Nathalie Djurberg [Sweden]

Deceiving Looks

location: an inside wall of a bunker, behind Pionova Gallery, 3 Olejarna Str.

While she first studied as a painter, it was Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg’s divergent, some would say diabolical turn to the clunky, hand-wrought practice of Claymation that became the stage for her id to play. Since 2001 she has developed a distinctive style of self-taught, stop-motion video animation: materializing her deepest, darkest desires in a primal clay world of man and beast. The process is equally manual and intuitive – shooting each scene frame-by-frame and stitching them together (with basic digital software) before they are scored by her companion and collaborator Hans Berg. The ensuing videos have become infamous for transforming a seemingly benign genre into a nightmarish, yet wryly allegorical lens upon human behavior and social taboo. Infusing a childlike language with carnal urges and “low-tech” lust, Djurberg crafts 21st century fairy tales that revel in violence, eroticism and the seven deadly sins. Crude and confessional, their raw quality aptly reflects the underside of the artist’s psychological excavation – unearthing our innermost appetite to see (and savor) the abject; the ugly; the “forbidden.” In this uncanny arena of uncertain moral consequence Djurberg blurs the line between good and evil; right and wrong; to simultaneously empathize with both victim and perpetrator. Without justice or judgment, ethics lose their assignment as folklore, fantasy and fetish bleed into one.

As part of a larger series exploring “the wild” as both geographical and social aberration, Deceiving Looks animates Djurberg’s long-standing interest in the overlap between human and animal behavior. The protagonist of the video is an exotic, voluptuous, “dark” woman (reminiscent of the Venus of Wilendorf) who wanders naked and exiled on a portentous desert plane. As she comes upon a hole in the ground, her curiosity compels her to pierce the surface and probe that which lurks beneath – opening up a Pandora’s Box akin to Eve’s seduction by the serpent of Eden. Its brethren multiply here after the woman sticks her hand in the cavity to coax out its serpentine inhabitant, unleashing a collective attack that alternates between assault and eros. Thirsty for both her blood and curvaceous body, the snakes leap, lunge and chomp in a dramatic choreography that moves from swarm to self-cannibalism. In the process, as the snakes surround and subdue her, the woman deftly dodges their strikes – turning their vicious bites upon one another. The ensuing wounds are quickly, if partially dressed with a variety of carnival-like masks that include a bird, ape, and charming red devil – who in turn hypnotizes the dark-skinned Eve (once again). Yet even his vexing eyes cannot cease the bloodshed as the snakes continue to attack unsuccessfully, showering the earth in saturated pools of blue, green, orange, purple and fuchsia. The Technicolor hue of this play-dough gore disarms the aggression (to a degree), at the same time it highlights the theatrical allure of violence on movie screens and renovated military bunkers.

Such is the case in/on this particular venue, where an infamous military structure tries on a variety of masks overtop the spilled blood of past wars. From nightclub and gallery to climbing wall and courtyard, said bunker tries to aestheticize its violent legacy through acts of renovation, disguise and erasure. Yet just as the bloodthirsty snakes cuddle with their former prey at the end of Deceiving Looks, does Poland cavort with the many aggressors it has managed to evade (and overcome) across the centuries? At times taken by their beguiling charms; at other times appalled by their barbaric force; this ambivalent dance continues with no discernable end in sight. Instead, upon a bastion of hostility, a wartorn reminder of the past takes on a plethora of personalities entwining eroticism and abuse.