Humor and art are two great tastes that rarely taste great together, but in the polished hands of young Dutch artist Guido Van der Werve they combine forces to challenge our received notions of beauty. His Chopin-soundtracked triptych Nummer drie, for example, in which a moonlit ballerina fails to flinch as a tree falls perilously close behind her, could easily lapse into terminal cuteness, the province of a local film festival’s slighter works whose winsome ambitions you passingly applaud but seldom remember.
Yet Van der Werve’s mix of high production values and macabre undertones catapult his works from throwaway one-liners into more nuanced examinations of irony and solitude. The gravity of Suicide 8945 till 8948’s bullet-to-the-head loop is tempered by its schlock gore, and getting hit by a car in Nummer twee absurdly occasions a team of tightly choreographed Degas piling out of a police van. These deeply personal videos recall the confessional, performative style of Vito Acconci or Bas Jan Ader, but the surrealistic dreamscapes Van der Werve conjures draw more from film than from the conventional gallery event. The cinematic reference points here are many: in Nummer Drie we see echoes of Wenders’ Der Himmel über Belin, as the camera pans down from a cramped room overflowing with Dangerous Liaisons ballroom divas to a generic Chinese restaurant, whose patrons (including Van der Werve) seem at once frozen in time and lost in private thought.
Acknowledging the beauty of a well-filmed auto accident coyly nods to Cronenberg, but perhaps even closer to the mark is Sweden’s bittersweet Roy Andersson, who’s been funding his celebrated oeuvre over the decades by directing commercials on the side. Indeed, many of the works here would sit well on a showreel of Clio Awards favorites, were they not shot through with Van der Werve’s disarming melancholy.
(Originally published in Flash Art in May 2004)