Art: Nathalie Djurberg with Hans Berg, A World of Glass

Haunting and disturbing scenes at the Camden Arts Centre as Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg use music and claymation to create nightmarish films

Véronique Ward

I often have trouble with contemporary art. Too much of the same old ideas bouncing off one another. However, some weeks ago I stumbled upon something which made me get down from my cynical high horse and actually enjoy my contemporary art experience: Nathalie Djurberg – aided by her collaborator Hans Berg – presents ‘A World of Glass’, a small but moving exhibition hosted by the Camden Arts Centre in Finchley Road.

The exhibition, like many of its predecessors, lends itself well to the space provided by the Camden Arts Centre and takes on a quite basic form. Two rooms – dark as dusk ebbing away – project two films each. Accompanying these is music composed by Hans Berg; a soundscape that is little more than glass tinkling and provides a background that only helps make the projected scenes all the more haunting and disturbing.

Made of rough plasticine and using the ‘claymation’ technique, each short film introduces characters in the midst of confrontation with rather unpleasant situations. The environments they are set in are dark and give little indication of their location, making them feel all the more nightmarish and thrusting the viewer into a zone of intense psychological discomfort.

This is perhaps unaided by the inclusion in the gallery space of life-sized props matching those that appear in the films. The viewer is made to feel like they are very much a part of the unpleasant reality of the characters’ fates, which unfold at an alarming rate. It is in this state of mind that we witness the protagonists’ disintegration, each in such a way that is uncomfortable to watch yet difficult to turn away from.

Further unnerving is the blatant sexuality of the scenes, evoking sado-masochistic reverse bestiality which Nathalie Djurberg has used to touch on human feelings of vulnerability, discomfort and despair. Even more disconcerting is the uncertainty projected by the characters’ apparent mix of fear and arousal in the face of their disintegration.

The Camden Arts Centre opens late on a Wednesday and makes the most of its evenings. On the night of my particular visit the centre had prepared a screening and presentation about fairytales and their evolution through time, giving an additional level of perspective to Djurberg’s work. Here we heard how popular stories have progressed from violent, sexual accounts to tales of human kindness and lessons in morality. Djurberg has used her work to revisit their original form, and does so particularly effectively.

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