American Realness

300 Words on Realness: Cult to the Built on What

300 Words on Realness: Cult to the Built on What

by Lydia Mokdessi
published on: January 17, 2014

Unique among shows I’ve seen at @R, Berlin-based Adam Linder’s Cult to the Built on What feels chaperoned; he is not just de facto emcee but it is prominent among his personas. The work begins in the hallway with a video, trimmed and looped like a series of GIFs. A ballet mistress encourages and instructs her virtuosic male student in a private lesson. The third person is revealed to be Linder. “Werk,” he chides, and slithers in his chair, snapping his spine and wrists. We smirk at the obvious incongruity of his behavior, but we’re not uncomfortable; we’re familiar with this type of cultural mixing. We enter while he “prepares the space” with whirling arms and fluttery feather duster hands.

He poses next to the lectern as if for a photo. He adopts the speech patterns and mannerisms I associate with my friend from Astoria. He spews rhythmic rap lyrics (“us being here puts this in an -ism,” “self-impressed gays with helvetica resumes”) in a variety of styles, from creepy overacting suave-ness to Nicki Minaj-esque rapidfire. He finds stillness and holds his hand limply to the side, preening and pivoting up the aisle as if trying to sell it to us. He slithers and self-strokes in a Vogue Fem approximation.

The lectern is his companion as he hauls it from spot to spot, finally placing it atop a small spinning platform and revealing it with shimmering purple disco light. This star treatment of a spartan piece of plywood hints at a disdain for the academy — or for unexamined privileging of a single, narrow culture over the sources of pantomimed swagger / new-agey energetics / urban micro-cultures that he is trying on.

After a year of PhD analyses of Miley Cyrus’s treatment of black bodies and uproar over Rihanna’s “burqa swag”, Cult feels topical. Linder is, at first glance, an unlikely candidate for “re-skilling” as a rapper, and yet he does — what other cultures can he inhabit? How many does he already inhabit? Isn’t ballet also a “culturally specific” dance form? Who is allowed to do and say what in front of whom? Cult to the Built on What doesn’t answer, but it approaches the conversation with sensitivity.

image: Ian Douglas