More Than Destroyed Lines
Source:Artintern Author:Ellen Pearlman Date: 2008-12-16 Size:
Beat Kuert’s videos and photographs stitch themselves together from a multitude of influences stretching hundreds of years back into ancient archetypes, yet hurtling forward through their embrace of modern technologies.

Beat Kuert Chien Andalou

Beat Kuert’s videos and photographs stitch themselves together from a multitude of influences stretching hundreds of years back into ancient archetypes, yet hurtling forward through their embrace of modern technologies. Using digitally enhanced images based on live performance, sampled sound tracks and ambiguous haunting psychological scenarios he creates a world few want to inhabit, but few can turn away from.

His images conjure up a sensibility rooted in the chaotic and troubling world views of Northern European Renaissance painters such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Matthias Grunewald and Hiermonous Bosch. In those views there is dissonance, a disruption of the natural order, and inherent tensions between good and evil played out in fleshy evocations of passion and saintliness. Kuert also focuses on the body, not as object of adoration but as embodiment of chaos, wit sub-currents of sin and the search for redemption. He touches upon death, decay and dissolution to contrast his model’s sensuousness and fresh beauty. The specificity of his focus is narrowcast onto women; their psychological sensibility and vulnerability, powers of reproduction gone asunder, and representation of humanity’s potential instability to correctly propagate the species. In that respect he embodies the archetype of the goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome like Hecate who ruled magic, witchcraft, the night, the moon, ghosts and necromancy. He incarnates her into his provocative video Grave New World as Salome, the biblical nemesis who caused the beheading of St. John the Baptist. The Salome he shows is one who wanders eternally seeking love, expanding upon her normal depiction as a dangerous and erotic femme fatal.

A cinematographer for four decades he moved his focus to video art a decade ago. An overview of his oeuvre shows the growth of his sensibilities, starting with more commercially viable scenarios and developing into less narrative aspects laced with haunting psychological overtones. Where once women were mere surface depictions, the object of beauty and desire he began to investigate the layers behind appearance tunneling into their inner demise. Fire, smoke, water, dust, porcelain shards, crumbling buildings, abandoned industrial citadels, and the corpse of disappearance all figure in his most recent works. They evoke a sense of loss and missed opportunity, injury and even in some pieces cannibalization. These themes are disturbing enough, but when coupled with dissolving visual frames and atonal music they evoke dis-ease and annihilation.

The use of sound and music, especially in his later works is evocative and sensitively pitched. He uses descending chords that curl back into themselves heightening a sense of convoluted indwelling. There are screeches of old industrial gears, footsteps, shouts, and echoes. The echo is one of his recurrent motifs. Many of his characters suffer and cry, shout and scream. He says there is “an echo and a need to have someone who answers you and says “Yes, I am here””. Though they search for answers, there is no one who answers back. This constant sense of emptiness and void is the underlying tension propelling the non verbal narrative forward. The search for resolution is a journey we are taken on, and each short work reveals a new twist and turn through the labyrinth.

Different exhibits in his oeuvre herald the start of a new work. They are coupled with a performance from which stills and video imagery are extracted and parsed. The stills are digitally manipulated and the video enhanced. Especially apparent in the videos are the breakdown of the traditional linear screen that show imperfections including lines, scratches, bleeding of frames, and occasionally disruption of an identifiable object. This manipulation is in keeping with the new types of technology available as well as a shift in the presentation of contemporary imagery. If the still picture has been appropriated and created as an ever changing illusion, the same can be said for the moving image. The realistic representation of a thing in itself does not exist anymore. It has given way to a new type of photographic or cinematic surrealism where subconscious dream fragments can be made visible through highly advanced means. In fact it can be said that this is the age of a new psychological surrealism. In that sense, Kuert’s work fits in with its artistic zeitgeist.

An overview of his video works shows a deepening in the presentation of this subject matter. In his earlier work as a director and cinematographer Kuert worked with more literal interpretations. Women did things that implied direct actions. Not much was left to vagary and interpretation. After experimenting with and finding a new visual vocabulary he was able to take his initial statements and build a distinct language, one that dispersed with the overtly literalness and moved into psychological subterfuge.

In Piuma, he portrays women givers of life but does not present the female solely as an issue of gender identity. He widens the scope to one of a sustainer for the entire race. If women can no longer, or choose not to create and nourish life on earth, then who will? In a perilous environment he depicts a lone female figure bend like a willow and vanish like a wraith into the sky. Another work, Incolore bleeds and rips across the viewing screen’s perceptual field. The sounds are undertones of Gregorian medieval chanting, rolling thunder, bird trills, and howling wolves. All of it represents women as elemental, pulsating forces of nature. Corri is a musical tone poem evoking the languidness of Eric Satie’s piano piece Gymnopédies, or a bird in flight. It is a poetic and mostly associative work. Fiume breaks down the solid form of a body floating in water, distorting matter and form through a vicious prism to reveal a disappearing sylph-like figure.

His performance pieces reveal beautiful inchoate bleeding women, wounded and broken. They border on vampirish, seeking nourishment and are unable to find it. On woman slowly drags behind her a mock red human fetus curled up inside a clear plastic placenta sac. Another woman sings the ultimate Germanic song of doom and gloom, Lili Marlene. It feels like an epoch of women at the end of their ropes. There is no hint of a solution, just a sharing and commiseration of a crippling misery, though in other works he points towards the redemptive powers of love.

In St. Mark’s Square in Italy naked women slathered in dried, caked grey clay wander about dazed and bruised. They hold empty cups and wail about how lonely they are. Salome, the main protagonist is eternally hungry and suffers, an internal emotional vacuum. An unnamed bride holds toy babies that are tossed and offered to hungry participants. Covered in blood and mud, one woman devours bunches of red roses, their ruby stain darkening her lips and chin. Another chews on rubber baby doll parts, then seemingly smashes the life force out of the dolls. The women collectively speak about anorexia, maggots and sickness. Salome insists she is not sick and that it is life itself that is sick. She evinces an incredible mix of world weariness, searching for love and hunger. The bride collapses into a desultory heap. Women smudged in mud and ashes walk past her. Flowers petals are scattered all over little shredded baby parts.

[Editor] Zhang Shuo