‘Shame Is One of My Predominant Feelings’: Watch Artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg Summon Nightmares in Clay

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg Share Their Feelings." © Art21, Inc. 2020.

Watching a film by the Swedish-born artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg can be supremely uncomfortable.

Djurberg uses clay to sculpt post-human characters and animal-like creatures who cavort in nightmarish landscapes, while Berg composes hypnotic musical scores that are the backdrop to the dramas. The clay figures practically ooze, but they have distinctly human impulses: base humor and emotion run riot.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s “Extended Play” series, the artists discuss how the fictional films convey very real emotions.

It is quite brave to put anything out there that you did,” Djurberg said. “It’s hard to differentiate between yourself and the work.”

“Shame is one of my predominant feelings,” she added. “It starts out as an idea, which feels very, very solid. It’s not. It takes some time for me to get to terms with that.”

On the flip side, she says, “in joy, we feel whole, because in the second of the joy, there isn’t anything else. It’s just that usually it’s so short.” 

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg Share Their Feelings." © Art21, Inc. 2020.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg Share Their Feelings.” © Art21, Inc. 2020.

In the films, the music adds to a sense of despair and longing, heightening the emotions that the characters are acting out.

In How to Slay a Demon, I think a lot about addiction and wanting something and then not getting it,” Berg said, describing one of their films. “I wanted the music to be almost like the voice of addiction. So, very hypnotic, alluring—almost like a siren song, luring you into something.”

Right now at the Shanghai-based Prada Rong Zhai, a historic residence restored by the luxury brand in 2017, sculpted clay flowers crop up from the pristine environment where an exhibition of the duo’s work is on view.

In “A Moon Wrapped in Brown Paper,” a series of videos and installations by the duo is at odds with the genteel environment, much like the micro-worlds in the films, which are an off-kilter version of reality.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. “A Moon Wrapped in Brown Paper” is on view at Prada Rong Zhai through January 9, 2022.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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