Author: Lauren O'Neil Butler
Artforum online - critic's picks
Sue de Beer, the Quickening
Marianne Boesky Gallery, through Jan 10
Sue de Beer's new video installation, The Quickening, 2006, smartly blends elements of slice-and-dice slasher films with hints of the eccentric gleaned from elder artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. As in her previous work, the gallery contains a sculpture created in tandem with the video production - a thirteen-foot-tall illuminated ring of trees, made from plywood, that projects shadows on the surrounding walls - and a specially constructed screening room, this time decked out with red shag carpet, beanbag chairs, and a dropped ceiling. The video portrays a fragmented narrative, laced with the repressed sexuality endemic to mid-eighteenth-century Puritan New England and voice-overs excerpting texts by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Jonathan Edwards. More brainy than bawdy, de Beer conflates high and low culture within a frayed psychedelic aesthetic. Shaky camera movements, superimposed images, and cheesy audio effects reinforce a heightened sense of artificiality, and everything - including the campy constructions of femininity - appears disconnected and spurious. Her point, it seems, is to expose the frail underpinnings of most horror films (as well as Puritan witch hunts) and the uneasy visual pleasure - the flip side of fear and disgust - we take when we suspend our disbelief. Taking these sentiments into account, which is easier said than done, de Beer's exhibition charts a new, well-considered path for her growing oeuvre.