GAME ON: Alan and Michael Fleming at threewalls

Who’s Bad?, 2012, single-channel video, 10:44 (looped).

Alan and Michael Fleming come to play in their show GAME ON at Chicago’s threewalls gallery. Working as a collaborative team, the identical twin brothers frame their practice within their genetic and fraternal relationship in order to create a variety of thought provoking gestures about similarity and difference, friendship, and the creative potential of games.

Many of the pieces in the show were created during a yearlong separation in which the brothers, while spending 2011 living in different cities – Alan in Brooklyn and Michael in Chicago – used their time apart as a springboard for a series of conceptual projects. Psychic Color Calendars (2011), for example, tests the twins’ long-range telepathic abilities. For each day in January, the Flemings would try to think of the same color, red, blue, yellow, black, or white, and record the results on their respective calendars. Out of thirty-one days, they were successful only three times. The results were predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless in that they reveal the creative options available when success is an impossibility.

Throughout the show, simple instructions, like the rules to a game, create spaces for variation and play. In a series titled Correspondence (2011), the artists mailed each other absurd instructions written on tourist postcards featuring their respective cities. One postcard reads, “Move an object that is bigger than your body.” The object chosen was a dumpster, documented slightly askew in a Polaroid snapshot accompanying the postcard. The instructions are all fairly simple and silly, like the challenges children might pose to one another, testing the bravery and creativity of a surrogate body.

Rock Paper Scissors, 2011, hydrocal, 3" x 36" x 20".

The mail also factors into a piece titled A Sea Shanty (2011), which consists of a six inch cubed cardboard box that the brothers mailed back and forth to each other throughout the year they were apart. Like a long range game of catch, the act of sending and resending the package provided the artists with a simple ritual capable of fortifying their relationship. Fittingly, the box was empty; a true gift in the sense that it was the gesture of sending something and the consideration for one another that was the purpose behind the package. The object itself could act as a substitute visitor when Alan and Michael were unable to make the journey to meet one another, the meaning of the box developing out of a shared sense of longing.

The poignancy of the brothers’ connection is further illustrated in Conjoined Chairs (2011). Here, each artist set out on the same day to purchase a chair at a thrift store in his respective neighborhood. The chairs were then cut in half down the middle and reassembled to create two new chairs that mirror one another. There is something tender about the way the chairs suggest comity within the nature of the brothers’ identities; that half of one is contained within the structure of the other and vice versa. The chairs also serve as an allegory of artistic partnership as the suturing together of ideas.

United again in Brooklyn, where the artists now live, the Flemings created a second body of work for the show utilizing strategies from the 2011 projects. Like Psychic Color Calendars, the video Psychic Color Pour (2012) employs chance and a limited color scheme in a new game of telepathy. In the piece, each brother takes a turn sitting in a chair trying to guess the color of six buckets of paint held above him one at a time by the other brother. Answer correctly and the paint is set aside. Answer incorrectly and the paint comes showering down. Consequence and reward, trust, and just a hint of malice are inserted into the Flemings’ themes of play, collaboration, and impossible expectations.

Installation View.

Physical abilities are also tested and measured. A video piece titled Who’s Bad? (2012) features the artists attempting to perform a dance sequence from Michael Jackson’s music video “Bad” on the same Brooklyn subway platform where Martin Scorsese directed the original. Mimicking the internal process of becoming a trained dancer, Alan, who has studied hip-hop and break dancing for several years, coaches his untrained brother Michael through the series of movements. While Alan moves through the choreography with confidence and obvious skill, Michael appears hesitant and is always just a step behind, revealing the distance between the twins’ physical abilities.

The dance steps in Who’s Bad, like the simple instructions and systems used in projects throughout the show, are similar to the ways in which children’s games rely on rules to create spaces of imagination and play. In the spirit of cooperation, the artists rarely push these spaces to dangerous, destructive, or malicious places. Instead, a sense of camaraderie and friendship pervades the show, offering a catalogue of what is possible between two artists generously open to pursuing each other’s creative impulses.

GAME ON is on view at threewalls in Chicago through April 21, 2012.