A show features artists' riffs on 'The Fly,' 'Dead Ringers,' and other eerie films by the Canadian director
“David Cronenberg’s Rabid is my earliest childhood memory of seeing a movie,” says Marcel Dzama. “It was on a triple bill at a drive-in theater. Rabid must have been on last because I should have fallen asleep by the time it started, but I watched it reflected in our station wagon’s back window.”
Dzama is one of six international artists participating in “David Cronenberg: Transformation,” an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto (through December 29) celebrating the Canadian director’s four-decade career. Candice Breitz, James Coupe, Jamie Shovlin, Laurel Woodcock, and Jeremy Shaw also made new works, commissioned by the Toronto International Film Festival. All of them found inspiration in Cronenberg’s films.
“I relate to the darkness of Cronenberg’s imagery,” Dzama says. “Like me, he is not afraid of showing the grotesque.” The hybrid creatures in Dzama’s video Une Danse Des Bouffons (or A Jester’s Dance) recall Jeff Goldblum’s transformation in The Fly (1986). Musician Kim Gordon—sporting a black, bobbed wig—plays the protagonist in Bouffons. “The women in my worlds will always be more powerful than men, and Kim personifies that,” Dzama says. The same could be said of the many dark-haired women who populate Cronenberg’s movies, including Holly Hunter, who was similarly coiffed in Crash (1996).
Breitz’s video installation, called Treatment, uses scenes from the 1979 psychological horror flick The Brood. “Of all Cronenberg’s films, I have always found The Brood most compelling,” the artist says. “During its filming, Cronenberg was divorcing his first wife and seeking custody of their daughter. He has often referred to The Brood as his version of Kramer vs. Kramer.” Treatment brackets viewers between two screens, one showing scenes from the movie in which a psychotherapist provides counseling to two patients.
The other screen shows Breitz, her parents, and her therapist in a recording studio dubbing lines from The Brood, their voices replacing those of the actors. “I wasn’t too interested in the source film’s blood and gore,” Breitz says. “I was drawn to The Brood’s exploration of the sheer horror that lies potential in family relationships.”
For her contribution, Woodcock mounted text-based works on the walls. “I culled slug lines from the scripts for Dead Ringers, eXistenZ, and others that express Cronenberg’s notion of the eerie in everyday life,” she explains. Part of Woodcock’s ongoing “walkthrough” series, these slug lines—directions given to actors or cinematographers —are set in Courier, a typeface often used for screenplays. The texts become wryly humorous through their placement within the museum: above the reception desk, a slug line from Videodrome (1983) reads, “Surprisingly, the show has a moderately classy look to it for middle-of-the-road softcore.”