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Tanya St. Louis balancing on her partner (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly have brought politicized pole dancing to the New Museum. Their current exhibition, Gerard & Kelly: P.O.L.E. (People, Objects, Language, Exchange), was developed through the museum’s Research and Development residency.

Through their residency, Gerard and Kelly have held pay-what-you-wish “open pole” sessions on the museum’s fifth floor. The pair began collaborating with members of the local dance crews who were showing up to the sessions, with two crews, the Chosen Ones and We Live This, co-hosting the final session. The artists aimed to create a space in the dance community where dancers with and without formal training could participate.

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A spectator very attached to her cell phone is pulled from the audience to participate.

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The original “Silence = Death” sign returned to the New Museum as a part of the exhibition.

Solidarity and the forming of collective consciousness were the project’s aims from the start, and as the “Black Lives Matter” movement built steam through the course of their residency, Gerard and Kelly incorporated and accentuated the political language of their piece. Many members of the participating dance crews have had run-ins with the police while performing on the subway, influencing the narratives told during their performances.

The artists connected the current struggles to an earlier era of identity politics by including Gran Fury’s iconic “Silence = Death” neon sign in the installation. The sign was first shown at the New Museum in 1987 by curator William Olander, a member of ACT UP.

The residency has been documented through Reverberations, a daily performance in which Lauren Bakst retells events that have occurred throughout the exhibition to visitors. In doing so she offers an oral history of Gerard and Kelly’s powerful and rapidly evolving project.

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A rapt audience looks on as St. Louis suspends herself.

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Dancer Forty Smooth spinning around the pole.

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Two dancers touch hands in an earlier performance captured by the artists for the exhibition.

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St. Louis and Smooth incorporate the body language of the recent “die-in” protests into their performance.

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St. Louis and Smooth help each other maintain balance.

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St. Louis and Smooth lock eyes as they tell stories from above the crowd.

The final “open pole” event in Gerard & Kelly: P.O.L.E. (People, Objects, Language, Exchange) takes place February 12, 7–9pm. The exhibition continues at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Manhattan), with daily performances, through February 15.

Currently a journalism student living in Queens, New York.