Return to Articles


April 16 - May 21, 2005 at Sandroni Rey, Culver City

by Diane Calder

Caution teenage acquaintances to check and see who’s peering over their shoulder before accessing public library websites along the lines of those which Sue de Beer has mined in her video excavations of adolescent angst: Satanism, sadism, ritual sacrifice, Goth culture, melancholia, metal, pornography, obsession, horror movies, guerilla terrorists, suicides and counter-culture legends. Any suspect caught exposing their interest in the artist’s mix of Littleton, loss of innocence, violent video games, psychedelic rock, vulnerability, the Baader-Meinhof gang, or lawn gnomes dropping their drawers, might have a tough time convincing authorities that they are just researching de Beer’s modus operandi.

Doing your homework beats going in cold to view this exhibition of stills from four of de Beer’s best known video installations, “Hans und Grete,” “Disappear Here,” “The Dark Hearts” and “Black Sun.” If you failed German language or French feminist theory, try starting with the artist’s bio. De Beer teaches at New York University and is a recipient of the Philip Morris Emerging Artist Prize from the American Academy in Berlin. Her video installation “Black Sun” (the source of six of the stills in this exhibition) shares its title with Julia Kristeva’s tome on depression and melancholia, and has uncountable underground affinities. It was filmed in Berlin and is currently on view in the Whitney Museum at Altira. De Beer earned her B.F.A. from Parsons School of Design and her M.F.A. (in 1998) from Columbia University, the birthplace of student uprisings in the late 1960’s that seem positively utopian in contrast to the “you are fucking doomed” attitude that blasts through the earliest work on view here, “Hans und Grete.”

"Untitled Film Still (Fluffy),”
2002, c-print, 40 x 30”.

"Still from 'Black Sun,' Julia Hartmann
(ghost costume)," 2004-05, c-print
on aluminum, 40 x 30".

"Still from 'Black Sun,' Pony
(magic light)," 2004-05, c-print
on aluminum, 40 x 30".

Completed in 2003 and first shown at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, “Hans und Grete” references the code names of German Red Army Faction ringleaders and lovers Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. The original two-track video installation ties the characters, events and media coverage of the lives and jailhouse suicides of RAF members (which have inspired works by other artists including Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Thomas Ruff) to imaginary transgressions by two pairs of American teens. The three full color 30” by 40” C print stills on display are of “Fluffy,” a bloodied, disheveled toy dog, Kip, his master and mutilator and Seth, who envisions life as a rock star. De Beer demonstrates her ability to add humor and irony with purposeful fakery of props and sets in the “high school drama club style” signification of a Grimm forest with the twigs that entangle the hapless “Fluffy.”

De Beer credits Alissa Bennett for her “masterful balances of authentic teen vernacular with more abstract themes of time and memory” in the monologues Bennett wrote for Hans and Grete. Those themes also dominate Bennett’s dialogues for de Beer’s video “Disappear Here,” in which a teenage girl looks back at the permeable line drawn between memory and desire, recalling a third grade field trip. Meghan Lynch appears in a scout uniform that seems to have no chance of keeping up with her growth spurt. A princess bed blanketed in a satin quilt is obliquely reminiscent of the one that mutates into a chain link fence in Karen Carson’s feminist icon, “Offense Spread.”

An indication that lust and loss of innocence may be gaining over horror in de Beer’s work creeps into “Dark Hearts,” currently on view at P.S. 1 in New York. The video closes with a make-out scene accompanied by the touching exchange of a studded leather collar for one of fake pearls. The pounding of hearts is lacking in the stills we get here, but you can sense the heat, trepidation, longing, and even the loneliness and futility evident in an earlier work, “Making Out With Myself.”

The mirroring or doubling effects that continue to fascinate de Beer would be amplified in “Dark Sun” if you experienced that video in its intended architectural framework and split screen environment. You could watch the teens turn pages of trashy magazines, drink too much, dance with a horse or strip down to their underwear. And you could hear the hallucinatory quality of dialogues like this excerpt by Dennis Cooper, “. . .here’s what I want. Love. Specifically I want the power to make people love me. Maybe a secret word which I’d only use when I saw someone special. I’d walk up to him or her, say that word, and then he or she would be very in love with me.”

But the stills are perfectly capable of capturing the charms of Julia Hartmann, the ingénue in tightly laced “chucks,” at that awkward age--older than Jon Benet Ramsay but younger than Warhol’s Chelsea girls. They allow validation of the artistry de Beer employs in casting, set design, positioning the camera, cropping, lighting, costuming, and selecting and placing props that would tend to flash by too fast to register in time-based media. The stills, like oversized photos of loved ones, fashion ads, or mug shots of celebrities, give viewers the opportunity to assess and/or possess, to fantasize or deny being part of their world.