Author: Travis Jeppesen
Zoo Magazine, No10
Of all the artists in recent years who have managed to turn delinquency into a full-time job (and perhaps there have been too many), none is quite as endearing as video installation artist Sue de Beer. While her obsession with adolescent sexuality and the macabre have led many critics to crown her reigning princess of modern goth, there's actually a lot more to de Beer's work than heavy metal signifiers, slasher film aesthetics, and the sort of empty "here today" provocation that have marred weaker stabs at reconstructing the surreal. For de Beer, the never-ending state of youth is a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of confusion and pain, yet one that ultimately sheds insight into the mechanics of the world at large. Far from the goth slut so many of her critics imagine her to be, de Beer is a post-punk poet of images trespassing terrains of madness in search of metaphysical truth... not to mention blood and guts.
I was lucky enough to work with de Beer on her breakthrough video, Hans & Grete, which was featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennale. It was an experience I didn't think would ever be repeated. The artist prefers not to work with actors more than once, and I was never much of an actor to begin with. Imagine my surprise when I was cast in her latest project, The Quickening. Intrigued by de Beer's schizophrenic description - a manic period exploration of early American puritan settlers fused with psychedelic brainbuggery and murder, a sort of Dario Argento meets Kenneth Anger clusterfuck - I immediately x- ed out the last two weeks of October on my calendar in anticipation of the forthcoming deluge of de Beer's sinister weirdness.
While we were quite fortunate to shoot most of Hans und Gret inside the castle- like environs of Berlin's Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien, for The Quickening, de Beer managed to procure an abandoned tobacco factory in the working-class district of Pankow. Devoid of heating and electricity, the dusty, decrepit building had a haunted edge to it. Neighborhood derelicts seeking shelter constantly broke into the place, and our imported power supply kept zapping out. The tiny cast and crew chain-smoked to keep warm. If all that weren't bad enough, the thinly insulated walls seemed to amplify the noise on the streets outside the building, especially on one afternoon when a neo-Nazi demonstration marched by less than a hundred meters from the entrance.
The extreme circumstances served to heighten the dark atmosphere of the piece. This time, de Beer opted to use a cast wholly composed of non-actors. Oliver Schuetz, editor of online music-zine dorfdisco.de, played a possessed preacher man. Gina V. D'Orio and Annika Trost, better known as Berlin's most vital electrotrash outfit Cobra Killer, effortlessly transformed their dazzling physiques into bonnet-laced Protestant prowess (only to be subsequently stabbed and hanged by mysterious hands.)
Although I grew less certain each day about what The Quickening is actually about - in fact, I won't know for sure until I see the finished project - I do know that it's set in the late 1700s in New England. My character is meant to be a puritan inventor of psychedelic dream machines; the bits of narration I provide were taken from J.K. Huysmans's decadent classic Au Rebours. It's a real hodgepodge of seemingly conflicting influences - from God to Satan and back again. I began to wonder whether de Beer really knew what she was doing, if she'd be able to pull it off and create something that somehow makes sense among the chaos she was brewing. Then again, if the journey to the end product were any less scary, art might hardly be worthwhile...