Keren Cytter, Metamorphosis, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 11 minutes 7 seconds.

Keren Cytter, Metamorphosis, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 11 minutes 7 seconds.

Keren Cytter

Keren Cytter, Metamorphosis, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 11 minutes 7 seconds.

We most often encounter video works in isolation from other media, so Keren Cytter’s exhibition “Ocean,” which brought together three recent videos and a series of colorful, childlike drawings, was not navigable in conventional ways. In fact, the gallery architecture itself was broken up and reorganized by a zigzag wall of varying height, spatially mimicking the unexpected twists and turns in Cytter’s videos. While drawings of sea creatures and similarly clichéd subject matter—such as maritime tattoos, hearts, eyes, pencils, and crayons—looked fairly familiar, their arrangement in the gallery space was totally bizarre. Despite the seemingly systematic organization of the titles on the checklist—Untitled (Atlantic I–III) and Untitled (Pacific I–II) (all drawings 2016)—the actual groupings of drawings on view were thematically incoherent and series were broken up. One large drawing, Queen of Sheeba, which had been fragmented and reassembled with printed duct tape, was missing a section in order to match the shape of the half-wall opposite it—a wink to the viewer, not to reveal any artifice, but rather to expose the odd naturalness of acknowledging the viewer’s presence.

Installed in two corners of that wall were the videos Ocean, 2014, and Game, 2015, while Metamorphosis, 2015, was screened in a separate, darkened space. Having moved from Berlin to New York in 2012, Cytter was influenced by American television in sourcing the imagery of all three videos and employed professional actors in Game, which starts like a soap-opera episode about an extramarital affair, then, inexplicably, though not at all unsatisfyingly, ends as a cooking show starring honey-mustard chicken. Ocean, too, resembles a soap opera, but with the eerily calm, disembodied voice-over of a guided meditation: “If you don’t want to drown, be an ocean.” The video begins by instructing the viewer to adjust her posture in relation to the screen and finishes by likening the viewer’s smile at her reflection to “the embarrassment of a blind date”—a playful take on Brechtian Verfremdung that’s actually more disarmingly funny than alienating.

Although Ocean was installed with an especially reflective screen and headphones, the sounds of an electronic memory game played by the actors in Game both spurred on and interrupted the viewer’s participation in making connections among the works. Through their presence alongside the videos, which Cytter generally makes accessible online, the drawings expanded her play with desire and distancing effects and served as a reminder that she is only interested in video and, for that matter, exhibition installation insofar as they allow her to explore the intertwining of fiction and reality. By playfully embracing clichés and the nonlinear dynamics alluded to in the exhibition title “Ocean”—a space in which, as Deleuze has it, one needs to constantly keep reorienting—she emphasized not so much the scripted nature of reality as the effects of this situation on contemporary subjectivity.

Metamorphosis, while different in mood from the other two videos, is particularly revealing in this respect. Pulled together from a wide range of footage, much of it appropriated from sources ranging from Hollywood films to historical documentaries to YouTube videos, all presented in rapid succession with only the barest narrative thread about sex and crime, the work explores the rich theme of paranoia, but less as an individual preoccupation than as a generalized state of being in the age of the Internet. Presented on a relatively small screen that imitated the look of a computer in which frames appear within frames, the work was also a brilliant metareflection on Cytter’s own practice and strategies of interpretation. By drawing attention to the way she digitally recombines existing materials, Metamorphosis situated her videos and drawings in relation to a culture where content circulates across media and everything is always already mixed.

Elisa Schaar