a world of glass

It would be easy to fire off a quick succession of clichés when writing about this exhibition. Magical. Enchanting. Mesmerising. Fantastical scenes within a darkened room filled with the fairytale tinkling of chimes.

But that would be misleading. For although it is true that these adjectives spring to mind upon visiting ‘A World of Glass’, the undercurrents of menace, anguish and devastating fragility are the driving forces behind this work’s momentous power, resonance and character.

The shared theme of Nathalie Djurberg’s ‘claymation’ films presented at the Camden Arts Centre is one of sexual discovery, exploring desire’s untamed depths and the ‘fragile, precarious nature of this right of passage.’ At times disturbing, the product of this study confronts taboos and the raw emotions of ‘vulnerability, desire and suffering’.

Djurberg addresses these themes in a stylised, often symbolic manner. Through her crude animated creatures she challenges the viewer with aspects of the human condition that are not particularly easy to watch. However Djurberg is not relying on shock tactics to impress. In fact, her sensitive observation of what can rock the human psyche to its core is admirable. Intensity of emotion was rife; no doubt heightened by a surrounding landscape of foreign sculptures, with Hans Berg’s musical accompaniment on hypnotic repeat.

What struck me most though was my own deeply emotional response to the films. Assisted at times by snippets of text – their rough scrawl interrupting my reverie – interpretation of the situations with which I as the viewer was faced couldn’t help but be rationalised through their application to my own experiences.

First to stun me in its ability to do this was “Didn’t you know I’m made of butter?”, in which the psychological tug of war between Woman and Bull – desire and destruction – was palpable to the extreme. Following a moment of passion on behalf of the skeletal Bull, deformation of the voluptuous Woman’s torso evokes from her an exclamation that evolves into a monologue. The Woman’s admittance of her own fragility, and her ensuing poetic honesty provoked by an apparently innocent mistake on the part of the Bull, resonated with me on an unexpectedly personal level.

“Monster” was an astounding display in the potential of ‘claymation’. I’d never before thought it possible to be so horrified by the simple manipulation of clay. Initially only catching fleeting glimpses of an animal through a haze of glass objects, the Monster finally appears; pacing in anguish amongst its fragile environment. Subsequently a plight of self-destruction unfolds, a result of the Monster’s shattering of a statue.

Ambiguous as to whether this action had been intentional, the Monster – distraught – tears itself to pieces with a shard of glass. Stripping away its own flesh to reveal blood and bones, the only ‘living’ part to remain of the Monster is its large, desperate eyes. Shocked as to how distressing it was to view such animated violence, I was moved by the motivation of immense torment. The Monster’s thick, oozing, gelatinous tears told of the unbearable depth of sadness that it was experiencing within.

“I’m a wild animal” on the other hand, was a clever display of lyrical play. Developing gradually, there was a childlike tone to the initial statement of facts, which suddenly undertook a sinister turn. This echoed the unsuspected twists and turns of emotional battles that occur throughout life, having the power to forever mark one’s internal dialogue. Or at least that was my interpretation of it.

And that is what amazed me the most. The way in which Djurberg and Berg’s collaboration was clearly intentionally evocative, but on what level was purely subjective.

Interpretation is a powerful force in art. In this instance I was clearly open to the subjects before me, willing to be led on a journey, and as a result highly attuned to each nuance. But someone else may have a different experience. Be disgusted. Indifferent. Laugh. For me the show will resonate for a long time to come. How will it be for you?

Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg : A World of Glass is on until 8th January 2012. Free entry.

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