Critics’ Picks

View of “A World of Glass,” 2011.


Nathalie Djurberg

Camden Arts Centre
Arkwright Road
October 7–January 8

Nathalie Djurberg’s “A World of Glass” consists of two chilly rooms filled with translucent objects arranged on wooden tables. The strangely carved ornaments resemble frozen relics from a fabled land. Looking through them, other, more sinisterly beguiling realms come into view: Four looped videos play on either side of the faux-glass installations (they are actually polyurethane), set to haunting music that is interspersed with tinkling sounds, like the clinking of ice-filled goblets. Her videos are stop-motion animations of morphing clay figures: In Monster (all works cited, 2011), the proverbial bull is loose in a china shop. Fragile items—the same ones we see on the tables—are displayed in cabinets and a bull breaks them with malicious glee. He then lacerates himself and his flesh dissolves to expose bloody bones. Opposite, I’m a Wild Animal is just as preoccupied with unfurling the beast that lurks behind our “civilized” selves. Here, a skinny man emerges from the mouth of a sweaty hippopotamus only to encounter grinning crocodiles. Though he dons the red mask of a toothy creature, the disguise does not protect him: “I will eat you,” threatens the hippo. “Like it was a candlelight dinner,” corroborates a crocodile. They don’t lie.

Starting off as a painter and sculptor, the Swedish artist found neither satisfied her. The puppetlike beings that populate her animations evoke the sugar figurines on a spoiled child’s birthday cake—that is, until we see them in action. In the video My Body Is a House of Glass, a fox, an owl, and a reindeer live with a naked black girl in a giant ice cube. She cuts her leg on a piece of metal and the fox, while attempting (or pretending?) to lick away the blood, ends up gobbling her foot. As she huddles, weeping, in her glittering cage, a white horse bathed in eerie blue light appears. Is he plotting rescue or ravishment? The more we like Djurberg’s “World,” the less we like ourselves.