In January 2013 I saw a selection of Nathalie Djurberg’s work exhibited at the CCC Strozzine, as part of the Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art exhibition. As a result of seeing this work I became obsessed with the idea of redemptive necrophilia and this eventually turned into a much larger project.
Though Djurberg’s work shares some commonality with Bacon’s (particularly his claustrophobic rendering of the bodily, the sexual, and the intimate) her work has a closer relationship to the twisted dolls and bound women of Hans Bellmer. Though not explicitly politicized, her close analysis of the female body as a site for violence and sexualisation offers a radical feminist reworking of Bellmer’s ambivalent desires. Turn Into Me, a stop motion animation, exemplifies Djurberg’s style, and, I think, it offers a redemptive vision of necrophilia through a positive, and transformative re-reading of a version of the uncanny.
Home, womb and tomb are conflated in Freud’s male-centric view of the female genitals in his 1919 essay The Uncanny:
‘It often happens that neurotic men declare that they feel there is something uncanny about the female genital organs. This unheimlich place, however, is the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning. There is a joking saying that “Love is home-sickness”; and whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, while he is still dreaming: “this place is familiar to me, I’ve been here before,” we may interpret the place as being his mother’s genitals or her body.’
Djurberg addresses this collapsing of boundaries by presenting a female figure who becomes a home, womb and tomb for the animals in the forest where her corpse rots. Rather than showing a conventional narrative of feminised victimhood at the hands of violent masculinity, Djurberg instead shows a scene of death, decay and transformation that offers a redemptive, biological, non-reproductive futurity and satirises the nature/culture binary.
Turn Into Me is presented in a naive style using stop motion animation, plasticine figures, crayoned scrawls and doll’s house furniture. The original soundtracks to her installation and video work are by Hans Berg –synthesised human cries are blended with twinkly beats. The overall effect is one of a sinister nursery — extreme violence rendered in cutesy form. The animation begins with a plasticine figure of an adult woman, naked and with large and impossibly pert breasts, walking into a forest. The beautiful forest as a space for extreme violence, mainly sexual violence, is a common trope in myth and fairy tale and the idyllic setting taps into those ancient themes. The figure staggers, blood streams from her face and runs down her body, she falls down and turns blue. The figure becomes part of the landscape in a symbiotic relation to her surroundings. As the animation progresses her skin falls off and cute plasticine raccoons and squirrels eat her body. Maggots writhe through and her body changes into meat, sustenance — each part of her useful to the ecosystem. This is redemptive – the death and transfiguration of the female figure is a necrophiliac act that extends beyond horror, and creates a space for rebirth breaking the terror of finitude. At once a home, a tomb and a womb — the plasticined flesh of the female protagonist becomes an unheimlich space for renewal.