers us a clue: “Feelings are Facts.”
But more compelling than this connection was that Yvonne and Robert’s fictional conversations sounded like conversations Mendelsohn and Schmidt-Arenales might have at their real kitchen table—without seven people gazing analytically at them. Perhaps about what they’re “interested in” artistically, or their daily disciplines. “You’re just worshipping the dimensions of your own body,” Schmidt-Arenales’s character tells Mendelsohn’s at one point. “I’m not interested in that,” she retorts.
And it’s true: the lines between their personal life and work are “very blurry,” Schmidt-Arenales explained. “Sometimes one of us will say something—even if it’s just a line or a few words—that the other person will kind of perk up and write down. And then that works its way into a piece later.”
For Mendelsohn, relationships always contain an element of performance. She says, “You’re always performing in your personal life. Or there’s always the pressure to perform. Ideally the work embraces that kind of pressure or tension within it and kind of insists on it.”
“We’re saying [the piece] isn’t a media critique as much as it is about fiction,” Schmidt-Arenales noted, “but it is a media critique at the same time.”
“I’m skeptical about the expression ‘media critique’ because it sounds like something analytic and knowing its own framework,” Mendelsohn added.
“Fiction in itself is a media critique because the media purports not to be fiction.”
“I’m fine with that statement.”
“Walk Around Me In Circles Until You Get Tired and Then Go Home,” Fred Schmidt-Arenales and Sarah Mendelsohn. Forever & Always, 1905 W. 21st Pl. April 25-26, 7pm. foreverandalwaysprojects.com