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The Coat is a digital video in colour with sound, lasting five minutes and fifty three seconds. It was commissioned by LUX and the Independent Cinema Office, London as part of a series of eight short artists’ films shown in major cinemas as interventions before commercial feature films. The series received its premiere in a screening at Tate Modern on 16 April 2010. The Coat has been produced in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is number four in the edition. The Coat reflects a shift in Cytter’s recent work towards a live, performative practice. In November 2009 in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, she staged The Secret Diaries of Linda Schultz, a live event in collaboration with her dance theatre group D.I.E. (Dance International Europe). Some of the performers in that event also performed in The Coat.
Keren Cytter’s work deals with human relationships and the dramatic conventions used to express them on stage and screen. Inspired by the artist’s own life and that of her friends, Cytter’s videos present love, desire, loss and the vagaries of human communication, all the while scrambling the standard codes used to depict these themes. At the heart of this work is a concern with cultural clichés. Cytter, who writes all the scripts herself, treats common behaviours and acts of speech as readymades, breaking down their familiar codes in order to analyze the rules, norms, and conventions of expression, both in art and in daily life. Her stories are often shot in her own apartment in Berlin, while the characters who populate her films are young people dressed in the non-descript uniform of Berlin’s urban, bohemian creative world: T-shirts, jeans and shapeless sweatclothes. Through alternately long or fragmented monologues, they articulate a language of commonplace conflicts of longing and jealousy.
Frequently in Cytter’s videos, sound and image are not synchronised: for instance, the image of a male actor might be superimposed with a female voice. This sort of rupture is characteristic of The Coat, which also employs a dramatic soundtrack, split-screen treatments, animated text sequences and psychedelic morphing effects. These formal devices frame a dramatic love triangle between two brothers obsessed with the Japanese number game Sudoku and a beautiful young woman from East Germany. As the story unfolds in fits and starts, a turbulent romance is revealed between the woman and the younger British brother, who has visited her behind his American brother’s back for the past seven years. The younger brother suggests the woman accompany him to Los Angeles. By the time she is convinced, he finds himself in the middle of a hard and challenging Sudoku game and is unable to leave. The complex manner in which the characters interrelate seems to correspond to the logic of Sudoku. The viewer is made to piece together the various elements of the story and to imagine other outcomes. ‘The End’ arrives before all is resolved. Cytter deconstructs the individual elements of the film: actors, voices, words and sounds, images and numbers all become part of a shape-shifting structure that involves the viewer in its tragic story.
Beatrix Ruf and Nicolaus Schafhausen (eds.), Keren Cytter: The Man Who Climbed Up the Stairs of Life and Found Out They Were Cinema Seats, New York 2005.
Diedrich Diederichsen and Avi Pitchon, Keren Cytter: I was the good and he was the bad and the ugly, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin 2006.
Daniel Birnbaum, ‘True Lies: The Art of Keren Cytter’, Artforum, March 2010.