Young Artists 2021

Artists and Filmmakers Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin Keep the Teen Spirit Alive

Tina Shrike

Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin
A self-portrait by the artists (2020).

“We’re trying to work against the flatness of video as a medium and embed it in sculpture in new ways,” Gabe Rubin says of an installation he and Felix Bernstein have been tinkering with. It’s the latest project in their multidisciplinary practice, which has unfolded, Rubin says, like an “endless slumber party” over the past decade. “It’s a conceptual struggle too, against the flattening of everything in life,” Bernstein is quick to add. This kind of exchange is the norm for the pair. Their first gallery exhibition, mounted at David Lewis in 2018, was titled Folie à Deux, a term for a psychiatric disorder in which psychosis and delusion are shared between two patients. The show hinges on a 45-minute single-channel video in which Bernstein and Rubin synthesize the Marquis de Sade and Cruella de Vil to explore the queer coding of villains, narcissism and hysteria. A series of smart sculptures fashioned out of the video’s props hover off the gallery walls like theatrical slotes, the most proficient of which features Rubin’s dalmatian costume reclining on a seesaw. Invoking both Lacan’s notion of the seesaw of desire and the once-iconic piece of playground equipment’s recent disappearance from parks everywhere due to safety concerns, Bernstein and Rubin gesture to the dangers of fantasy, even as they court and cultivate it.

In a show the following year titled “The Vomitorium,” presented at The Kitchen in New York and the Luma Westbau in Zurich, the pair moved to allegory, creating—through the transhistorical figure of the cupid—a multi-channel installation that was unmoored from narrative while also all about it. Bernstein and Rubin have known of each other since they were high schoolers in New York but forged their friendship while undergrads at Bard College. This year they will both be twenty-eight, but their work still aspires to the unfettered energy of adolescence. Rubin tells me, with a strange combination of glee and rigor, that for the same upcoming video that sets its sights on combating flatness, the two will play a coterie of childhood characters including Miss Frizzle and Frog and Toad, in the hopes of not just talking about allegory, but creating it. They take silliness very seriously.