New York

Olaf Breuning

Metro Pictures

“He’s a culture hopper, he’s a different kinda guy . . . ” So sings a campfire strummer from a theme-park Wild West town about the chameleonic protagonist of Swiss artist Olaf Breuning’s appallingly entertaining new video Home, 2004. A thirty-two-minute, double-screen mini-epic filmed in settings ranging from Machu Picchu to the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Home is a relentless parade of absurdist scenarios that veer from situation to situation and mood to mood with alarming unpredictability.

Secreted behind a tall wooden fence, Breuning’s most ambitious production so far lies in wait like some undiscovered species. Equal parts home movie and music video, it casts actor Brian Kerstetter alongside a host of the artist’s friends and other nonprofessionals. Kerstetter, whose gawky frame, unkempt hair, and wide, pale eyes lend him an unhinged air even before he opens his mouth, gives a genuinely unsettling performance. On the right-hand screen we see him in black and white, bouncing off the walls of a swanky hotel suite while introducing or narrating a series of anecdotes that are enacted, in color, on the left. Each episode (there are ten altogether) begins with an easily recognizable scenario but soon spirals into something stranger.

In one scene, an underground parking garage is the site of a clandestine rendezvous. Gang members salute each other by crossing golf clubs, then pile in a car and drive out to Amish country for some fun. When Kerstetter witheringly compares the rows of white-painted houses that pass to “freshly bleached teeth in the mouth of God,” we know that the meeting of these two cultures will be far from a match made in heaven. Sure enough, when the posse spot a young man walking by the side of the road, they tackle him, strip him, pull an E.T. mask over his head, and chase him off across the fields in a set-up that could have come straight from an episode of the British interventionist comedy show Trigger Happy TV, in which similarly absurdist minidramas are staged unannounced for an audience of bewildered passersby.

Allowing us no time to reflect on what we have just seen—if reflection is even an appropriate response to such calculated idiocy—Kerstetter then launches into another anecdote, this one about a skier who, seized with angst about the meaning of it all, leaps from his hot tub to vomit the words “I exist” into the alpine snow. In the tall tales that follow, Kerstetter takes on the personas of a drug dealer, a cowboy, a homeless man . . . the alter egos pile up until we’re ready for anything. One segment dispenses with narrative altogether to follow the antics of a crew of teenage metalheads doing little more than drinking beer, eating dog food, wearing a variety of homemade masks, and chucking M&Ms at the pets.

Breuning, critical of what he regards as the overcodification of much recent art, immerses himself in pop culture to ensure that his own work remains accessible. Emphasizing a continuity between daily life and the dreamworlds of fashion, film, and TV, he refuses the possibility of a single, coherent truth. And, like Mike Kelley before him, he employs adolescent humor to bypass any lingering expectations of a po-faced, grown-up “conclusion.” But what remains is, despite a much-touted but hardly distinctive use of an amateurist vocabulary, a rather slick, perversely watchable, but ultimately purposeless wig-out.

Michael Wilson