Critics’ Picks

View of “A World of Glass,” 2011.

View of “A World of Glass,” 2011.


Nathalie Djurberg

Camden Art Centre
Arkwright Road
October 7, 2011–January 8, 2012

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.