Last Updated:Jun 17, 2007

Guy Ben-Ner @ Takefloor

If you have an hour to spare next Friday or Saturday, how about searching out a residential building in the quiet backstreets of Ebisu and climbing the vertiginous staircase to a gallery housed in a tiny Tokyo apartment?

At the top of those stairs, you’ll find yourself watching the home movies of an Israeli man, Guy Ben-Ner, whose hobbies include self-amputation, masturbation and DIY. Oh, and he performs all of these with a cast of children. But wait, it’s not what it sounds like! They’re his own children. Oh, but that still sounds bad. Really, you don’t have to involve the police in this one.

Video artist Guy Ben-Ner first came to international attention with Treehouse Kit (2005), in which he cast himself as a bushy-bearded castaway constructing the furniture ‘necessary’ for survival from the film’s central object, a tree, itself constructed from self-assembly furniture pieces. The film was shown in the Israeli pavilion at that year’s Venice Biennale and granted Ben-Ner fame as a kind of domestic idiot savant.

The two films showing at Takefloor expand on this domestic theme, with the pontifical role of the father his eternally favourite subject. His jumping-off point for the exploration of parenthood is the old-fashioned silent comedy film. There’s a clear precedent in the shape of his hero and greatest influence Buster Keaton, who learned his slapstick trade performing in his father Joe’s vaudevillian acts as a child. Like Keaton, Ben-Ner manages to be the director, star and subject of all his films.

Guy Ben-Ner, 'Wild Boy' (2004). Video single channel, DVD. Running time: 17 mins.
Guy Ben-Ner, 'Wild Boy' (2004). Video single channel, DVD. Running time: 17 mins.
Photo Courtesy of TAKEFLOOR 404 & 502

Silent movies often began by introducing a moment of dramatic tension: think of the actress tied to the tracks as the locomotive approaches. In the case of Household (2001), a moment of misfortune leads to Ben-Ner’s imprisonment inside his own baby son’s cot. Employing some bizarre and often bad-taste methods – shaving off his own body hair, capturing a carrot or cutting off his own thumb – he plots his own escape. As with classic Chaplin or Keaton, the comedic exclamation point is that the more bizarre the idea, the more likely it is to work in the hero’s favour.

The second film Wild Boy (2005) could be an update of Joe Keaton’s 1899 stage act The Three Keatons in which Keaton the elder would attempt to mould the three year-old Buster in his own image before tossing him into the orchestra pit for a laugh when he inevitably disobeyed. In Wild Boy we see Ben-Ner construct scenarios to pass on his faintly dubious adult wisdom to his reluctant son in a series of sketches that poke fun at the absurdity of traditional child-rearing methods and the Victorian notion of the savage child.

Installation View, Misaki Kawai (2006)
Installation View, Misaki Kawai (2006)
Photo Courtesy of TAKEFLOOR 404 & 502

The two twenty-minute films are showing in a gallery space that’s far from orthodox. If anything, Takefloor’s setting is the perfect match for Ben-Ner’s reductive child-rearing experiments; an already microscopic fourth-floor apartment having had its dimensions squeezed further by the construction of interior walls. The tiny space, scribbled over with the childlike irreverence of Misaki Kawai’s faux-naive drawings, serves as a romper room extension of Ben-Ner’s domestic prison and the real narrative becomes not how will he escape from his cot cell but how will we escape from watching him try?

The exhibition is showing at Takefloor on February 9th-10th and 16th-17th from 12-8pm. For those unable to attend on those days, special viewings can be pre-arranged by phone.

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David Willoughby

David Willoughby

Tokyo resident and writer for TABlog 2007-2008.

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