Author: Stephen Hilger
Art Reviews; Tema Celeste; Summer 2001

Sue de Beer: Sandroni Rey Gallery, Venice

Remnants of ’80s youth culture—a leather studded bracelet, hooded sweatshirt, worn jeans, and purple Doc Marten boots—adorn the teenage girl in Sue de Beer’s photographic work, Tina (1999). Stuck in midair, Tina is crammed into the high corner between two bare walls and the ceiling. Her arms and legs dangle towards the floor, yet her expression remains blank.

Common sense tells you the scene is simulated. A close look at the edge of the photograph reveals a glimpse of the unfinished wood frames supporting the stage set walls. To establish the illusion, the set has been built upside down: an old film trick. The image alludes to a scene from Wes Craven’s grisly masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in which Tina Grey’s body is dragged across her bedroom ceiling by the phantom Freddy Krueger before, and after, her murder.

Most of de Beer’s photographs evoke specific moments as well as generalities from the horror genre—one that is quite unique for its obvious, at times funny, yet still terrifying fakery. An obsession with gory tales is nothing new for this photographer, filmmaker, and performance artist. This time around, however, de Beer’s project revolves around the formal details of professional slasher film production.

The artist’s imitations are purposefully low-tech: the stage sets have been built imperfectly to pronounce their artificiality. The artist relies on deliberate quirks and distortions built into the sets, as well as plenty of fake blood and guts, to further align the work with the movies she references. The bizarre pictures possess a haunting aura heightened by their muted color palette, head-on point of view, and flat, even lighting.

While de Beer’s characters share a disaffected demeanor, their bodies are frequently severed, and the disparity between calm and gruesome intensifies the surreal aspect of the work. In Sasha (1999), a young woman’s lower torso has been dismembered as she lies in bed, calmly enjoying a cigarette. Noticeably, de Beer has not sufficiently cropped the image, and a glimpse of the actor’s leg is revealed from under the bed sheets at the bottom of the photograph. In examining artistic practice and the vehicles of popular culture, Sue de Beer revels in the phony.