Keren Cytter

Arthouse at the Jones Center, Austin

Through January 23
by Wendy Vogel

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      Keren Cytter
      Cross.Flowers.Rolex. (still)
      2009
      3-channel digital video installation with sound, 15 min. 11 sec.
      Courtesy of SCHAU ORT, Christiane Büntgen, Zurich
      © Keren Cytter

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      “The screen is not black.”

      “Yes.”

      “Sorry.”

      “The screen is black but the walls are white.”

      “Genius.”

      This flatly delivered exchange opens the third and final five-minute vignette of Keren Cytter’s Cross.Flowers.Rolex (2009). The video departs in significant ways from Cytter’s earlier work, not least because the three-channel, sequentially projected installation is intended for an art space setting—what Cytter coyly alludes to in this reflexive snippet of dialogue. Yet despite leaning on schmaltzy conventions that seem to want to draw the viewer in before pushing them away, Cross.Flowers.Rolex’s experimental, arrhythmic structure keeps viewers at a frustrating emotional bay.

      At the age of 32, Berlin-based, Israeli-born Cytter has already garnered international praise for her post-postmodern films, videos, novels, dance and theatre works that bombard the viewer with cinematic and theatrical clichés without delivering any narrative cohesion. Cross.Flowers.Rolex is similarly jumbled—part murder mystery, part infidelity vengeance scenario, part suicide attempt. Against swerving, fuzzy camera work, melodrama and horror commingle in lines spat out by bored-looking professional actors: “My head explodes when I hear the words that come out of your mouth.” “Blood. Sweat. No tears.” “I wish he would jump.” It becomes difficult to determine who (if anyone) has done violence to whom, save for the film’s dénouement where a man plunges from a window. His partner, standing over him, works through the stages of grief in unnatural, rapid-fire succession: “You dumb piece of meat. I guess I don’t miss you. I guess I don’t forgive you.”

      In short, moments of Brechtian distancing compose the film’s entire syntax, not just its punctuation. But as the curatorial text accompanying the exhibition states, Cytter constructed her film systematically, reinterpreting three incredible events reported on the Internet in early 2009: a man is stabbed eleven times in five seconds, a man survives two falls from a second-story window, and a woman serves tea after being shot in the head.

      Cytter, of course, is far from the first artist to mine sensationalist faits divers to construct a psychological portrait. Even Gustave Flaubert famously lifted the plot of Madame Bovary from a gossipy news bit in a daily newspaper about a petite bourgeoise who poisoned herself. But Cytter does not stop there, nor with the “psychologization of the image” in freeze frame that characterized 1970s postmodern works such as Dara Birnbaum’s stuttering Wonder Women or Jack Goldstein’s short films that mimicked cinematic loops. Instead, she creates a melancholy “docudrama” that doesn’t offer a clear way in, for artists or critics.

      Of course, this ambiguity is the critics’ dream, and much ink has been spilled either glossing the surface of her films or decoding the more obvious points of reference. Cytter’s films ultimately have value, however, because in their mingling of fact and fiction, they reflect our shortcomings as viewers and critics. They operate as much inside the society of the spectacle as from critiquing it, a slippery position to occupy. I’m not convinced, however, that I can come up with a pat conclusion to add to the rest. I’ve rewritten this text more than four times now, trying to dredge up the hidden details of the film that remain stubbornly lodged in my subconscious, and I still can’t come up with a proper ending. For Cytter, however, this sputtering out might be the best critical response of all.

      Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.

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