Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg: The Skin is a Thin Container: Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, France
The exhibition The Skin is a Thin Container is the first solo exhibition in France of artistic duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg.
The animated films and sculptural installations by Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg address the human condition, particularly the desires, impulses, and vices buried in our subconscious, and at the origin of our fantasies and obsessions. Their works are marked by irony and dark humour, provoking a feeling of unease, through plural reflections on sexuality, violence, and sometimes macabre pleasures, cruelty and perversion, amongst others. Characters with exaggerated, deformed, and even tortured bodies interact with other strange anthropomorphic creatures, often personified by animals or other figures inspired by tales and depicting deviant behaviours.
Since 2001, Nathalie Djurberg has developed a distinctive style, by creating animated films using figurines modelled from clay, which she dresses and then films in stop motion. She creates characters both intuitively and manually, endowed with outrageous features that she fashions and animates herself in her studio, thereby exaggerating their appearance with a crude materiality. She associates this technique with the pleasures of the flesh, with the feeling we get when we walk barefoot in earth, crushing it between our toes. This feeling, which she experiences by manipulating the materials, awakens her primary instincts, but also her fears. The artist explores what troubles her, in order to better understand it.
Inspired by childhood memories and books, by what she sees and hears, Nathalie Djurberg assembles her references to create a story, a scenario. The narrative, often transgressive and disturbing, recounts the darkest of desires—jealousy, revenge, greed, submission, and lust—in a rudimentary staging with an intense rhythm. Although the artist has a precise idea of the scenario, she admits that an element of improvisation remains necessary during the creation process, especially in the interactions between characters. Her films are often linked to her emotional state at the time of their production. Although she occasionally finds the result excessive, with too many textures, colours, or elements, this is precisely what gives the work a comical dimension, despite the harshness of the subjects addressed.
The feelings generated by the films are accentuated by the music and atmospheric sounds that form their soundtrack. These are imagined by Hans Berg as soon as they are shot. He is also the only person that Nathalie Djurberg lets into her studio when she brings her plasticine characters to life. The artistic duo began their collaboration in 2004. Using sound effects, and acoustic and synthetic instruments, as well as electronic music, Hans Berg’s soundtracks follow the rhythm of the animated film and are composed simultaneously. Hans Berg begins to reflect on the soundtrack of each new film as soon as the scenario has been established, but he finalizes the composition only after production. While the sound score may be considered an emotional response to the images, it does not replace the spoken word. It harmonizes with what we see, or goes against it, thus provoking a dissonance. According to Hans Berg, music is a way of amplifying the complex emotions that emanate from each scene.
Since 2009, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s works have taken the form of elaborate environments where videos, sculptures, and musical compositions comprise a surreal universe. Their installations allow visitors to immerse themselves in their world and fully experience it.
While the music in their films is much more narrative, that used in their installations is more focused on a hypnotic atmosphere. The latter embody moods and feelings, dramatized by the relationship between the sound and image. The working dynamic of this artistic duo has evolved over the years, reinforcing the sensory experience of spectators.
For their exhibition at the macLYON, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg have created a gigantic soup, a metaphor for the human body. The scenography invites the public to enter a pot, where several foods serve as allegories of body parts. Amongst the ingredients, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg voluntarily chose to highlight root vegetables, as these vegetables grow out of sight. They develop underground and it is only when we dig them up that we become aware of what they are. In the same way, our body is imbued with emotions, most of them invisible, at times unconscious, or even partly buried. Yet, everything we feel as individuals has an impact on our body, inside and outside. The two artists explore, in an intuitive way, the difficulty we have in experiencing our emotions and the way in which our bodies express themselves.
Despite the darkness of their animated films, a hard-hitting humour emerges from these whimsical and grotesque stories. The works oscillate between innocence and traumatic experience, between the cruel and the cute. This ambivalence is what gives their work its strength, softening the violence thanks to this humorous discrepancy.
Installation view above,Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg, The Skin is a Thin Container, au macLYON, 2023, Courtesy des artistes, Gió Marconi, Milan, Lisson Gallery, Londres/New York/Los Angeles/Shanghai/Pékin et Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles, Collection Fondazione Prada, Milan © Photo : Lionel Rault © Adagp, Paris, 2023