Author: Tom Moody

Sue de Beer - Upcoming

Sue de Beer, whose work will be appearing in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, started her career with some fairly blunt, often violent imagery, circling around the theme of the doppelganger. (An essay I did on Heidi 2, her collaboration with Laura Parnes, fills in some background.) She is fascinated by the late-90s high-school shootings and adolescent trauma in general. Her 2-channel video installation last year at Postmasters, Hans und Grete, featured a male and female actor, each of whom played two parts: a Gothic and a "normal" teen. Highlights include a sex scene with giggle-inducing prosthetic ejaculation, the bloody dismemberment of a stuffed dog, and some seriously wack guitar playing, taking place mostly on charmingly handmade sets littered with heavy metal posters and bits of Teutonic kitsch such as plastic garden gnomes. Two stock "bored teenagers in class" scenes used sampled teacher-student dialogue taken from Nightmare on Elm Street (a discussion of Shakespeare) and Halloween (a much headier colloquy on Thomas Costain and free will with brainy Jamie Lee Curtis nailing the answers). The video shifts back and forth between good kids and bad kids, all of whom seem equally alienated, with much mawkish diary reading and eventually, gunshots.

An issue de Beer wrestles with is the impossibility of a true outsider stance, in a world where goth, punk, and goth-punk moves are heavily recycled, researched, and marketed. Like an art world version of Quentin Tarantino, who equates film and life, she makes no distinction between real teens and media teens, and the boredom we sometimes feel listening to/watching their existential dilemmas mirrors the vacuity of popular entertainment, from coming of age films to reality TV. It made little difference to me to learn that the parts of the script were taken from writings as diverse as Ulrike Meinhof's and Kip Kinkel's; it all sounded like bad TV dialogue of "disaffected youth" to me. Whether the kids shoot up a school or become CEO of Raytheon, they (we) all wade out of the same sludgepool of media cliches. The banality of the dialogue is belied, however, by de Beer's complex mise en scene mixing game imagery/sounds, cult insignia, scrambled architectural references, and pop culture bric-a-brac from both sides of the Atlantic.

De Beer's next work shows signs of brightening up: perhaps her trajectory will be the reverse of Cindy Sherman's ingenues-to-vomit trail. Below is an image from a new installation titled The Dark Hearts, "a nostalgic romp through punk coming-of-age in suburban America. Part road movie, part Mike Mills romance, the loose narrative revolves around two teenagers sneaking out of their parents' house to go prowl the neighborhood." Looking forward to seeing where they go (and she goes).