BY Maxine Kopsa in Reviews | 04 APR 02
Featured in
Issue 66

L.A. Raeven

Casco Projects, Utrecht, The Netherlands

BY Maxine Kopsa in Reviews | 04 APR 02

When I was young I used to play office. I remember distinctly thinking that one day, when I did finally have a real office, I'd know what to write down on all those stacks of white pages. And I'd have something to say to someone on the phone. And it would be important. Of course, it's easy to play office, but it's the knowing what to write down that becomes the problem. Now, when I sit at my desk, surrounded by piles of paper and a telephone that rings too often, I long for those days of imagination only.

I remembered my play-acting and the lure of the empty page watching the eight young models in L.A. Raeven's double-projection single-channel video Killer Queen (2001). Dressed in chichi clothes and heavy make-up, they get progressively smashed playing a champagne-drinking game. One screen features an overview of the scene, while the other shifts between details or the white of the floor and the walls. For two and a half hours a group of girls and boys sit on pillows drinking and chatting; sometimes one gets up to go somewhere, sometimes you see pairs whispering or one poor sucker sitting very alone. The general boredom of the event is grossly underscored by the constant looping of Queen's horrendous song 'Killer Queen': 'caviar and cigarettes, well versed in etiquette, extraordinarily nice. She's a killer Queen ...' I wondered if after a few hours of this refrain they hated it as much as I did, but if they did it didn't show; yet somehow no matter how flawless their blush or how well ironed their trousers, there remained a discernible gap between the glam of the outfits and the drink and the uncouth, not quite bored or arrogant enough, behaviour of these young and silly models. And that was a shame. For that reason the video felt ambivalent: was its attitude one of 'Fuck-you-I'm-young-and-beautiful' or 'Hi! I'm-not-really-convinced-of-me'. Or was that ambivalence part of the point?

Two months before the show opened, Killer Queen was filmed in the very gallery where it was later shown. Knowing this made the work more interesting. The idea that these models had sat where the viewer was now sitting, on the same pillows, was somehow intriguing, but only up to a point. Whether the work was, as the artists stated, a critique of hypocritical ad campaigns for alcoholic beverages aimed at minors, is another question entirely, one that makes the work too simple and illustrative to be taken seriously. More thought-provoking is the silliness of their concept: get eight dressed-up 20-somethings hammered in a couple of hours and film them.

L.A. Raeven are Liesbeth and Angelique Raeven, twin sisters born in Heerlen in1971. They are, to put it bluntly, extremely thin and possibly anorexic. They tend to specialize in making work that explores the shock of the ideal. Perhaps not my or your ideal, but our skinny model-hungry, sick society ideal. The role commercialism plays in the cancerous spread of all of this, or rather, how our vision is influenced and prejudiced by brands and image, is often their main preoccupation. Until now what made L.A. Raeven's work interesting is that it was fascinatingly ambiguous. Killer Queen seems, unfortunately, to take a step away from the strength of that ethical ambiguity towards the safer haven of moral judgement. And unlike works that also place the 'embarrassing', the socially confrontational, smack dab in your face (for example Gillian Wearing's Drunk, 2000), Killer Queen as a product doesn't have the power to evoke a dialogue, nor does it truly have the raw strength to leave one contemplating its initial registration. To put it simply, it's contentless and imageless at the same time: at once too close to realize its would-be content and too distanced to portray the emptiness of a lonely image. And two negatives, unfortunately, do not make a positive.