BY ERIN RIOLA
As the gallery filled with people, a roar of chatter filled the room. Filtering in amongst the voices were footsteps with intention, and a soulful pop voice singing “…I would only be in your way,” on repeat— louder or quieter depending on the female performer’s distance from me. As the crowd sipped their drinks and socialized, or watched the performer, I was struck by the nature of the performance— as viewers, we were voyeurs, looking in on the performer’s act of female labor, or ignoring it. Such is the strength of Kate Gilmore and Heather Rowe’s exhibition Only in Your Way: it highlights a sense of labor and inconvenience for navigating space as a woman, with references to femininity ranging from the bulletproof glass hearts on the floor to Whitney Houston’s voice singing on repeat.
Marching purposefully across the runway, the female performer is clad in a red work-suit with tan work-boots, and a black cap keeping her eyes from being seen. The performer carries an angular, industrial-looking sculpture from which the audio is played for the duration of the performance, marching back and forth across the runway. As the performance goes on for hours, the burden and physical discomfort it brings becomes progressively more and more visible, but she never ceases her task until the hours are up.
The installation itself fills the whole gallery; a bright red walkway snaking around the space hugging the walls, with pavilion structures that the performers pass beneath. The pavilions are made of steel rods supporting white grid structures on top. Various rectangular fragmented frames and mirrors adorn the rods. The fragmented sculptural elements mimic walking through a city; with the verticality and distorted reflections they create being reminiscent of skyscrapers. The frames themselves, however, add an element of domesticity and home to the structures, potentially tying in to feminine stereotypes. However, there are exposed nails coming out from the frames, bringing a sense of danger to the installation. The floor is adorned with various cartoonish hearts that the audience may step on as well, but they are bulletproof— symbolic of fragility and resilience.
For audience members, the piece raises questions about the work women do that often goes unseen. All in all, Only in Your Way brings attention to the tensions and discomforts associated with femininity and women’s labor, through the use of a time-intensive performance by women and a symbolic installation space for the performers to navigate.
Erin Riola is an intern at DiverseWorks for the 2017 spring semester. In 2016 she received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an emphasis on fiber and material studies.