Home Architect Gilda Williams on Jenkin van Zyl

Gilda Williams on Jenkin van Zyl

by godlove4241
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Nothing could have prepared me for the extreme visual extravaganza of Jenkin van Zyl, the nearly fifty-minute film Surrender, 2023. Not the huge, coin-sized, rodent-faced, silver, inflatable hellmouth at the entrance to the gallery, nor the subsequent hallways, filled with a tangle of pneumatic tubes Lamson (an antiquated sprawling building-wide distribution system). Not the four hotel beds with white sheets, outfitted with Soviet-era medicine cabinets, that served as seating in the projection room. Van Zyl’s panoply of interests read like random Google search terms, encompassing not just theatrical jaws of hell and obscure pre-digital tech, but also (as we find out in the film) Japanese sex hotels. short-lived, performance artist Leigh Bowery, prosthetic latex masks, queer club culture, 1920s–1930s American dance marathons, Matthew Barney, and the rat kings. Yet van Zyl somehow orchestrates them into the extraordinarily cohesive world-building marvel that is Surrender.

The premise: One Sunday, a half-rodent humanoid named Grace (mostly played by Alex Margo Arden in an inspired performance) checks in for a week-long stay at a spooky love hotel. There, she meets seven other hybrid and transgender beings like herself, who together engage in astonishing wardrobe changes and incomprehensible rituals, mostly performing in a central windowless event space reminiscent of the battered auditorium of an underfunded high school. Through countless costume changes, schizophrenic mood swings and confusing storylines – a confetti-strewn, twirling military-style wedding; impromptu gymnastics routines and endurance dance contests; and a terribly pathetic awards ceremony, all punctuated by brief texts on enigmas such as long-distance breastfeeding – van Zyl’s unknowable world somehow remains perfectly intact and perfectly exhilarating.

By the time the account arrived on Tuesday, I was already overwhelmed: by the mesmerizing musical score (designed by the artist) which layers ten or more tracks at once and expertly samples the BBC’s sound archive, the foxtrots , Karlheinz Stockhausen, dance anthems, 70s Muzak, Felix Mendelssohn, and vintage love songs like Brenda Lee’s mournful “I’m Sorry” (1960); by the human/rodent crossbreed gang in skin-tight red Lycra fetish suits with floor-skimming tails and protruding rat ears; by the gender-defying pair of nurses wearing Hannibal Lecter cloth masks and bare-ass aprons exposing white lace panties. And things were just starting to heat up. Thursday brought a dramatic crescendo as the troupe slipped into padded silver jumpsuits (complete with swinging tails and blood-red zip liners) and finally took to the ground to form a star pattern which, filmed from above , recalled a Busby Berkeley routine. Throughout, psychedelic multicolored lighting and inexplicable recurring images – trophies bearing creepy smiley faces, rows of out-of-sync metronomes – heighten the unsettling feelings of acid flashback. What might have looked like a week-long bad LSD trip to a rat-infested motel was instead a thrilling experience, as evidenced by the crowds of visitors who came to witness van Zyl’s mystifying and irresistible epic.

Multiple images of descent – ​​whether waiting for hotel elevators or hurtling down pneumatic tubes – turn dramatic on Saturday, when Grace crawls through a massive hole in her bed, landing in a vast underground concrete bunker. The film’s downward spiral might be reminiscent of Dante’s underground rings of hell, except these pleasure-seekers look so happy to be here. It was, literally and metaphorically, a deep dive: into van Zyl’s boundless imagination but also into the inexhaustible subcultural erotic fantasy, of sartorial invention, of the possibility of gender. I thought of baroque ceilings, rising endlessly to the sky in dematerialized light. Here is the mirror of the baroque in front: infinity like a hellish fall, materially charged, claustrophobic in the dark and bottomless depths of the human psyche, sexual desire, the internet. Wow, I thought. With Surrendervan Zyl may have single-handedly invented an updated and unprecedented view of infinity.

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