“Based on a True Story” at Oakville Galleries boasts the largest North American survey to date of works by Tel Aviv-born artist Keren Cytter, who recently moved from Berlin to New York. Known for producing films that mash up direct experiences with mediated cultural references, and moods of connection with feelings of alienation, Cytter’s works enthrall as much as they confound.
Guest curated by Helena Reckitt, the exhibition contains pieces with deep surrealistic roots, evoking Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid’s 1943 work Meshes of the Afternoon; as in that film, Cytter’s works do not try to antagonize the viewer by suggesting that they should understand what’s taking place.
The 2007 work Der Spiegel (The mirror) is one such example: the only piece situated within one of the larger rooms of Oakville Galleries’ Gairloch location confronts viewers with multiple views of a nude woman who moves around a bare room speaking and yet not speaking—at one point she says, “I feel… like pork in white wine” to the other women around her who coldly remind her that her body no longer retains its youthful appeal. The dialogue, along with the mirror imagery and two men that weave in and out of the scenes seem to suggest a subconscious state. Cytter expertly recreates the awkward fluidity of a dream.
Also of note at Gairloch are a number of pieces resulting from Cytter’s performance company—Dance International Europe (D.I.E.) Now—holding a 72-hour experimental poetry event in Cytter’s apartment and in several Berlin bars. The resulting poetry appears in vitrines like precious text, and framed diplomas awarded to each participant hang cheekily on the adjacent wall, declaring their owners “poets.”
The products of these performance events are carried over to Oakville Galleries’ Centennial Square location. Konstruktion, made in 2010, was created with the D.I.E. Now group. This work engages in a narrative that can be followed with slightly more ease by the viewer. The scenes seem rooted in reality—a poetry recital in a bar, people sitting casually outside a coffee shop in Berlin—but the exchanges between characters, both conversational and physical, are out of sync, and the deviation from linear narrative clouds our perception of what exactly is taking place.
This video (along with most of the others) brings to mind a constant contending with aspects of our unconscious, as illustrated by obsessively repetitive scenes and dialogues. In her celebrated 2009 work Four Seasons, for example, the female lead repeats fragments of a chant: “Now you pushed me, head hit the floor and my skull cracked wide open, then you kicked my head when I tried to stand up. You kicked my ribs, you broke my back, my knee, my heart; now I’m dead.” This violent lyricism filters into the imagery of the video, which opens with the static-filled tune of jungle rumba and a view of fake blood blossoming into pools of water. The intention of this work is still unclear to me after three viewings, but each one brought a new affection for the piece—a fake blizzard coats an unmade bed, and a rotating record ignites into a disc of flame.
Included as well at Centennial Square is Cross.Flowers.Rolex, also from 2009. It’s a three-channel video installation accompanied by three drawings; of this series, Cross is perhaps the most eccentric and captivating. Two pairs of bare feet crunch across broken glass leaving trails of blood in their wake as a couple unaffectedly continues to argue. Several scenes later, the male jumps silently from a window, his apathetic female companion looking down at his fallen form saying, “you simple minded piece of meat.”
Although many of Cytter’s works are available for anyone to watch on her Vimeo page, the darkness and solitude that accompanied the viewings of these works in the gallery made for a more haunting, more moving viewing experience, one that justifies exactly why Cytter is one of the most intriguing video artists of her generation.