Nathalie Djurberg describes her work as ‘fairy tales gone mad’. Her characters, human and animal archetypes from fables and other narratives designed for children, often inhabit enchanted forests and magic mountains, coupling and devouring each other before switching roles. Like novelist Angela Carter, the Swedish duo of Djurberg and Hans Berg effectively takes myth, fairy tale and traditional text and re-write it. Carter, however, preserved key elements of the narratives she worked with and altered meaning through feminist critique and irony, while Djurberg & Berg warp narrative to reveal buried perversions. Their current exhibition at Lisson Gallery, ‘Who am I to Judge, or, It Must be Something Delicious’ presents three short films. The works address desire and its excesses through the comically innocent medium of stop-motion claymation.
Despite their childhood aesthetics, Djurberg & Berg’s films are far from gentle. The first two films of the trilogy – ‘Delights of an Undirected Mind’ (2016) and ‘Worship’ (2016) – begin simply enough. In the first, a young girl is tucked into bed and dreams of the secret life of her stuffed toys. In the second, hip-hop dancers caress their velour and silk clad bodies. As the music picks up, the shots begin to quickly flicker between different scenes, creating a feverish, amplifying echo. The girl’s dream flashes between shots of animals suggestively engaging in childish activities until it becomes exhaustingly orgiastic. The dancers furiously rub their bodies against increasingly absurd fetishes, seamlessly switching from motorcycles, fur rugs and gargantuan, peeled bananas to hard, bedazzled Popsicles, gasping, sequined fish, and tumescent aubergines on wheels. The films’ intensifying maniacal repetitions, almost violent in their excess, evoke the Marquis de Sade’s endless lists of sexual fantasies and the compulsiveness of sexual thought.
‘The Other Side of the Moon’ (2017) comes as a respite, with its decipherable narrative and atmospheric crystalline music. While the first films address manifestations of desire, the last focuses on how it arises. A pig fantasises about a treasure hidden in an inaccessible house. Perhaps it is a cake, he ponders, or a sweet. But what if it is shameful, he anxiously continues, or disgraceful. The treasure, it turns out, has melted, and the pig is inconsolable. A twirling moon, its ass protruding like a rutting baboon’s, gleeful tells him to lick his lollipop and forget all about it. Djurberg & Berg’s trilogy does not have the happy resolutions of fairy tales. Instead, it suggests a beginning, just before the trilogy repeats itself, once again.