Necropastoral Parades: Nathalie Djurberg

by on Nov.09, 2011

Here’s a trailer for the Parade by Nathalie Djurberg (with music by Hans Berg) at the Walker Art Center.

Regular Lucas, Sarah Fox and I had a Montevidayo meeting at this exhibition last Friday and it’s totally amazing. Anybody who lives in or near the Twin Cities should definitely get over to the Walker and see it ASAP. It’s certainly one of the best, most moving shows I’ve seen in a long, long time.

My immediate reference point for this overwhelming experience was when I went to see Kara Walker’s Walker show back in the 90s (can’t remember what year). This was one of Walker’s first big solo shows and I hadn’t even heard of her. I just walked in by happenstance and my first reaction was, “Ugh, how boring, 19th century silhouettes” but it was of course a trap: Before I knew it I had entered into the space of Walker’s sadistic fantasia and there was no way out.

I know Djurberg’s work so I wasn’t fooled this time, but this exhibit has a similarly brilliant use of space. When you enter, the first thing you see are tons and tons of Audobon-ish birds crowded into the room. These birds are brilliant and beautiful but seemingly also tainted by fluids that evoke oil spills, but the “oil” is colorful: they seem polluted by art, a fluid, toxic, transformative notion of art that plays an important role in the videos.

To me this saturative, possibly poisonous fluid brings this artwork into useful conversation with Joyelle’s ideas about the necropastoral:

The Pastoral, like the occult, has always been a fraud, a counterfeit, an invention, an anachronism. However, as with the occult, and as with Art itself, the fraudulence of the pastoral is in direct proportion to its uncanny powers. A double of the urban, but dressed in artful, nearly ceremental rags and pelts, the Pastoral is outside the temporal and geographical sureties of the court, the urbs, the imperium itself, but also, implicitly, adjacent to all of these, entailing an ambiguous degree of access, of cross-contamination. (The Pastoral, after all, is the space into which the courtiers must flee in the time of plague, carrying the plague of narrative with them.)Moreover, the anachronistic state of the Pastoral is itself convulsive and self-contaminating, accessing both a Golden Age, a prehistory somehow concurrent with, even adjacent to, the present tense, and a sumptuous and presumptive afterlife, partaking of Elysian geography, weather, and pastimes.
A Velvet Underground.
Rather than maintaining its didactic or allegorical distance, the membrane separating the Pastoral from the Urban, the past from the future, the living from the dead, may and must supersaturated, convulsed, and crossed. This membrane is Anachronism itself.
Another name for it is Death, or Media.

There is little space for the spectator to move in: in certain small paths through the birds and around the edges. My first impression was the massive collection of birds, but it soon becomes clear that these birds are perhaps not primary; that the primary art works may be the movies on the walls.

Tee spectator is pushed to walk around the room in something like a station of the cross, we walk around the edges, tiptoeing around the almost threatening bird crowd (they might seem especially threatening if one, like me, has watched Hitchcock’s Birds 3000 times).

The videos – made in crude claymation technique – depict various violent acts. From three fat hags pulling the feathers out of a bird, to a crocodile, to a black woman being attacked by snakes who also eat their own tails *off* (and grow masks to cover up the wounds), to the same black woman turned purple being tortured by her two “sons” (wearing plague masks), to a white man being involved in some kind of grotesque mockery of transcendence with a bird of paradise.

In addition to the sexual violence, what runs through all of these pieces is a sense of the transformative power of art, a grotesque sense of the body being mutilated into beauty. When the hags kill the bird, the feathers get into their naked bodies. When the snakes eat their tails off, they double and grow masks, when the sons cut open the woman she bleeds colors and claymation mush.

This art-plague seems illustrated or embodied in Hans Berg’s aerie score which seeps through the museum from piece to piece.

As in Joyelle’s necropastoral, it seems the plague is a subtext: art running like Artaud’s subterrenean plague. In the most upsetting piece, the one in which the “sons” torture their purple mother, the sons are wearing plague masks, but it doesn’t protect them against art – and it certainly doesn’t protect their mother.

This art plague animates the entire collection into a spasmy, jerky “parade” that ultimately leads to the grotesque, materially occult moment of the last video, where the white man seems both corpse and patient, ravished or saved by the bird of paradise.

With all this spasmy, animal-human sexual violence saturated by Art, it’s hard not to think of the work of Djurberg’s fellow Swede Aase Berg (whose new book, just about to be released is told in part from the point of view of a bunch of nutty chicken):

In the Guinea Pig Cave

There lay the guinea pigs. There lay the guinea pigs and they waited with blood around their mouths like my sister. There lay the guinea pigs and they smelled bad in the cave. There lay my sister and she swelled and ached and throbbed. There lay the guinea pigs and they ached all over and their legs stuck straight up like beetles and they looked depraved and were blue under their eyes as from months of debauchery. My sister puked calmly and indifferently: it ran slowly out of her slack mouth without her moving a single nerve. And the cave was warm as teats and full of autumn leaves and beneath the soil lay the arm of a mannequin. There lay the guinea pigs and ached and were made of dough. There lay the guinea pigs beside the knives that would slice them up like loaves. And my sister with lips of blueberries, soil and mush. In the distance, the siren bleated inhumanly. That is where the guinea pigs lay and waited with blood around their mouths and contorted bodies. They waited. And I was tired in my whole stomach from meat dough and guinea pig loaf and I knew that they would revenge on me.

In this you get this same sense of jerky violence for example, and the creatues/humans made malleable by art.

Since at least Joseph Beuys, you’ve got this art practice of making performances which leave behind souvenirs/relics that can then be exhibited as art. I have long been intrigued by this dynamic. But Djurberg’s does something a bit different: one gets the feeling watching the films that the birds may be such relics from the videos. But the videos are of course not performances, not the “real life” that so much performance art seems to depend on, but Art. Only the jerkiness, the crudeness of the animation calls attention to the art-making, turning it perhaps into a kind of if not performance, then at least an act, a violent act at that. But if the birds are mere relics, they are certainly given a primary space in the exhibition. And here I’m thinking of something I take away from Aase’s work as well: how the foreground and the background are unsettled, how original and fake are unsettled into a spasmodic moebius strip.

Also known as the necropastoral.

Or Media.

The witchy medium is the message.

11 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    I’m reading the catalog right now and it’s fascinating how it attempts so hard to frame Djurberg’s work with (American) Fine Artists – Thek, Guston, Schneeman. The most obvious reference point for me is of course claymation children’s movies. I remember watching such films when I was growing up and often they seemed very sexual/erotic to me in an uncertain way. But here I think a key to my blogging about “fake surrealism” – how it takes popular culture sources seriously. Djurberg totally digs into that weird childhood eroticism of claymation. /Johannes

  2. Johannes

    “They try to make mercy less scary than it is by calling it art./You are the hallucinatory hornbill, eat me to pieces, with/your thick pigmented beak…” (Alice Notley, Culture of One)

  3. James Pate

    I think it’s interesting when any experience with art is discussed as being overwhelming. The whole idea of being overwhelmed by art is such a taboo notion in certain circles. Instead of reinforcing the usual subject/object and knower/known positions it radically undermines them…

    Which is why somebody like Derrida preferred the theater of cruelty to the theater of alienation. The second being still firmly rooted in the Platonic tradition and the rhetoric of representation.

    Also, I haven’t seen it yet, but several of the reviews for Lars von Trier’s new film Melancholia have called it “overwhelming,” a word that hardly ever appears in film reviews. Stuart Klawans in The Nation writes, “The long glorious prologue to the film…was inexplicable, evocative, aching, grotesque, surging and overpowering, unlike anything I had experienced before at the the movies.”

  4. Lucas de Lima

    I heard that some employees of the Walker, of all people, don’t like the show because it’s too “creepy.”

  5. Johannes

    Well, I can see how someone forced to stand in that room for a considerable amount of time might feel slightly unhinged. /Johannes

  6. Lucas de Lima

    Ha, yeah, but I think the employees in question are higher up than the staff who watch over the exhibits. It makes sense–the aesthetic is very atypical for the museum (and most museums?).

  7. Johannes

    Yes, I think “creepy” is generally not a “high art” or “Tasteful” emotion./Johannes

  8. “Fuck Art”: More on Nathalie Djurberg - Montevidayo

    […] on Nov.13, 2011, under Uncategorized I found this interesting interview in conjunction with writing this earlier post about Djurberg’s Walker Art Center […]

  9. Nathalie Djurberg at The Walker | The Lantern Daily

    […] is a great post about Nathalie Djurberg’s Necropastoral Parades on Montevideyo. Necropastoral Parades is a show at […]

  10. Greg

    I liked this installation very much, but in a very uncritical way; I enjoyed it without knowing why. Even though I spent about twenty minutes in the room, I mostly missed the grim subtext of the violence in the videos, perhaps because I ended up dividing my attention between them. What I experienced was closer to Tom & Jerry cartoon violence. To me, it was all bright colors, bizarre characters, and (on first glance) fun. Also, I did not find the birds overly threatening, as some have reported. I thought of them more in terms of Mardi Gras masks come nearly to life. Indeed, in retrospect, the homemade feel of installation makes me think in terms of festival, costumes, and play acting — and I say this believing that festivals, costumes, and play acting are very serious matters that often communicate important cultural information in intuitive, indirect ways.
    Scary masks, scary but fanciful birds, scary but colorful characters, all serve the dual purpose of communicating and making fun of what we fear, and in so doing they illustrate a playful aspect to the dark side of life. Perhaps Djurberg is saying something about the playful elements of humanity’s “dark side.” Grimm’s Fairy Tales are dark too, but that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying them and sometimes laughing at them

  11. Adventures with weird rabbits and dismemberments: Sara Tuss Efrik’s deformation zone - Montevidayo

    […] [Here's a link to an earlier post about Djurberg.] 2 comments for this entry: […]