Olaf Breuning is Home Again


In Olaf Breuning’s Home trilogy, three half-hour videos released over the past seven years, we are guided by a nameless buffoon played by actor Brian Kerstetter. Rare is a scene without the presence of his face floating before the camera or his bipolar, delusional, egomaniacal and clownish personality.

Like the Swiss-born Breuning, the buffoon is a scruffy, sandy-haired New Yorker around 40 years of age with a penchant for masks and face paint. He’s obsessed with the culture around him. In the first film of the trilogy, Home (2004), he holes up in a hotel room and reimagines his life as a collage of film references and anecdotes. Throughout Home 2 (2007), shown at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, he travels the globe, spitting terrible American tourist-speak wherever he goes.

For Home 3 (2012), which Breuning recently completed and screened earlier this month at the Swiss Institute in New York, the buffoon explores New York City with an eye to its most sparkling capitalist armpits—Times Square, wax museums, Coney Island. The more iconic, the better. He spends a lot of his time impressing strangers with pomp and factoids. He patrols fancy dining haunts like Cipriani and Balthazar (Breuning’s favorite restaurant, according to a profile in the New York Times) and hires a few lap dancers to hang out in a limousine. He cheats his participation in the New York Marathon and attends a hipster dance party in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighborhood. He seeks the good life.

Since the narrative is nonexistent and the scenes have no real connection, the glue that holds the film together is the clumsy, charming buffoon himself. While the previous two films in the trilogy had a certain sheen, achieved with the use of cinematic filters, soundtracks and smooth editing, Home 3 is a raw, YouTube-and-iMovie affair. Transitions are jagged, and the sound and lighting are left untouched, allowing the earnestness and accidental humor of amateurism to paint the video as a confessional document. Best are the moments when the buffoon waddles out in public and riffs on the city, Borat-like, interacting with real-life awkward bystanders. He harasses Buddhist monks and Central Park sunbathers and Apple store employees but, unlike Borat, expresses a sadness and deep alienation from the people with whom he seems so desperate to connect.

As in his other works—sculpture, drawings, photographs, clothing—Breuning favors the simple visual gag. The buffoon often stages photo ops with whomever he stumbles across, standing still until his face has been printed onto the camera lens. Throughout the film (and the whole trilogy) he wears eerie blue-black contact lenses and stares deep into the camera. He cycles through a wardrobe of ridiculous costumes, flaps his arms, and hollers–anything to make a scene and attract a little attention.