"List Projects: Gordon Hall" at MIT List Visual Arts Center
Flash Art, June–August 2018
Two groups of off-white concrete panels of varying geometric shapes are the sole occupants of the small gallery in Gordon Hall’s exhibition at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. Some lean against the wall while others are assembled into a structure resembling a fort or bench. These two sculptures are each other’s double: one an unconstructed version of the other, a replica of a bench-cum-artwork by the late, little-known artist Dennis Croteau, which Hall first encountered in a friend’s yard in New Jersey.
The spare exhibition also includes a poster, featuring a photograph of Croteau’s original bench and, on the reverse side, an undeliverable letter Hall wrote to him, which visitors are invited to take, and a performance presented in the space one afternoon. Hall often interweaves sculpture and performance, making minimalist objects specifically to explore how bodies respond to them. Their performance at the List Center, a version of which was presented at a barn in Maine last year, began with one performer—an older person in black trousers and a spring jacket, carrying a practical handbag—standing up from the front row of the audience to sit, facing us, on the sculpture. Then Hall, the youngest of the performers by several decades, moved around, atop, and through the structure, sitting and gripping parts of it with their arms and legs or lying face down with their head resting on a board as if it were a pillow. Each of the five performers took turns enacting series of repeated movements in response to the sculpture, with Hall later announcing hour marks—from one to twelve o’clock—while shifting positions, creating a sort of abstracted sundial. The room was otherwise quiet, the tone slow and deliberate; the performers’ audible breathing shifted focus onto my own breathing, my own body.
The project, The Number of Inches Between Them (2017/18), takes its title from an interview with artist Scott Burton, a major reference in Hall’s practice who, like Croteau, passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1989. Burton frequently worked with furniture forms (he made the benches in the List Center’s atrium), as does Hall, as a means of thinking about the body relationally: how bodies move through space and become legible (or not) through interaction. In a conversation after the performance with art historian David Getsy, Hall reflected that “every piece of furniture conjures a ghost—a body that uses it.” That ghost or absence feels especially palpable in this exhibition, as it traces not only the physical space between people and things, but also the temporal gap that separates those of us present from Croteau, Burton, and countless others lost to AIDS—and the grief and longing that rest there.