It seemed a familiar cinematic moment: a woman puts a gun to her temple and pulls the trigger but all that is heard is a click. But wait. “Now quiet, now listen,” she says cryptically. “These words are delaying my death.” Suddenly, blood splats onto the opposite wall, though no bullet is ever discharged. This unexpected, disorienting and fantastical conclusion to the approximately eight-minute video Something Happened (2007), which begins as an apparent tale of revenge on an unfaithful lover, typifies the work of Keren Cytter. The Israeli-born, New York-based artist enjoys warping reality by thwarting cinematic and narrative conventions in her low-tech, self-aware, deliberately kitschy productions.
Nine of Cytter’s videos from the past decade, including Something Happened, were presented in her solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The show premiered last year at the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, where it was curated by former director Jacob Fabricius. The videos in the show ranged from an untitled 2009 piece that draws on John Cassavetes’s 1977 film Opening Night, about a stage actress reflecting on her life, to Siren (2014), a contemporary rethinking of the mythical call of the siren that incorporates webcam footage, computer-screen captures and digital effects.
Fortunately, these works were not simply screened one after another in a darkened projection room at the MCA. Instead, each had a separate alcove with its own distinctive feel: some were large and some intimate, some dark and some illuminated. This variety, combined with the galleries’ carpeted floors and plentiful benches and chairs, made for a comfortable and involving viewing experience too often lacking in film-centric exhibitions. The only detractor was the way in which distracting sounds from the other videos flowed into each space.
Also on view were four colorful panoramic drawings of Cytter’s living room, rendered with Sharpie markers on white vinyl, as well as HOME (2013), a set of 60 drawings on 8-by-8½-inch paper that have a deliberately crude, stream-of-consciousness quality. More telling of her approach to art-making than the drawings were two absurdist text panels in which Cytter parodied such exhibition aids, offering a series of statements about her working methods that were somewhat illuminating but also jargony. A good example is: “In Four Seasons the repetition of images and texts intensifies the subject and deconstructs the content.”
Although Cytter is interested in subverting virtually every element of cinema, writing lies at the core of her work. This is made especially clear by her decision to publish two collections of film, music video and performance scripts as an accompaniment to this show. She asked curator Naomi Beckwith, who oversaw the MCA presentation, and Fabricius to divide her writings into volumes that she amusingly titled The Best of Keren Cytter and The Worst of Keren Cytter. Like her films, Cytter’s writing, with its stylized language and (sometimes annoyingly) cyclical repetition, finds its roots in the elusive world of Samuel Beckett, especially his masterpiece, Waiting for Godot. If her videos do not attain Beckett’s level of existential truth, they are nonetheless inventive, surprising and provocative on their own terms.