This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.

Nathalie Djurberg at Performa '07

Nathalie Djurberg
production still from Nathalie Djurberg's Untitled (Working Title
Kids & Dogs)
, 2007. Courtesy of New York Magazine.

This past Sunday I had the pleasure (and mild pain) of attending the opening night of Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg's newly commissioned claymation film and performance at the Zipper Theater. Like all of Djurberg's cleverly disturbing, whimsically simple, yet insidiously horrifying, claymation films this one was equally replete with dismembered body parts, graphic violence, gory guts, genitals, and of course a motley melange of dogs, kids, and sexy nurses. Hans Berg and Pascal Strauss accompanied the raunchy action on toy drums, plopping ketchup bottles, pots, pans, household items, slashed cantaloupe, and banging kitchen utensils while lavishly clad in handmade Prada costumes resembling a couture marching band on crack, primly clad with medals of honor and all. Meanwhile Miuccia Prada herself sat among the crowd of spectators who came to see Nathalie's short but sickly sweet performance.

The claymation film began with a band of castaway children climbing out of garbage cans with disheveled hair and torn rags hanging from their emaciated bodies. Djurberg, Berg, and Strauss promptly proceeded to bang, hack, saw and whistle over a rhythmic beat. The dogs came out in a maelstrom of colors, shapes, and forms that blended one into the other to form Djurberg's intricate caste of rapidly moving characters. The dogs were ravenous, angry, and militant, exchanging dirty looks and ominous weapons as they prepared for the showdown in the mean streets of the undefinable city. Move over Gumby and Pokey, because these little clay creatures will rip you to shreds; they could well eat you. Indeed, the children and dogs proceeded to unload their massive artillery, throw their plentiful grenades and tear off limbs, one by one, but not before they pissed, puked, bled, and screamed while the performers squeezed, hissed, whistled, and banged to create the equally disturbing sound effects that complimented the film so well. Next came part two of the claymation feature in which the performers returned to the stage. Djurberg, wearing a sexy nurse number, proceeded to carefully put on rubber gloves and a surgical mask on her stage partner, while the clay characters did the same. Next, in came the wounded. Clay or not, the picture was hardly pretty. Bloody, dissected, and missing limbs, the kids and dogs needed immediate attention, which they received full throttle from the attentive medical staff whose own physical reactions to the violent scene were equally disturbing.

Intricate film. Djurberg and her assistants produced a veritable theatrical performance with a myriad of instruments cleverly placed to carry out every single pertinent sound, from the loudest bongs to the most subtle of infant cries and canine squeals. The challenge of the piece is simultaneously watching the action on the screen and the action on the stage, both of which persist with unrelenting action from the first frame of the film to the very last. Perfectly executed to match each action harmoniously with the right ready-made sound maker, the film tirelessly captivates, distresses and leaves us cringing and laughing, while secretly questioning the artist's unsettling proclivities. Djurberg single-handedly takes the seemingly innocuous medium of claymation, once considered the choice medium for the children's cartoons of decades past, and turns our sensibilities inside out, reminding us that kids are not always so innocent, and that simple objects can turn an ordinary kitchen into an orchestral score for a film that makes for an awe-stricken audience and leaves with a bang.