D. Travers Scott

at N.A.M.E., April 2 and 3

Some have said that relationships are like trains. If you accept that you’re on a train whose destination is set, you can relax and enjoy the ride. But fighting the destination–trying to make the train that goes to Gary, Indiana, go all the way to Taos, New Mexico–will always make for an unhappy trip. In D. Travers Scott’s performance Slices: Biannual Report on Status of Relationship With Significant Other, he has skillfully and charmingly solved part of the problem of navigating the terrain of love–he ascertains both the destination and the type of train he’s riding, and provides a sort of travel guide for others.

The faint reek of Pine Sol was in evidence as we entered the N.A.M.E. space. Later in the performance, in a video, Scott cleans a kitchen table with Pine Sol and a sponge while he and his mate, artist David Eckard, engage in a sort of shorthand intimate yet quotidian discussion. As I watched the video, I didn’t look at the two of them talking; instead, my eyes were fixed on the bottle of cleaning fluid in one hand and the sponge in the other, which somehow had become a metaphor for Scott’s approach to living and loving. What is it like to be the person who must of inner necessity clean up? Scott has positioned himself as a “cleaner upper”: a measurer, a judge, a theoretician, a tough-minded spiritualist, a sociologist, a chronicler and navigator of the hazy, murky waters of relationships. In so doing he lets us in on the nature of this dubious, self-appointed job, as well as the results of his approach.

N.A.M.E. was pristine for this performance: the floor was polished, the walls were brilliant white. The set was a table draped with a blood red cloth upon which stood a vase of red roses and baby’s breath. Near the vase was a music stand where some notes rested. Scott–a willowy, earnest young man wearing a striped oversized T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers–genially welcomed us by saying, “Hi, thank you all for coming . . .”

Scott then told us that this is his first major relationship, and that he’s been “processing” his background as the child of an atheist and a new-age spiritualist and the stepchild of a Southern Baptist fundamentalist. In trying to come to terms with his relationship with Eckard, he had a revelation that relationships are very much like businesses, and that as a single gay man he needed to “adapt to the marketplace, for if you don’t adapt you die.” He offered Sears, his last employer, as an example. The audience laughed, and so began Scott’s analysis of his relationship using an amusing parody of corporate language. Adopting the pose of a scientific chronicler also allowed Scott to show us quite a bit of his life in slide projections and the video.

Every week for six months Scott and Eckard filled out forms: analysis sheets in which factors like efficiency, feedback, profitability, loyalty, mergers, and security were rated as better than ever, superior, slightly better, average, slightly worse, miserable, worse than ever, and so on. Scott uses feedback trends, overviews, and pie charts to dissect such ineffable and ever-changing issues as the quality and frequency of sex and the presence of affection, intimacy, and loyalty amid the tides of family reunions, family difficulties, and the other private dramas that were always part of their lives but to which they merely alluded in the past. Scott examines the disparities too–for instance, the times he felt that intimacy was high and Eckard did not. In September of 1992, under “mergers” (read “sex” and “intimacy”), Scott wrote “once or twice–fun but nothing unusual” while Eckard wrote, “Not very physical this week, I’m so into my head.” Also examined are all the issues artists confront when they live together: the feelings of competition and jealousy, the worries about time alone to work on one’s art and time to be together, the questions of who made meals and when and who did the finances or errands. Then there are the flirtations with others, the three-ways, and fantasies of fleeing.

Perhaps you might wonder why anyone would want to document a relationship ad nauseam, even if his “pointed tongue is planted firmly in cheek,” as Scott says in his program notes. The charts were tedious after a while–but the tedium had a point, namely that charts manage to provide a map of something but don’t really give us the whole picture.

So what terrain did these graphs map? They showed that Eckard seems to be the one who lets the relationship hum along, while Scott is the emotional provocateur. Yet Scott’s highs and lows averaged out to match his partner’s even-keeled approach. The charts also showed that the relationship is steadily moving upward, to “better than ever.” This information, despite Scott’s tongue-in-cheek approach, also seemed to reassure him.

Scott’s video was quite well shot and edited and rather Warholian in the sense that we seemed to be looking at an unscripted slice of life. We saw a quasi-confessional monologue from Scott with the camera pointed up at his face as he drove; we saw Scott and Eckard in the poetic dance of two sleepers, at parties with their friends, roughhousing and playing, and in odd moments of dressing, reading the paper, cleaning, eating, and talking. The video revealed much of what the charts did not–the process of their life together. One saw the rapport between them and also the times when they were out of sync.

By the conclusion of Slices I no longer smelled Pine Sol; I smelled the faint perfume of the roses in Scott’s set. And better than any charts or graphs was the video footage of Scott and his lover sleeping, turning this way and that, riding that relationship train, deep in the silence of sleep and dreams, beyond chronicle, analysis, cleanup, or artistic angst, traveling somewhere together wordlessly.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Susan Abelson.