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Art review: Stop. Move. at Blum & Poe

December 9, 2010 |  8:30 pm

Nathalie Djurberg still 
William Kentridge wasn’t the first artist (by nearly a century) to work in animation, but his poignant, politically-charged, hand-drawn stop-motion films opened eyes wide to the medium’s potential when they began to be shown in the early '90s. In just the last five years, more than half a dozen museum exhibitions focusing on animation have been staged around the world, including the current Site Santa Fe Biennial.

If animation is a darling of the curatorial circuit, it’s for good reason. A hybrid medium in an aesthetic era of irrepressible hybridity, animation has all the ingredients for tremendous innovation and expression: rich commercial, popular and experimental traditions; continually evolving and increasingly accessible technical tools; the seductive appeal of the screen in combination with the raw immediacy of the hand; and all the possibilities of static media (painting, drawing, collage/montage) married to the time-based dynamism of film.

A piquant taste of that potential can be seen in a four-person animation sampler at Blum & Poe called “Stop. Move.” Even with only one work per artist, the show covers broad ground, from abstraction to narrative, from hand-modeled and drawn imagery to spliced and stacked found footage. The longest piece lasts just over eight minutes, and all of them run in continuous loops.

Nathalie Djurberg provides the show’s emotional heft in “We are not two, we are one,” a 2008 claymation piece with a wrenching sort of charm. Set in a kitchen hung with religious icons and porn pinups, the story features two fairy-tale characters — a wolf, big and bad, and an androgynous child, with gentle features and straw-colored hair. They happen to be joined at the waist, but facing opposite directions, so preparation of the morning meal is a disaster, not just because of physical logistics, but because the beast answers only to his own needs and the child caters to them both. The youth spreads slices of bread with what looks like peanut butter and jam, and the wolf licks off the sweet stuff with a tongue long and lively enough to qualify as a third character. They come to cross-purposes, and in the bittersweet end, both extrude gummy blue tears. Djurberg, born in Sweden and living in Berlin, revels in the conflation of innocence and darkness. Her work, whose narrative is propelled forward with slightly ominous urgency by Hans Berg’s score, reads as a pointed allegory of the dualities within our own nature.

South African Robin Rhode (who also lives in Berlin) is represented by “Canon” (2006-2010), not his strongest work, but characteristic in its fusion of live action and drawn/erased elements. Rhode, in jeans, sneakers and beanie, appears before a pristine white wall, upon which he paints the black outline of a television set. After painting a long cord to mimic plugging it in, he proceeds to visualize a sequence of larger and larger weapons — from pistol to machine gun to bazooka — that he aims at the box, presumably to destroy it, though he could also be copying the content it delivers. Rhode performs with conviction, squinting to squeeze two-dimensional triggers and straining under the weight of a drawn cannonball. Though the narrative is weak, the interaction between man and his contrivances is compelling. When the piece concludes, all that remains on the wall is a turbulent thrashing of smeared marks and the trace of a figure aiming a gun.

Matt saunders still 
Both Hirsch Perlman (based in L.A.) and Matt Saunders (Berlin and Cambridge, Mass.) use preexisting imagery as the basis of their work. Amusing, if benign, Perlman’s “Two More Affect Studies” (2001) pairs montaged footage and stills with music by Johnny Cash and Miles Davis. Jaunty and jazzy in turn, both halves pay homage to composition itself, to the construction of an image — in particular, a moving image — from its constituent parts. Saunders’ “Passageworks” (2010) has more complexity and mystery, its three separate projections of painted stills (derived from television and film footage) punching the space with fierce, strobing rhythm. Imagery coheres into the recognizable (bicycle riders, a woman raising a cigarette to her lips) then disintegrates into gestural, inky slashes and dot patterns. Values reverse, turning positives into negatives and back again. Graphically intense, the piece oscillates between graspable and elusive, playing effectively with the phenomenon of transforming still pictures into moving ones — the essence of animation itself.

-- Leah Ollman

Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 836-2062, through Dec. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday.


Images: Nathalie Djurberg, "We Are Not Two, We Are One," 2008 (still), courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Zach Feuer Gallery, New York and Gio Marconi, Milan.

Matt Saunders, "Passageworks," 2010 (still), courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, and Harris Lieberman Gallery, New York.