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Nathalie Djurberg
by Laura Allsop
Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg’s disturbing films, realised in
claymation (that staple of children’s programmes Hartbeat, Gumby
and Wallace & Gromit), plumb the fears and fantasies that have
plagued human beings since time began. Her weird and wonderful
films narrate fairytale-like stories featuring princesses, ogres and
fantastical beasts (such as big bad wolves clothed in army fatigues
and toting submachine guns), and show the artist looking at
complex societal woes like racism, bullying and sexism through a
prism of deep-seated folkloric narratives.
There is an unmistakeably gothic dimension to Djurberg’s
work, placing her among a number of rising artists using similar
motifs in what might increasingly be described as a mini gothic
revival. Tense and alarming scenarios frequently develop in her
videos, such as the attack on two female clay puppets by a
lascivious male, or a tiger continuously licking a female’s derrière,
and replicate the unexpected and recurring narratives found in
nightmares. These grotesque dramas tap into timeless gothic
themes like the fragmentation of the body and repetition as trauma;
the puppets’ plasticine limbs are easily separated, a condition
enthusiastically exploited in Djurberg’s work.
In her 2007 video Hungry Hungry Hippoes (whose title –
barring its idiosyncratic spelling – is lifted from the popular children’s
boardgame), Djurberg creates a monstrous scene in which three
enormous leaky matrons engage in sexual activity with a naked,
thumbsucking black child. And what Hungry Hungry Hippoes and
Djurberg’s wider practice so skilfully dramatise is not only children’s
fear of adults but also adults’ fear of children. In this particular video,
lumpy, misshapen women cluck and coo as they go about their
nasty business, which entails abusing a young child and eventually
locking him inside a cupboard. These freakish women embody, in
all their fleshy grotesqueness, society’s fear of the devouring,
Oedipal mother.
On the flipside of this is Feed All the Hungry Little Children
(2007), which follows a heavily made-up prostitute as she strolls
through a shantytown. Small naked children, many smeared with
what looks like excrement, pop out of hiding places (some even
emerge from cages) to crowd around her. Initially she is pleased
with the attention, but later becomes increasingly frightened by
their open mouths and desperately clawing hands. Batting them
away, she lactates over them to keep them at bay.
Djurberg’s willingness to explore problematic relationships
between adults and children, coupled with her use of pliable, gooey
materials, suggests influences ranging from Louise Bourgeois to
Paul McCarthy. Her upcoming exhibition at the Fondazione Prada,
in Milan (19 April until June), extends the gothic motif of corporal
partibility even further: each new work will be screened inside a
model of a culled body part, while the Fondazione space will be
transformed into a replica of the inside of the human body, making
for a truly grisly theatre.
from top: Hungry Hungry Hippoes, 2007, DVD,
4 min 19 sec, edition of 4; Timbuktu, 2007, DVD,
4 min 39 sec, edition of 4; It’s All About Painting,
2007, DVD, 4 min 57 sec, edition of 4. All images:
courtesy Zach Feuer Gallery, New York
FUTURE~1.INDD 94 11/2/08 12:25:36
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