Keren Cytter, Based on a True Story
Oakville Galleries, Oakville, April 14 — June 10, 2012
Much like our waking recollections of dreams, the narratives that drive Keren Cytter’s videos are cyclical and seductive, fantastical and frustratingly confusing. In Based on a True Story, the largest North American survey of the artist's work to date, curator Helena Reckitt brings together some of Cytter’s most engaging works from the past five years of her already prolific career. Focusing on Cytter’s strategy of blending outlandish stories and nonsensical dialogue that characterize contemporary pop culture — from bad TV movies and YouTube videos, to chat rooms and online product reviews — with the humour and pathos of absurdist theatre, the exhibition foregrounds the artist’s investigation of “how our subjectivities can seem cobbled together from fictional scenes and images, as well as our own experiences.”
In the Galleries’ downtown Centennial Square space, several of Cytter’s recent works purposefully blur the distinction between theatricality and realism. Untitled, originally produced for the 2009 Venice Biennale, is a sixteen-minute family drama that takes place entirely on a stage, in front of a small but exuberant crowd. Using professional and amateur actors, Cytter’s drama circles back on itself, with the same dialogue and plot points reappearing to tell the (supposedly true) story of a boy who shoots his father’s mistress. Though the script employs schmaltzy phrases from pop songs (“please, don’t leave me this way”) as dialogue and makes its own facture as a fiction obvious (at one point the director of the play appears to chastise an actor for improvising), there are also moments of tense familial conflict and quiet drama in Cytter’s film that seem all too real. Cross.Flowers.Rolex. (2009) continues in this vein, using a trio of films and large-scale drawings in pencil and crayon to depict three urban myths that circulated online in 2009. Each is disturbing in its violent culmination — in one, a man leaps to his death from a window after an argument with a lover; in another, a woman is shot in the head — yet Cytter’s dialogue makes these events seem banal, even expected outcomes of the deeply fraught interpersonal relationships she stages for the camera.
The second part of the exhibition, located in the Galleries’ lakeside Gairloch Gardens venue, shows the breadth of Cytter’s practice, incorporating one of her most well known pieces, 2007’s Der Spiegel, alongside a new work, Avalanche (2011). While Der Spiegel is a short, looping narrative that unfolds within the confines of a single room, borrowing from the tradition of the Greek chorus to meditate on the pressures placed on aging women, Avalanche is a multi-chapter opus filmed across two countries that depicts the breakdown of a couple’s relationship. Seen together, the two works attest to Cytter’s astute engagement with the powerful ways that gender dynamics continue to structure cinematic narratives.