In 1963, the ballet dancer Erik Bruhn performed the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake on primetime television in the USA. Two years later, Rudolf Nureyev performed the same dance, with a different female partner, for his appearance on another American variety show. In 2014, artist duo nova Milne erased the female ballerinas from the footage of each televised performance and brought Bruhn and Nureyev together in a pas de deux of their own. In the split-screen video installation, the imprecise, spectral bodies of the dancers move across two vertically mounted monitors. With two separate bodies from two separate times across two separate screens, Nureyev and Bruhn – who were on-and-off lovers for twenty-five years – appear, posthumously, at once together and apart.
nova Milne often make works by re-choreographing abstracted fragments of archival footage, and facilitating implausible new axes of disconnected times. Love and longing feature with prominence and potency in these temporally confused works, which are always multiply dated. The title of the work shown here, Jeté 1963/1965/2014, cites the dates of the two found images, and the later date of their fabricated collision. ‘Jeté’ is a technical term in ballet for a type of jump where the dancer springs from one foot and lands on the other, with one leg extended outwards while in the air. Literally the word implies being ‘thrown’, or jettisoned, and here it is suggestive of movement not just through space but also through and over time, as the dancers are making leaps across chronology, throwing themselves out from their historical confines to join each other in a hypothetical time where ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ are entwined.
The artists have previously identified Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Perfect Lovers)(1991) as an artwork that has enduring resonance for them. Here, two apparently identical mass-produced clocks are hung side by side on a wall. Set to the correct time, the initially synchronised clock hands gradually drift apart as the separate batteries expire at their own pace. It’s as a tragic dual portrait of the artist and his lover in the face of the AIDS epidemic that would take both of their lives, separately. But the work also goes beyond personal biography, presenting a picture of the impossibility of any total togetherness in time or in space.
With the doubled form of the clock face in Perfect Lovers, and in the doubled screen in nova Milne’s Jeté , there is with the nearness and sameness – as well as is distance and difference. The clock hands tick in unison as they split up, and the ghostly danseurs in nova Milne’s work are brought into proximity and simultaneity while continually separating. The silent five-minute loop brings forth an alienated intimacy where disconnected companions dance together without ever quite reaching each other. Every time is assembled out of disconnected parts, always turning and leaping away from themselves – so that even when we share presence we are out of synch.
This text was first published to accompany nova Milne’s exhibition at Primetime New York, January 2014.
It was subsequently republished in the artist book Jeté 1963/1965/2014 >