Thomas Kvam

Thomas Kvam’s 22-minute animated film, Eurobeing (2006), which is stylistically akin to Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly (2006), opens with a sequence depicting an artist at work behind his easel. While the character sports an armband evocative of fascist vogue, he also has the word ‘jihad’ inscribed on his forehead: the signs are conflicting and, indeed, almost immediately he reveals that his intention was to ‘trick you with this parody costume’ and goes on to declare that he is ‘so highly integrated in Eurabia that he can speak “Hitler” fluently’. The painting he is working on at his easel is, he insists, ‘an invisible picture of Muhammad’: an allusion, no doubt, to the controversy that was sparked by the publication of some defamatory cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, which resulted in death-threats being issued to newspaper editors and, ultimately, the Danish Embassies in Syria and Beirut being attacked. But rather than taking sides over this issue, or addressing the topics of racism and censorship directly, Kvam gives us mixed signals: his character, anachronistically dressed in a fascist uniform yet referencing ‘holy war’, establishes the politically conflicting nature of the work.

After this introduction, the film dissolves into monochrome whiteness – replicating the whiteness of the ‘invisible’ drawing – before the screen is populated by several identical intelligence officers portrayed against the backdrop of a derelict, war-torn cityscape. But instead of depicting any immediately recognizable geography or conflict, this visually dramatic scene is more redolent of Japanese manga, suggesting that Eurobeing’s central concern is stylistic rather than political. Employing techniques reminiscent of Paul Chan’s work, the camera moves vertically through a visually dense space. One can’t help but be reminded of Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier) (2000–3), in which Chan reworked Pieter Breughel’s paintings, notably Triumph of Death (c. 1562) – a painting that corresponds with the bleak cityscape in Eurobeing. The film continues with a mock newsroom sequence, in which an anchorman, rather than relaying any legitimate news stories, introduces several contradictory caricatured versions of ‘a Muslim’ and ‘a reporter’ situated in the middle of the conflict. These characters converge and diverge uninterruptedly as the film progresses: the identities of Muslim, reporter and anchorman begin to blur as they all look nearly identical.

Alternating between the newsroom sequence and the war-torn cityscape, the film revolves around different versions of the stereotypes pre-sented, urging us to distinguish their changing identities, rather than putting forth any clear narrative coherence. The film is accompanied by a soundtrack consisting of frequent bursts of sitcom-style canned laughter: a somewhat inappropriate backdrop to the violent events – exploding heads and the suchlike – unfolding on screen. Kvam’s use of laughter in Eurobeing is not dissimilar to that of Oliver Stone in Natural Born Killers (1994): by employing laughter even when nothing funny is happening, they encourage us to laugh at inopportune moments when our conventional moral constitution would normally forbid it. Further humorous instances are afforded by the wildly gestural and directionless actions of the film’s characters. Often foolish or exaggerated, they bring to mind Buster Keaton’s physical, yet austere and notoriously unsmiling, expressiveness. But the film’s slapstick element is contrasted with an apocalyptic, derailed world of violence, suspending the viewer between spontaneous laughter and stark disillusion.

In lampooning the West’s fear of Eurabia, Kvam raises a discourse on Utopian living that can claim its roots in works such as Jonathan Swift’s satire A Modest Proposal (1729). Swift’s harsh and seemingly immoral proposal, in which he ‘solved’ the Irish nation’s problems of starvation and poverty by suggesting the use of babies as food, was misunderstood and provoked violent reactions, but the work was intended as a means of encouraging the public to think for themselves, rather than presenting a didactic solution to the problems it addressed.

Favouring distortion that does not lend itself to enlightenment or clarification, Kvam seems close to the Swiftean tradition. Both A Modest Proposal and Eurobeing present a version of reality that is less clear and more problematic than the circumstances they are based on. Kvam, like Swift, presents us with a strategically blurred view of contemporary stereotypes, and of Muslims in particular, provoking an unresolved tension in the viewer. The satiric edge of Eurobeing lies in its apparent lack of any reasonable ‘proposal’, of any straightforward, educational or otherwise well-intended solution. But ultimately, by leaving the problem-solving to the viewer, Eurobeing’s apparent indifference has a humanist core. Art can be a tool for reflecting on current events: not, Kvam implies, by making things clear, but rather by distorting and exaggerating what we might think is evident in the first place. If the viewer does his part, the staged confusion of a work like Eurobeing can, in the end, produce a more nuanced picture of the conflict.

Issue 106

First published in Issue 106

April 2007

Most Read

In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018