A mass of colourful figures is scattered across the floor of the Lisson Gallery (London), resembling discarded children’s toys. On closer analysis, it becomes apparent that these “toys”, these silicone figures -the creation of artist Nathalie Djurberg- explore often repressed elements of the human psyche.
The figures are restless and chaotic as they eat, play with, and are tormented by anthropomorphic faeces, which sport human-like facial expressions and sprout cartoon-esque arms and legs. The composition of tiny sculptures creates a sprawling collection of tensions in a dream-like setting where animals wear clothes, houses can move and familiar childhood characters wrestle excrement.
A doorway leads to a darkened, purpose-built room at the back of the gallery where a larger-than-life video projection is accompanied by thumping techno beats composed by musician Hans Berg. Stop-motion animation abruptly juxtaposes debauched imagery with familiar childhood themes, creating an invasive, overwhelming experience that assaults the senses. The aural and visual combine to create a wholly immersive environment. Certainly not what one expects from a visit to the Lisson on a sunny, spring afternoon. This is the sort of art which cannot be read about or viewed in a photograph but needs to be experienced first-hand.
The animation comprises three films shown in a continuous loop, seemingly with no beginning, middle or end, which adds to the intensity of the whole experience. There is no crescendo, only a constant barrage of complex and often troubling imagery.
These claymation films explore the often-repressed elements of sexuality which drive human beings. The first, Delights of an Undirected Mind (2016), presents a melange of fantasy, role-play and sexual awakening, while Worship (2016) explores ideas of voyeurism, scopophilia and exploitation. The third, Dark Side of the Moon (2017), takes on a different tone. Set in a dream-like woodland landscape, the film moves beyond infantile impulses and carnal urges towards connection and emotion.
Video and sound artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg have been collaborating since 2004 to produce interdisciplinary works exploring the human condition. The Swedish duo have now brought their distinctive, multi-sensory installations to London in an exhibition that is designed to awaken the audience to the salacious elements of their own subconscious.
Faeces is a recurrent image which pervades Djurberg’s work, yet its purpose is somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps it is intended as a criticism of capitalist society, shown to be literally consuming its own excrement. An obvious conclusion to reach is that they are intended as a condemnation of the state of contemporary art. Perhaps it is a comment on infantile scatological fascination, or simply no more than the result of a feverish nightmare. Regardless of the reading, the installation is designed at first to draw in, then to shock and finally to engage the viewer.
It is Djurberg’s mode of representation, rather than the themes themselves, which makes for particularly harrowing work. The juxtaposition of bodily functions and sexuality with the innocence of childhood is nothing new (ask Freud) and has indeed become a tired trope in art. However, the specific visual language employed by Djurberg to represent this medley of images is particularly uncomfortable. Cherished protagonists from childhood stories, such as My Little Pony, Pinocchio, or the Big Bad Wolf, appear in playful compositions which, on closer inspection, show them in compromising situations. The stop-motion animation and a vibrant colour palette are reminiscent of childhood television programmes. This seemingly innocuous mode of representation is subverted to present the brazenly perverse and depraved tendencies of human nature.
Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg’s exhibition Who am I to Judge, or, It Must be Something Delicious (2017) is on at Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, until 6th May 2017.