Keren Cytter

Pilar Corrias Gallery, London, UK

Keren Cytter, Pentagram, 2009, graphite and pen on paper, 150x150 cm

Keren Cytter, Pentagram, 2009, graphite and pen on paper, 150x150 cm

The film Four Seasons (2009), which forms part of the exhibition ‘Domestics’ by Berlin-based, Israeli artist Keren Cytter, opens with a neo-noir celebration of late-Hitchcock-meets-1980s-kitsch: a record plays dramatic music by Ferrante & Teicher; thick fake blood drips onto white tiles; snow whirls through the apartment and a lone woman climbs a dark, smoky staircase. Artist Lucy Stein plays the female lead as a wayward Hollywood beauty, clothed in a leopard print dress, teamed with a pink jumper, red lips pouting nonchalantly. ‘Excuse me, my name is Lucy, I’m living next door, second floor. I wanted to complain about the music, its stopped now but …’. Lucy is confronted by a tall naked man, rising out of the bath as bubbles float across his upper thighs. Softcore porn enthusiasts might feel momentarily at home as this scene unfolds, but rather than a fast-track to the act of love, confused, the man starts calling for a woman named Stella.

As the film unravels, conflicting narratives are revealed, switching between the stories of Stella, a tragic tale of heart-break and domestic murder, echoing Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Lucy. A voice-over describes the building using its architectural elements as metaphors for human behaviour. Climaxing with a series of spontaneously combusting objects – birthday cake, Christmas tree, record player – Four Seasons is a homage to all that is fake, showcasing visual clichés, lo-fi special effects and deadpan delivery. Yet, somehow, Cytter creates a sense of poignancy rather than of cynicism.

Also on display are red ink drawings of a skull and camera and plans of the building Four Seasons is set in, accompanied by a text that reads: ‘A presentation of images and text which are not related to one another can create a narrative in the viewer’s mind.’ Four Seasons is not purely a deconstruction of the mise-en-scene, a comic pastiche or a cinematic critique. Rather, it forms a complex exploration of perception and memory; layers of language and image create a hierarchy of interpretation that is reliant upon collective and personal cultural signifiers. This is evident in the film Peacocks (2009), also displayed along with several diagrammatic drawings. A series of five fragmented chapters explores the memory of a failed sexual relationship through cycles of word play, photographs and poetic cliché, fixating on the physical display of a male character: ‘It’s your cock, she wants to see your cock. I want you to beg. I want you to cry. I wish you were dead.’

Cytter’s work emphasizes only multiple fragmented moments of feeling. As the man in Four Seasons explains to Stella, ‘I loved you then and I love you.’ Stella replies ‘… you pushed me. Head hit the floor so hard and my skull cracked wide open […] You broke my back. My knees. My heart.’ Clearly he wasn’t in love with Stella at that point. Cytter flouts her style clashes – home-movie Hitchcock, lo-fi Hollywood glamour, soap-opera Samuel Beckett, soft-core feminism – manipulating these cultural tools with results that range from the banal to the sublime, from the embarrassingly comic to the vulgarly surreal.

Issue 123

First published in Issue 123

May 2009

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