Keren Cytter

Keren Cytter on maturity and killing time

Keren Cytter, Der Spiegel (The Mirror), 2007, video, color, sound, 5 minutes.

One feels continuously jolted by an element of disjunction in Keren Cytter’s work. In her videos, for instance, subjects interact with each other, but the potential for intersubjectivity seems simultaneously to be stripped away. Things happen, sometimes over and over, but never within the breadth of typical temporality. Bringing together a selection of her videos, children’s books, animations, and drawings, Cytter’s solo exhibition at the Museion in Bolzano, Italy, “Mature Content,” is on view through April 28, 2019.

I MADE THREE ROOMS at the Museion in which to show my films, with the entrances to each space in three different sizes: one for a child, measuring about four feet high, then a second, normal entrance for mature audiences, and a third for teenagers—that’s the age I relate to most, it’s the most problematic one. A lot of my older films are being shown—like Der Spiegel [The Mirror], which was done in one shot in my Berlin apartment, and has a lot to do with how group behavior and space determine movement. Hanging in front of that video are large A.P.E. (art projects era) banners—they have a bust of a literal ape on them and look slightly fascist, or at least political. They’re part of a multidisciplinary project that I’ve run with Maaike Gouwenberg and Kathy Noble since 2010, and there’s a bowl with A.P.E. buttons, so visitors can take them and take part in the imaginary political party. On a large window nearby I’ve made drawings with the choreographic marks and directives I gave to the actors in Der Spiegel. The hope is that the sunlight will project some of the window markings onto the gallery floor, so that visitors can follow or react to the signs, with the sounds from the video echoing in the room.

Excerpts from an interview with Keren Cytter.

Generally, I’ve never cared much for creating a narrative that endears me to the viewer—traditional character development, for instance, or communicating some idea of an authentic experience. I think it’s awful to manipulate the audience. I’m more interested in exploring the form and strictures of a movie, in showing how the subjects interact with that. In a more recent video, Killing Time Machine, a bunch of friends are sitting around, eating Chinese takeout food, talking about a deceased parent, reading old letters, communing, and so on, but everything is very flat—the dialogue, the energy. There’s no emotion. I was interested in literally making a machine that kills time, in seeing how I could make a movie become something physical, like a machine. Watching it, you’re aware that you’re wasting your time—it tells you that in the title—but you keep watching it for some reason.

There are some children’s books in the exhibition, which started as gifts I was making for the daughter of a friend of mine in Amsterdam, and then I just continued experimenting with the form. There’s The Curious SquirrelThe Brutal Turtle, and The Furious Hamster, which is my favorite. I was very furious one day, from some email or other, and I thought about making a book with a character that can’t escape the blank page—no other characters or new settings appear, other than some fleas from his fur coat. I wanted to see how a character could exist within that structure—pretty heavy, existential stuff for a child’s pet—so it was the most fun one to work on. Of course, in the end, the books aren’t so much for children.

I guess I’m thinking about time and age a lot these days; the show is called “Mature Content.” My parents are the only ones who still consider me young—I’m forty-one now—but everyone knows that’s not so true. From thirty-nine to forty I had my little crisis, I felt I hadn’t done enough, and around that time people kept telling me that adults shouldn’t have bangs, so I grew my bangs out that year, and I looked awful! The minute after my fortieth birthday I realized that I didn’t care anymore, my crisis was gone, and I cut my bangs again. I still feel I haven’t done enough, but I don’t feel that crisis anymore; I don’t feel so emotionally aggravated. Sometimes when people ask me to make new movies, I wonder what the point is—I’ve already made so many of them—but I’m still alive, so I keep going.