Keren Cytter: Fear, Fun and Fire
She blurs the boundaries between art and life, as well as the boundaries between the genres: Keren Cytter makes films, puts on dance performances, writes novels, and has even created an opera libretto. Now, she's conceived three evenings for "Globe" with the promising motto of "Fear, Fun and Fire." Kito Nedo wanted to learn more and met with the artist in Berlin.
||Keren Cytter has just made her first horror film. What is Don't Touch Me, Psychopath! about? The artist won't say; the premiere isn't until March, as part of Globe, the art and performance program celebrating the opening of the newly modernized Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt. The artist promises one thing, though: the feature-length psychopath film is "very creepy." It does not, however, mark an abrupt break with the previous work of the artist, who was born in 1977 in Tel Aviv; horror and a love of drastic scenes has lurked in Cytter's films since 2001, when they began exciting and disturbing the international art scene.
In her previous clips, dialogue, choreography, editing, and camera work often come across as both improvised and intricately planned. The artist recruits her ensemble from her circle of friends and acquaintances. She then lets her characters revolve around a dark void: the horror and drama that lie dormant in human relationships and come to life when the connection falters and intimacy slips into the monstrous. In her works, the artist skillfully addresses the unarticulated limitations and agreements that accompany artistic production: suddenly, the roles and borders between "in front of" and "behind" the camera become blurred. There are parts where it's difficult to tell who is speaking with whose voice or where exactly the music is playing. When text and image nonetheless converge in these moments of uncertainty, we become accomplices of Cytter's art. Currently, the surprising transitions in her work can be investigated in Munich, where the Kunstverein has given her a major exhibition titled The Hottest Day of the Year. And her video Les Ruisellements du Diable (2008) is on show at the New York Guggenheim Museum as part of the exhibition The Deutsche Bank Series at the Guggenheim: Found in Translation.
Cytter's own notion of drama is revealed in how the scenes in her videos slip out of focus. Sometimes a weapon flashes, glass shatters, people die film deaths in video format: what might have happened often remains unarticulated or merely alluded to, appearing as though through a steamy pane of glass. The artist is more interested in looks and gestures than in a coherent narrative-how people move on the street, in bars and apartments. She forces the viewer to speculate, to interpret the evidence with another, different form of precision. Cytter uses accelerated narrative, confusion, and the exacerbation of contradictions as techniques to make the leaps between love and work, art and life, literature, theater, and cinema productive. She moves between these various disciplines, searching for open forms of storytelling that favor a freer approach to image and text on the part of the viewer. Is this hybrid form of art still cinema, or is it theater? And is anyone really interested? Like the theater artists René Pollesch or the deceased Christoph Schlingensief, Keren Cytter is not one to approach history and the traditions and norms of narrative structures too respectfully or to pay all that much attention to the boundaries between them. She'd rather strike a blow to the plaster of the genre architects to hear the supporting beams groan and see the first cracks appear.
This also goes for Fear, Fun and Fire, the three-day program the artist has conceived for Globe. For Frankfurt and the World, which includes lectures by artists and critics Charles Arsène-Henry, Diedrich Diederichsen, and Philipp Kleinmichel and also provides the forum for the premiere of Cytter's Don't Touch me, Psychopath! and the new theater piece Fabian Susie, which is basically an anarchistic hybrid, a gesamtkunstwerk. Fear, Fun and Fire, says the artist, is about mixing states of matter in both a mental and a physical sense. She leaves the transition points open.
But what does this whole program have to do with her? It's simple: "I'm a bit fear, a bit fun, and a bit fire," Cytter says. She's looking forward to the performance of the five-member London techno noise band Maria & The Mirrors, and especially to their garish outfits: "When it comes to the sound, I'm not so sure." On the other hand, she knows exactly what to expect musically from the invited singer/ songwriter John Maus, whom the critic Jens Balzer once described as a "neo-post-punk one-man entertainer and all-around admired Hawaiian meta-hipster": Maus sounds "more or less like Joy Division."
Cytter doesn't come across as a calculating strategist who makes compromises. She came to Berlin at the end of 2005, after a sojourn in Amsterdam. The view she takes of her own practice in various different artistic fields is very orderly: "I think that writing belongs to literature, film art to cinema, and theater belongs on stage." The fact that her books, i.e. the novels The Man who climbed up the stairs of Life and Found out they were Cinema seats (Frankfurt/ Zurich, 2005) or The seven most exciting hours of Mr. Trier's life in twenty-four chapters (Rotterdam/ Leuven/ Berlin, 2008), have been published as catalogues in an art context is irrelevant. The main thing is that they've been published.
She arrived at writing through the art criticism she did for a daily paper while she was still living in Israel. Since that time, she has not stopped writing; only the subject matter has changed. She even ran a themed magazine about sex and art from Israel for a time: "I photographed my friends naked and thought that would be popular-but it didn't work." A lesson she learned from the disaster was that it just doesn't work to deliberately try to please or to run after a potential market. Yet a certain exhibitionist tendency remains. Last year, her White diaries were published, a collection of Cytter's journal entries from the winter of 2009. The foreword reads: "This diary is half baked. It's made up of fifty percent sincerity and fifty percent secrets, which were deleted during editing. This diary is half real, nothing here is fictitious, but not everything is told."
Although books like the White Diaries are too specialized to find a mass readership, Cytter has not given up hopes of pulling off a mainstream hit that will carry her over the boundaries of the art establishment. She submits a film to the film festival in Cannes almost every year. In 2008 it was the 120-minute HD film The legend of the devil's hill and endless search for freedom, the year before the 35-mm film New Age, which was shot in the Netherlands. Without success, at least until now. Is she envious of her artist colleague Miranda July, whose second film The Future is currently playing at the Berlinale? "Half and half," she says. Of the success, sure. But for some things, she's just not prepared to compromise-she loves surprise too much for that.
Keren Cytter: Fear, Fun and Fire
3/23 - 3/25/2011
Deutsche Bank Towers
Frankfurt am Main
March 23 - Fear:
- Lecture Performance by Charles Arsène-Henry
- Premiere of "Don't touch me Psychopath" (Horror Feature Film)
March 24 - Fun:
- Diedrich Diedrichsen (Lecture)
- Andrew Kerton and Dafna Maimon (Performance)
- Maria & the Mirrors (Concert)
March 25 - Fire:
- Philipp Kleinmichel (Lecture)
- Fabian Susie (Keren Cytter Performance)
- John Maus (Concert)
The Deutsche Bank Series at the Guggenheim: Found in Translation
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
February 11 - May 1, 2011
Keren Cytter - The Hottest Day of the Year
January 29 - March 27, 2011