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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nathalie Djurberg with Music by Hans Berg: 'A World of Glass' at Camden Arts Centre

Me and Baiba saw A World of Glass  (Nathalie Djurberg with Music by Hans Berg) at the Camden Arts Centre yesterday (there is a great review by Nathan Budzinski in the Wire 334 December issue, p18, Cross Platform: Sound in other Media). It felt like a very heady, enveloping cocktail. Liquid clay danced across two opposing screens, between which tables of cryonic semi-transparent ornamental frankensteins loomed and vibrated and tempered the glassy and icy chinks of Hans Berg's music. Glass, Ice, Melted Clay and Sound. Film, sound, material, space and light.

The perceptual affect of the materials left me dwelling upon my own reading of the work. The frosty mutant ornamentation loitering between the screens was not glass, nor ice, but actually a plastic (polyurethene I think) used to to fill moldings taken from such whimsically domestic assemblages. Nonetheless, I still fell for it's disguise; in a darkened room with bass filling the air I didn't want to breath on the shapes for fear of melting them. I also grew acutely aware of how Hans Bergs music was 'interacting' with the space and the objects in such space. The bass felt worrying, as if a delicate frosted thimblesque 'thing' may trip under it's weight and damage it's beautiful self. The high pitched 'tinks' and 'chinks' pierced the projector lit room with tenacity and my mind wandered onto rather geeky trains of thought concerning the resonance of such sounds within the glassy tabletop forests. I left with questioning how much of the experience was mediated by my own projection of the the material and spacial properties around me, to what degree did the fantasy of glass, ice, air and water shape my experience of the work?

Nathalie Djurberg's films were magical and enthralling, the horrific, dark fables of "vulnerability, desire and suffering" reflected, in an almost off camber mode of conceptual convergence: the brutal materiality of nature. Anthropocentric situations were subverted and negated through plays of primal desires, depictions of harrowing survival instincts and fleshed out enquiries of prey-predator dynamics.

The juxtaposition of knowing (or loaded) sensory mediators (the dark space, the glassy objects, the ice cavern sounds etc) and the gory claymotion explorations of life and materiality at it's most natural, brutal and base - essentially a de-anthropothizing of the viewers materiality concepts  - created a profound tension.


  1. Hi Vivian, I got the mail out from CAC about this but the press release didn't catch my attention. Thanks for writing this up, I'm certainly going to check it out now. I've seen Djurberg's work a couple of times before, the Berlin Biennale in 2006 and then at the Whitechapel Lab before the new building was complete. I only just trigged after seeing the images (I think I forget names that i can't pronounce) but I'm a big fan of the work because of the synergy of that old claymation and the looseness and fractal nature of the narrative and conceptual form. The visual space is full of thumb prints and fallen arches and this is mirrored by way that the progression of ideas splits and limps along, all the time tied to the physical. It's a risky area, being so close to Svankmajer and playing off the uncanny through both the fiction of narrative (all those situations…) and the semi-real of matter animated, however the stuff I saw before pulled it off through it's calm conviction (horror is not to be feared, just examined, there is nothing camp about this). I like what you say about the bass and the pseudo-glass, I can immediately imagine some of that and I'm now really keen to go and check it out. I had no idea you were at Goldsmiths, I thought you were outside of London?

  2. Hi Ralph

    Yes - jan svankmajer sprang to mind after 30 seconds in the exhibition, BUT, there is a lot more to this artwork than that, the use of mixed media, the panorama of conceptual execution is deeply thorough, like a wave of orchestrated concepts hitting you at once but from such disparate origins. Personally I feel that the films, as wonderful as they are, are a small facet of this piece.

    I'd like to think that this is not just a manifestation of my warped subjective reading, it's not apophenia. The fact that the 'glass' ornaments were used in the films AND displayed in such a sonically and photonically controlled manner leads me to feel this way - there is certainly a knowing intent around this compositional aspect - yknow?

    The CAC blurb about this piece focuses on the film content much more, the themes of "untamed forces that drive desire" and Goya parallels are the meat in this particular textual meal - whereas, as fascinating as they are (hell i'm even writing about the Chapmans Bros Insult to Injury pieces, the de-facing of Goya's Disasters of War) these aspects are merely a contributing component to a vast, sprawling conceptual experience....

    Yeah, as per the blog title, really enjoying the course - love it. I am still based outside of London but spend a few days each week negotiating the rail network and being squirted along various tube lines like a nomadic, be-satchelled toting culture sponge....

  3. Hi Vivian, I went down to the show this morning and was really impressed. There's a lot of Bataille in there, a swirling fragile vortex reacting and slumping close to collapse like any social system ("I have bad manners"). The cut glass decanters are organic, the ornaments are revolting...

    The camera work is particularly sophisticated, moments of stuttering panning shots from behind obstructions that feel uncanny in the context of animation. I was impressed with the sound too, something so openly built with Reason or some other soft synth sequencer seemed very appropriate for the dream quality of the videos. It's just unreal, imitation sounds for imitation dancers.

    The other guy in gallery 1 was really boring. I think its the same person I was just as unimpressed with at the British art show, very tasteful sounds with a banal and non-committal stab at some larger conceptual framework which felt more like upholstery than any kind of foundation for the work. Taping down the keys on a Juno?? Sounded nice though.

    Bought a copy of Rattle, good stuff.

  4. Hi Ralph

    I've only read a few Bataille books, if you'd like to expand a little the Bataille tip that'd be good. "I have bad manners" stood out like a sore thumb to me when the crocodile said it, there was this rush of brutal natural forces being interrupted by a anthropocentric sentiment - is this what you mean? The spiral begins with nature and winds upwards to 'society' and 'civilisation' whilst always being linked to it's base, itself, it's evolutionary driven foundation???

    Yes, some very cool panning shots in the bull in a china shop type film, I noticed the focus rushing foreground to background whilst the panning around the animated bull, I thought that was quite accomplished.

    Haroon Mizra? - I missed that actually, but some of my friends have similar sentiments.

    Not sure if I should say this here but...Hans Berg will do a remix of the sound piece and post it on soundcloud soon - I'm quite looking forward to that.

    Rattle - I still haven't had chance to read the House of Leaves essay, really looking forward to that - let me know your thoughts if you read it - you're a Danielewski fan if I remember right?

  5. Hi Vivian, with Bataille I'm simply referring to the way that rational idealism is questioned/condemned/collapsed through the videos, combined with the character's ultimate servitude being to base matter. Civilisation/manners/ideology is an illusion (the black girl getting her feet bitten off, the organic "cut-glass" display) a violence done to others (to the hippos and crocodiles through the man's objectification of them) or to the self (the bison's inability to meet the ideal he has set himself). Ultimately matter is the only source of understanding and creative expansion. All character's ultimately accept this or at least realise it by the end of each video. The clearest example being the white girl and the zebu. Each character corrects their relationship to the other through testing and understanding their own physicality to the point of pain and near death (including their understanding of themselves as not being animals or plasticine models but some third thing which sits between the two just as Claes Oldenburg's soft sculptures are neither the thing they refer to symbolically nor the material they are constructed from). Ultimately misdirected sexual desire and fear give way to an embrace which is more about symbiosis and material sensation ("my hair is made from sugar, it can cover your entire body").

    I'm very new to Bataille, having only started looking at his writing about 2 weeks ago. I'm working through the Blackwell reader as well as "Visions of Excess". As one would imagine it's very illuminating flicking back through Fanged Noumena "The animal with the right to make promises enslaves the unanticipated to signs in the past, caging timne-lagged life within a script" Land, Nick "No Future". I have Land's book on Bataille but I don't want to look at it until I've got a bit of a grip on the original, in the same way that I broke of reading Fanged Noumena when I realised my lack of Deleuze vocabulary was making it slow going (and then from Anti-Oedepus I retreated to Brian Massumi, the problem with being an autodidact is one frequently finds oneself moving backwards in order to move forward again).

    incidentally, I can strongly recommend the Aimee Selby essay on Bataille and Deleuze in Rattle.

    I started reading the House of leaves essay. I will return to it but on first skim it seemed a little boring, though I do like the idea of viewing the whole book as through one character (didn't that happen at the end of Northern Exposure?)

  6. Ha - Land - love that guy, his book on Bataille is, is, an experience, there's a lot of passion, lots of weight, I've got Fanged Noumena but haven't really spent too much time with it yet. I think I love the prose more than the subject sometimes... Negarestani too (although his nupta cadavera or nupta contagioso totally shadowed my though for some time....even now thinking of Dolan's slippery voice, the schism of absence and presence, derridas hymen - -I cannot get away from Negarestanis notions of mutual forced putrefaction and the ontological ramifications... getting off topic...ugh)

    Have you read the Story of the Eye by Bataille - that's quite a nice little book.

    Ergodic text is an important thing for me, post web our eyes actually move differently - free pint to anyone who can point me in the direction of some proper empirical studies on this....

    There will probably be a decent post here soon about the voice - totally engulfed in that subject right now.

  7. I've started on Thirst for Annihilation now. It's very nice to be reading something that flows so well, I've been totally absorbed. The opening chimes a lot with what I'm interested in right now, the use of "I" within the text, the confessional, the inability to escape responsibility (the multiple "I"s). I think this is something really important, to accept responsibility for what is written, not to prop it up or to borrow that transcendent power voice to get your point across.

    I spent a lot of yesterday transcribing a lecture by Isabelle Stengers http://youtu.be/4HiH9PYQGsw
    on situated knowledge, among other things. Stengers talked about how Realism and indeed biology are grounded in a case by case basis, how the only truth is that nothing endures. Contrasting this to the languages of the social, historical and psychological sciences where endurance is central.

    "the trust in endurance shapes the abstraction and explanations of physics, but organisms were named to indicate the no-privileged position of biology where endurance is exhibited as an achievement"

    I'm for anything that removes power, any way of thinking that puts responsibility on those involved with both the delivery and the receiving and not some conjured genie other. This is what I like about Land, Bataille and the small amounts of Negaristani I've read, and ultimately why Speculative Realism seems so timely. The collapse of authority is a way into matter and visa versa.

    You're right about ergodic text, I don't know of any writing on the subject but clearly we have adopted a rhizomatic attitude to reading (and therefore thinking) where the fragment is king, everything is incomplete and the reading experience is a unique one rather than standardised (I choose where I go). On the other hand the active part of the reading, the clicking, the choosing, has the power to overtake the processing of information, it can become simply a journey through, the mechanics dominating any change of actual contact with the text, let alone achieving a synthesis. This is part of the reason why I transcribed 40 minutes of a lecture delivered in a thick Belgian accent, to be able to be in the text, to actually process and not feel compelled to hit the expose hot-corner or swap tabs, like reading was a multi-task function that I could do even with my eyes directed at something else.

    I'm looking forward to your stuff on the voice.