R. Kelly Responds…

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?

Ryan Kelly 



  1. “We expect her to reinforce what we already know to be true about her.” This shit is hot, and I totally agree. It’s also further evidence that she wants to have her cake and eat it to. She presents scandalous acts in a context that anticipates the scandal, and therefore, satisfies the craving for transgression. It IS the language of advertising (“indulge yourself”), and the audience can leave the performance with their hands clean as a baby’s bum.

  2. Note–I did not see Young’s recent performance but did see Snow White last Spring.
    I appreciate the thoughts of both Ryans…here is my elaboration, thank you.

    Britney…an icon now truly human. We have seen the disturbing portraits of train wreckage frozen and silent on the cover of US or Star in the subway caddies, but to see her flesh moving in space along prerecorded song in the middle of a sea of strikingly more practiced dancers gives us something stark and undeniable to encounter about the struggle of human and consequence. Both Liv Young and Brit shows us what work is, where it isn’t, and how at the crucial moments money or recognition are irrelevant, we will know who you are by what you do.

    It is an important moment in time for everyone to ask themselves what am I doing and how am I going about that certain doing? In performance, hard work, total commitment, the willingness to die for the moment to touch experience with truth, to identify with the need that we have to feel makes us listen as performers or audience. When we witness this experience, we can feel alive. For Liv Young, she’s got that something intense about focus and feeling delivered at the same time or separately, but distinct and distilled and as RK said, makes us care, makes us feel, even if it is all about her feeling, even if she disregards and abuses the people that work with her, she is feeling and giving to the moment so we do, and so it makes it real, even if it’s her own aesthetic of realness which can be offensive or make us question what we think is right or wrong, or where to draw the line as a society of what is a maximum extreme of acceptable. Brit exists as she does as an example, not of the choices that she makes, but for the consequence of those choices. We are reminded that anyone can be their greatest or worst and it is entirely dependent upon how they live their life. It would be very interesting if Britney spent less money on sunglasses and houses and gave back more. When I say give back I am not talking about it in terms of monetary quantity, maybe she can keep all $750,000 she makes per month. Giving is the act of reaching beyond the self. We know people are doing this not because we necessarily see them give something to another, but because we feel it in their presence, we feel they feel for others so we feel realness when we look at them as a result. Value and relevance can be anything and even brits can help us see. Is she like Icarus or is she actually a reminder of Sisyphus? The livs remind us to put it all on the line, to sacrifice at any cost. The brits and livs make us question how important we think we are. What might happen if we care more about others and other countries and other moments and other experiences that are taking place alongside ours? The big difference is in the smallest difference.

    RK said it clearly when he suggested Liv is not on the edge. I would agree she is not counter culture pushing boundries or redefining or transforming. She is not making us see in any new way, she is linear and obvious. Sometimes when we look to create something edgy and confrontational we end up creating the banal. She is the symptom and the critique, but like Brit I am not sure all this is a result of choices she has made but rather are consequence to her actions. I am skeptical that she is making a critique, because if she were, then she would have to offer us more, but she doesn’t, she keeps it to herself. She keeps it because she needs it to survive as Ann Liv Young. If she didn’t exist we’d have plenty of other statements from history and the present to have the same conversation. But in the end she is worth her own commitment, and I have no doubt she will take herself towards her razor’s edge again and again, and that can make celebrity or history, the outcome dependent on if she goes deep enough within her self to move beyond it and I know she has the courage to do that.

    Time to get real folks, the recipe is in the batter…

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