What you see is not always what you get. At least not in the case of Nathalie Djurberg’s twisted fairy tales. The 30-year-old, Berlin-based Swedish artist has built an international art career turning her daydreams and fantasies into simple yet disturbing stop-motion animations. In her second solo show at Zach Feuer, Djurberg created a seemingly impromptu installation in which to present two recent videos, a mixed-medium sculptural tableau, a pair of hand-painted curtains that led into the screening rooms and a chocolatelike substance smeared on the curtains and walls, which added some mischievous ambience.
Two 2008 works, a video and a sculpture, both titled I found myself alone, formed the crux of the show. The sculpture, displayed in the main gallery, is a tabletop arrangement of handmade and hand-painted decorative china and candelabra surrounded by a variety of delectable-looking sweets, all made of clay. The whole scene is a muddle, the treats in disarray and the pitcher partially smeared with what looks like chocolate. The maker of the mess appears to be a tiny figurine, a black ballerina who lies under a pile of smothering wax. Covered by Plexiglas, the tableau is, in fact, used for the concluding scene of the video screening in the next room.
The video version is a fanciful farce scored to the enchanting music of Djurberg’s frequent collaborator, Swedish composer Hans Berg. The animation begins with an overview of the table, elegantly set with the china and confections. The ballerina joyfully dances about it until a melting candle, to her distress, covers her in “wax.” After removing the goop she turns devilish, but then, remorseful, she cries, recovers, and gets creative with chocolate. Overzealously smearing the pitcher, she falls and eventually stumbles under the wax again, leading to her demise. Djurberg brings the action into the gallery by scatalogically sullying the walls and curtains with a chocolatelike substance, applied by hand to simulate the ballerina’s mark.
Behind a second curtain is the 2007 charcoal-drawing animation Of course I am working with magic, also scored by Berg. A nightmarish black-and-white video, it depicts a nude woman, caught and dismembered by trees for being dirty. Transformed into a beast, she angrily fights her captors before destroying herself and dissolving in the forest.
Djurberg’s characters confront injustice, fight back, feel guilty and then retreat; but her work playfully exposes the wrongs and gets us thinking about change.