I saw Keren Cytter's blood-soaked Rose Garden last night at Diverse Works. It was shot at the Rose Garden bar (up off of Airline in the greater Heights area of Houston), a place that Wayne Gilbert characterized as a dive. The cast consists of a combination of local actors and artists, including Emily Peacock, Nick Meriwether, Wayne Gilbert, Otis Ike and Jim Hatchett.
Rose Garden from keren cytter on Vimeo.
There is a strange logic to the story, but mostly it seems absurd. For example, the bar patrons' reaction to the accidental shooting of Emily Peacock is almost total indifference. The music, a combination of of eerie flute and banjo, was perfect--it gave the video a suspense-filled spaghetti Western feel. The non-actors mostly non-acted, to be blunt, but Otis Ike has to be praised for delivering an amazingly creepy erotic phone-sex monologue.
This video is Keren Cytter's contribution to a larger project, Der Stachel des Skorpions ("The Sting of the Scorpion"),which includes contributions by Tobias Zielony, Chicks on Speed, M+M, Julian Rosefeldt andJohn Bock in addition to Cytter. It is a deliberately surrealist project, based on L’Âge d’Or by the divine Luis Buñuel. L’Âge d’Or has been divided into six sections, and each artist films his or her own version of one of the sections. Therefore it is a film version of the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse. Cytter has transformed the feast in the mansion into a Texas bar scene.
Diverse Works brings a lot of artists to Houston who work in non-traditional media or else who are not primarily visual artists at all. Cytter, an Israeli artist, is one of these. She had a performance and exhibit at Diverse Works in 2013. At times, I've resented this direction from Diverse Works. It veers into theater, which I don't feel especially equipped to deal with critically or even as a viewer. (Claire Bishop, I ain't.) Plus, you can often feel in such situations that the art space has parachuted in some artist who is making a tour of the provinces. It risks feeling unconnected to the here and now.
But one thing Rose Garden made me realize is that a lot of the artists that Diverse Works brings in use Houston--its people, its locations, its events--as material. For example, Liz Magic Laser's Tell Me What You Want to Hear, which included a number of local Houston journalists and political strategists (Houstonians one rarely sees in an art space like Diverse Works, it should be noted), and City Council Meeting by Aaron Landsman, Mallory Catlett and Jim Findlay, which featured a number of Houston amateur actors, including an actual Houston city councilman. Tell Me What You Want to Hear, City Council Meeting and Rose Garden each engage Houston in very specific non-superficial ways. (You might conclude that I am pretty slow on the uptake if I'm only realizing this now. Probably so!)
My worry that out-of-town artists would necessarily have no connection with Houston and its specific situation is therefore totally unwarranted. When you think about it, Diverse Works and the artists it brings to Houston have made a serious effort to integrate their work locally, even though the artists are here only temporarily. Whether this is the specific intention of Diverse Works or an unintended by-product of the artists they choose to bring here (or some combination of the two), I don't know. But I'm glad they do it and I'm glad that I finally noticed it.