Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Exploitation is for Kids (& Dogs)

Nathalie Djurberg's *Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs)* at the Zipper Factory, Oct. 28th

The pervasive cleverness and craft of Nathalie Djurberg’s ‘Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs)’ lies in the continuous play between a non-live claymation video and live-soundtrack performed simultaneously with the projection of the video, and synched at times loosely with the video’s visual-narrative content: down-and–out children warring Untouchables-style with a pack of dogs over scraps of food and other dejected objects eventually to be given medical treatment and chow after the ‘war’. The inconstant delay between pre-made visual and live sound elements offers a satisfying game for an audience to play. The sound of dogs sniffing each other’s asses is seen and heard while viewing the video, then one looks down to Djurberg and fellow performers on stage before the video and sees one of the performers rubbing a pencil against a notepad (the sound of sniffing!). The sound of grenade explosions are offered by an aerosol-paint stenciled bass drum being struck with a mallet, and gunfire by one of the performers rapidly tapping their finger-tips against the contacts of a mixing board. When often there are images of gore and wounding the accompanying sound effects are provided by the squeezing of a ketchup bottle onto the stage by Djurberg herself.

As in children’s toys and media ‘Untitled’’s spectator gains pleasure from the tactility of the object of their attention—there is a remarkable visual tactility about claymation, a medium of children’s entertainment typically—as well as from the concomitant observation of the way something being seen and heard is constructed. Operative is the old dyad mimesis and diegesis whence the active attention must negotiate the realities of a living and performed present with multiple levels of representation (sound effects, drum and bass soundtrack, and purely playful performance actions—a head is bandaged or a back scratched in ‘real time’ redoubling the action in the video).

The fun of such ‘figuring out’—the revelatory art of producing the *mise-en-scene* *and* the representative object for the audience in tandem—is both complemented and disrupted by the video’s content, as it presents a cartoonish violence not unlike that of typical cartoons (Tom and Jerry) or recent parodies of them (The Simpson’s Itchy and Scratch) if only, as ‘Untitled’’s press release reads, to provide a litany of abject “twists” on the “innocuous” medium. That the video’s narrative features a “war” taking place between the triply marginalized—homeless animals and children of color—gives pause. The extreme visual and aural pleasures of the video and live soundtrack are always in relation (and troubled by) the fact of the work’s narrative content: figures (however fashioned by brightly colored clay) doing tremendous harm to one another (however ‘unrealistically’) eventually to be sutured, put ‘back-together’, and convalesced by light-skinned, human nurses with uniformly skinny, big-breasted bodies and puffy multi-colored hair.

In the end perhaps ‘Untitled’ takes most after 60 ‘s and 70’s exploitation cinemas in their various tactical deployments of socio-economic and racial stereotypes, and displays of brute force (however senseless much of ‘Untitled’s’ violence seems opposed to the complexities of much exploitation cinema). Beyond Tom and Jerry et al, ‘Untitled’ specifically recalled for me the Fat Albert cartoons of my youth in their own abject tweakings and telling slant of the children’s cartoon genre post-Blaxploitation and in lieu of what I sensed were Djurberg’s unique problems: how to maintain visual-aural pleasure and social critique in constant, yet dislocated, relation; how, what’s more, to interrogate the innocence of children’s entertainment in relation to adult decisions, effects, results, consequences; how, finally, to embody these problems through the formal involvement of live and non-live elements.

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