Siren, solo show with Keren Cytter, November 2015-January 2016

ABContemporary, Zurich

with the support of Omanut.

Keren Cytter’s second solo show in Zurich, Siren, features a new video, Game, two older ones, Siren and Ocean, and a 60-piece drawing installation, Home.

All works allude to intimacy in its varied forms, while the interior space, the home, is the setting for the dramas that unfold in these low-budget films which use cinematic formulas to play with viewer perception.

The classic cinematic combination of moving image and music to elicit a sense of suspense or expectation, stylized dialogue accompanied by choreographed gestures and glances, and a voice-over that is meant to direct the viewer further, are often so exaggerated in Cytter’s work that we can clearly read it as parody. Other times we get so drawn into Cytter’s constructs that distinguishing between what is “real” cinema or just pure kitsch is no longer so easy. Meaning, in Cytter’s films, is created by the viewer who naturally connects the disrupted assemblage of images into a narrative and imbues them with a significance that might be based on his or her subjectivity alone. This process of meaning-making highlights the manipulative mode in which cinema affects our perception and understanding of events, while the line between the suspension of disbelief and its deconstruction is blurred. Repetition with slight variation functions in Cytter’s films as an offer for new ways of seeing and understanding, but also as a way of collapsing meaning into nonsense, revealing the absurd.

In Game, an affair between two married people becomes known to their respective partners. The action takes place inside the home, that intimate space that ought to be safe and protected, yet becomes the site for treachery and profound pain. And while the story depicted, which develops along the repetitive rhythm of a color-coded game that the two couples play, is a standard tale in cinema, here it touches on the ridiculous, disorienting the viewer entirely.

Another extra-marital affair is the topic of Ocean, but the stakes here are higher, a child is affected. Through the soothing and therapeutic repetition of instructions made by a voice-over to the viewer, again with slight variation that moves the narrative along reflecting the movement of the waves of the water and the blowing of the wind on the beach, the ridiculous and overly dramatic scenario is normalized and we can hardly tell the difference between seriousness and parody anymore.

Continuing and developing these themes and methods, in Siren Cytter transitions into an even more extreme esthetic of image collage, camp, and fakery. But despite the complete break-down of illusion and our awareness of the manipulation we are experiencing, we cannot but be moved by the sadness of the story and the melancholy music, the loneliness of contemporary man, trying desperately to connect while always mediated by a computer or other technology, and by the representation of the human condition at its most absurd. The murder in Siren, as a resolution to the depicted love affair, is also the climax to the drama of human unhappiness we see increasing incrementally in the three films.

The absurd or ridiculous is also present in the 60 piece- drawing installation, Home. From portraits to commentary to doodles, the drawings are an insight into the diversity of topics to which the artist directs her attention. They, like the images in the movies, are mere fragments that we try desperately to make sense of as a group, or form into a narrative.

Keren Cytter’s work, by revealing the artificial and manipulative in cinema, forces us into an uneasy position. How can we react? With laughter or sadness? Is it OK to feel both at once? Can we know that it’s all a set-up and yet be moved? In Cytter’s work, the answer seems to be yes.

Exhibition photos: