After viewing Robert Lendrum's installation Living Documents (opening Thursday, November 3 at Eyelevel Gallery) you'll be a bit closer to knowing him---or at least, a version of him. Lendrum uses a scientific approach to riff on ideas of identity, performance and memory. Partly a reaction to online surveys and profiles, the results are thought-provoking, awkward and hilarious.
Lendrum's project begins with a collection of quantitative data on a specific person: himself. "I figured I had to do it to myself, or it would just be rude," Lendrum says, laughing. He enlisted 77 friends, family members, co-workers, acquaintances and ex-girlfriends to fill out surveys and questionnaires, which were translated into pie charts, line graphs and lists. Participants answered questions about Lendrum's most and least attractive features, posture, knowledge, prejudices and more. They were asked to reveal their relationship to Lendrum, but could otherwise stay anonymous. "I was sort of hoping to get harsher criticism, maybe because it would have been more fun to work with, but I was surprised how nice people were," Lendrum says, "though there were some beautifully snide comments."
Next, Lendrum held auditions, with the goal of casting someone to play himself in a series of videos. Worried his involvement with the auditions might make the actors self-conscious, Lendrum communicated with them through a fake name and email address, dyed his hair and donned glasses.
Watching the actors play him based on the summarized information was often "mortifying and ridiculous," Lendrum says. "At one point I was thinking, 'Who does this? Why did I do this?'" Lendrum ended up casting Montreal actress Jacqueline van de Geer, because her interpretation was "the most uncomfortable and out there."
The videos aren't scripted. Instead, Lendrum and van de Geer improvise from the data, making "sort of conceptual sketch comedy videos." Two videos are based on Lendrum's conversation habits, as reported by his peers: "My Favourite Jokes" and "My Commonly Used Phrases." "Jacqueline's [first language is] Dutch, and a lot of these phrases were pulled from my teenage years ---say skateboarder culture, hip-hop culture," Lendrum says, "and she has no sense of how they're used or what they mean. So when she's intonating them, they kind of turn into these senseless idioms." In "Dudes," van de Geer acts out responses to the question "What are Robert's pronounced traits in situations with only heterosexual men?" with the assistance, naturally, of a few dudes.
Lendrum filmed reenactments of family photos in six-minute-long videos where the actors hold poses, slowly beginning to shift and blink as time elapses. In "My High School Graduation," van de Geer poses as Robert while he acts as his father, in his actual high-school cafeteria. He even found the woman walking in the background of the original photo and asked her to re-pose. A separate image shows Lendrum with his mother, just one of the instances where he calls up the history of his family's divorce.
In the end, how close do these stats and videos represent Robert Lendrum, the person? "Data is not you, and my project highlights the difference between personal data and persona," Lendrum says. "And even those two things are not necessarily who you are." His performance on opening night will focus on "the idea of presentation of the self, identity in context, which should open the door to that kind of thinking."