Cologne Edit April-May 2014

Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg, Maybe This is A Dream 
Kölnischer Kunstverein, 9 April – 1 June 2014

Swedish artist-and-composer duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg have achieved art-world prominence with their haunting Claymation videos. They explore the complexities of the human condition, while generally leaning towards the darker elements that inhabit it. Sinister tales of suffering, taboo-breaking explorations of sexual desires and, more often than not, graphic portrayals of violence make up the core of the works’ storylines. Rendered in Djuerberg’s signature style of magnificently handcrafted sets and characters, and accompanied by Berg’s enchanting musical scores, the titillating videos are tempting to the eye, and allure just as much as they disturb (or rather allure because they disturb?) while, formally speaking, they adopt the semblance of children’s animation.

he show at Cologne’s Kunstverein presents a host of recent video works in the space’s large screening-room. This from of presentation differs from the videos’ usual projections in which each work is shown separately in a black box or as part of an installation. Somewhat less enveloping but poignant nevertheless, the cumulative effect of sitting through several video works in the cinema-like setting is in itself a confrontation with one’s own boundaries, inciting a range of feelings, from pleasure to antagonism.

The adjacent exhibition space is dedicated to one immersive installation, The Black Pot (2013). An abstract film containing no characters, plot or gore, this work is a mesmeric meditation on ontogenesis – the transformation of an organism from egg to mature form. Berg’s hypnotic music correlates to the organic dance of round forms on the large screen, as if both inspiring their movement as well as responding to its spawns. The darkened space is filled with large sculptural elements, shaped like colorful giant eggs or oversized doughnuts with rainbow glaze. In this bubbling pot of mystic biology, anything could hatch from these eggs.

Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg, Maybe This is a Dream, 2014, Installationsview Koelnischer Kunstverein, photo: Simon Vogel

Keren Cytter, Siren 
Galerie Nagel Draxler, April 9 – 30 2014

The show includes two works by Israeli-born, New York-based artist Keren Cytter, winner of the 2009 Absolut Art Award: The new video Siren, which premiered earlier this year at the 10th Marrakech Biennale, and the piece Les Ruissellements du Diable from 2008, which constituted an important stage in the artist’s growing oeuvre. Cytter often opts for simple, not to say raw, technical means in her short films but rather than seeming driven by aesthetic motivations, the films appear all the more captivating with their pointed disregard to the more “sophisticated” possibilities of cinematic image making.

In Siren, Cytter takes this central characteristic of her practice even further. She explores “poor images” mass produced by smartphones and edited on widely available computer programs. A female protagonist instigates a murder, convincing a male character to do it in the name of all women and for the sake of the battle of the sexes. At the time of the murder, the male victim is engaged in a sex-chat on his computer, and so the murderer later accuses the female protagonist of having plotted the murder because of her unrequited love to the victim. Finally, he stabs her, too. The scenes are repeated cyclically in the film with slight variations in context and quality: We see the plotters editing their own murder footage to embellish it with digital special effects such as a cute rain of flowers, or synching a soundtrack of songs with “siren” in their titles culled from Soundcloud.

The ambiguity of narrative voice, but also of the characters’ motivations, corresponds well with the earlier work Les Ruissellements du Diable (literally “The whisper of the devil”) where nothing is what it seems. It’s a multi-layered, multi-referential work, where the male and female narrators blend into one another, film credits appear in the middle, and every monologue is mediated.

Keren Cytter “SIREN”, 2014
Installation view, Galerie Nagel Draxler, Cologne 
Photo: Simon Vogel, Courtesy: Galerie Nagel Draxler, Cologne/Berlin

Pierre Huyghe 
Museum Ludwig April 11–July 13, 2014

Pierre Huyghe
Zoodram 4, 2011. Living marine ecosystem, resin mask of La Muse endormie (1910) by Constantin Brancusi Photo: © Guillaume Ziccarelli

Last year, French artist Pierre Huyghe transformed Paris’ Centre Pompidou into a landscape rich with “live situations”—his preferred term for the semi-controlled environments he creates that are at once contingent and contained. The show surveys two decades of this important artist’s work and is making a stop in Cologne, and will travel to Los Angeles’ LACMA later this year. But Huyghe is not one to repeat the staging of his own work without letting it also accumulate traces of its own existence: Huyghe removed walls from Centre Pompidou, where before his survey a major Mike Kelley retrospective took place, and installed them within the architecture of Cologne’s Ludwig Museum.

Pierre Huyghe. L’Expédition scintillante, Act II (Light Box), 2002. Light box sculpture. Music: Gymnopédies 3 et 4 d’Erik Satie (1888) conducted by Claude Debussy. 200 x 190 x 155 cm. Installation views Centre Pompidou, 2013. Photo: © Pierre Huyghe

Pierre Huyghe. The Host and the Cloud, 2009-2010 Film, HD video, Farbe / color, Ton / sound, 2h, 1 min 30

Pierre Huyghe. Untilled, 2011-2012 (Detail). Site: animal and plant species, manufactured objects and minerals, variable period and dimensions Ausstellungsansicht / View of exhibition, Kassel, 2012. Commissioned and produced by documenta (13) with support from IAC, Colección Isabel y Agustin Coppel, Culiacan, Mexico; Fondation Louis Vuitton Pour la Cré- ation, Paris; Ishikawa Collection, Okayama, Japan. Photo © Pierre Huyghe

The walls are a case in point for Huyghe’s current obsession with transforming the space of representation by means of invasion and metaphoric as well as literal cross-pollination. Upon entering the exhibition in the museum’s lower floor, an announcer will shout your name into the hall, as if you were entering a royal ball. On the walls, holes still visible from the Kelley retrospective are now inhabited by ants. Dimmed lights and discrepant structures make the experience of walking through this space eerie, verging on the physically uncomfortable, so that when stumbling upon one of the larger niches for video works, one lingers with relief.

Among the live creatures that populate the scene is “Human”, the pink legged dog that resided in Huyghe’s wilderness project for dCOMENTA (13). Also from there, the reclining nude sculpture with a living beehive for head is installed outside. Aquariums in different rooms house spider crabs, and in the work Zoodram 4, Brancusi’s polished bronze head Muse Endormie becomes a shell for a hermit crab. At Centre Pompidou, ice skaters glided elegantly on a large rink of black ice. Here, the ice is let to melt, forming uncanny dark crystals. The final stop in Los Angeles will certainly contain even more atrophy.

By Hili Perlson