New York

Keren Cytter

Keren Cytter, who lives in Berlin, pulls from film history for her work, usually in service to video, the medium for which she is best known (though she redirected the practice to text in her novel from last year, The seven most exciting hours of Mr. Trier’s life in twenty-four chapters, which draws from Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom). The two short videos in her exhibition at Thierry Goldberg refer most directly to Blowup and Dial M for Murder, though they also bring to mind a range of other subjects: soap operas, reality television, Godard, Fassbinder. But while Cytter’s videos explore particular and historic threads, they also, at times, appear irreverent of the past, showing the artist to be invested solely in ravenous experimentation.

Loosely based on the Julio Cortázar short story that inspired Blowup, Cytter’s video Les Ruissellements du Diable (The Devil’s Streams), 2008, opens with the image of a translator and amateur photographer, named Michèlle, on television, telling the viewers that a man looking at the screen is in love with her. From there, we see Michèlle in what appears to be a living room, and then the man in the same room, without her. He watches her on the television and looks at a photograph of a park, with a lustful gaze that suggests he is day-dreaming about her. The pursuit becomes increasingly unclear (who is desiring whom? Who is real?), as ambient melodies, reminiscent of those in Wong Kar-wai’s films, play over slow and gracious shots—a cigarette here, a penis there—that give way to scenic views of the couple in a park, in the apartment, together, alone. A meditation on desire and longing, truth and fiction, the video unfolds like a daydream, but is also more coolly detached and contemplative than Cytter’s previous works.

An adjacent room offered her distressing yet humorous video Dial G for Murder, 2008, which recalled Dreamtalk, 2005, the love-triangle tale in which she first showed her penchant for interwoven voice-overs and interior monologues, and demonstrated her script-writing skills. In the new work, a man fantasizes about a woman (his pregnant neighbor) and appears crazed with desire. Two men wearing white golfing gloves, like the menacing duo in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, duel as his conscience and provide fleeting comic relief through absurd lines and gestures. The action occurs entirely inside one apartment, primarily in the kitchen and dining room, while Japanese text fades in and out, perhaps offering context or additional complications for the fluent viewer. In the end (spoiler alert!) the lovestruck man kills her—a splash of blood on the wall, a hand grasping for help—in scenes that recall Hitchcock, though whether this is meant in homage or parody, or as a reference at all, is unclear.

Since 2001, Cytter has explored and sampled cinematic structures, yet she has continued to make videos rather than films. Even so, many critics and the artist herself have called her work “film” (as Barry Schwabsky noted in these pages a few years ago) and she has recently begun participating in film festivals. But Cytter’s work itself moves beyond genres and speaks to a postmedium condition, suggesting that film, while it remains her primary fixation, is nearly exhausted, increasingly obsolete.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler