For anyone who somehow managed to miss it, or just to simply reassert: Frieze week in London is absolute mania. Galleries and artistic institutes are flooded and clamour to offer VIPs from around the globe more attractive frills – champagne receptions, private performances, exclusive viewings – and for those of us lower down the food chain, it’s the least pleasurable time of the year to attempt to view any kind of art, shunted along to make room for the people who are driving the market.
Frieze rant aside, among the many events was a special reception for Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg (showing alongside British artist of the moment Haroon Mizra) at Camden Arts Centre. Despite being slightly off the beaten (or by now, thrashed) gallery trail, it was packed to the rafters, with VIPs gobbling up canapés and excited talk of a surprise performance from Django Django with Mizra himself. Art is tested in this frenzied atmosphere. Perhaps the reason the Camden Arts Centre selected two provocative, attention-arresting artists to present simultaneously.
Installed across two rooms A World of Glass is an exhibition constructed with great precision; comprising four new claymation films, each 5.01 in length, accompanied by a synchronized soundscape composed by her collaborator Hans Berg, allegorical paradigms exploring the fragile balance between diametric forces: life and death, sexual desire and violence, man and beast, mind and body.
The films, entitled My body is a house of glass; Monster; Didn’t you know I’m made of butter?; and I’m a wild animal depict a series of literal, very physical confrontations between man and beast. Working with an improvisational stop-motion technique, Djurberg’s characters, a fox, an owl, a crocodile, a bull and a hippo – wrangle with naked human protagonists, who are exposed for their vulnerability, each gradually deconstructed – both literally and metaphorically - by the brutality of wild forces.
The untameable dark inner desires that the human condition is subject are a fundamental concern for Djurberg; but what she manages, that her characters do not, is to achieve balance. Her characters are neither positive nor negative, their actions are neither good or bad. Djurberg in part accomplishes this by dealing exclusively with the present. The corollary seems to be: this is how this feels now. 5.01 minutes of concentrated, raw feeling.
Berg is just as concerned as his collaborator with immediacy, and his music is imperative to the effect of Djurberg’s animations: elegiac and mystical, Berg takes Djurberg’s creations and refracts them through new fields of emotional depth, imbuing them grace, and eliciting soaring empathy.
Only in one film do no human figures appear, Monster, in which a horse trapped in a room of glass ornaments, unable to escape on four legs, raises itself onto two, and uses broken glass to commit a gory suicide. This one film becomes a pivot that reverses and confounds the opposition of beast and man – and implying we are all, in fact, susceptible to the same weaknesses.
Djurberg’s work is often esoteric, navigating taboos such as self-mutilation, bestiality and sexual violence. Her message is manifold, if not elusive, or, perhaps better, she is concerned with stirring up feelings rather than imparting messages at all. Djurberg is an artist who opens a hundred cans of worms, but suggests no answers. There was no talking over these films, just some uncomfortable shifting and shuffling from viewers.
-- Charlotte Jansen
All images courtesy The Camden Arts Centre
Images: Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg: A World of Glass (film still) 2011, Courtesy of the artists, Zach Feuer Gallery, New York and Galleria Giò Marconi, Milan Collection of Hadley Martin Fisher © Nathalie Djurberg.