Fandom, obsession, objectophilia and love, both romantic and divine, have all formed part of Norwegian artist Lars Laumann’s ongoing project, exploring people and phenomena that exist on the margins of contemporary society. His latest installment, the documentary video Shut up Child, This Ain’t Bingo (2009), examines the relationship between Norwegian artist Kjersti Andvig and her artistic and romantic partner Carlton Turner, a prisoner on death row in Texas. Laumann’s previous film, Berlinmuren (Berlin Wall, 2008), focused on Eija-Riita Eklöf-Mauer, a woman who describes herself as ‘object sexualist’ and is married to the Berlin Wall – a love in which their ‘souls will be entwined for eternity’ – because she believes objects feel emotion like humans. Laumann’s subjects are often in situations where the object of love is unobtainable, to be adored from afar, fuelling fetishization and delusion. However, he does not position himself as a critic or social commentator; like his subjects, he too seems to be consuming something he is slightly in awe of. His empathy and reluctance to judge can seem frustrating and creates feelings of ambivalence, as he simultaneously draws you in, whilst the extraordinary stories fuel cynicism.
Shut up Child, This Ain’t Bingo is not a typical documentary: there is no structured narrative and it is shown continuously on a loop, without a beginning or end. The subject matter is confusing and disturbing, but also utterly absorbing, as you wonder whether it is all an elaborate hoax. Andvig lives in a trailer with a fanatical Christian woman who fiercely believes Turner will be saved by God. Considering the vast difference in their backgrounds, they are shown spending hot, balmy days and nights outside, smoking and laughing, discussing Turner, seemingly happy in their dysfunctional situation. The contrast between interior and exterior is emphasized as Laumann juxtaposes this against Turner in prison, claustrophobically viewed only through a small pane of glass. Turner explains that when he started speaking to Andvig the relationship was purely ‘intellectual’ and the only true intellectual relationship he had ever had. Yet as soon as he saw Andvig, who is beautiful, he was overwhelmed with desire, and could not bear to look at her, as ‘she was all pretty and everything’. Far from a light-hearted Jeremy Deller-esque excursion into the American ‘other’, this is problematic and uncomfortable to watch, in part due to Laumann’s unwillingness to question or criticize his subject, but also because we are eventually made privy to Turner’s execution.
This also is an undeniably voyeuristic experience; as you watch Andvig’s relationship with Turner escalate towards his death, her religious and emotional fanaticism increases, as she becomes convinced he will live, and an aesthetic transformation occurs – the contrast in style between the cute Euro-artist we see in earlier images, versus her embrace of trailer-trash-chic is marked, as if she is performing her life. Andvig specifically states that she believes art and life should coexist as one; yet if this is a performance, she is an incredible actress. In which case, should this be considered as a collaborative work between Andvig and Laumann? The film suggests they are friends and they have collaborated together previously on a project in Norway, so whether you believe her or not, the ethics involved in their venture as artists are questionable.
Laumann consistently relies upon the Internet as a tool to enable him access to networks, people and places that were previously unconnected. As I Googled Turner to find out what he had been convicted for (this is not addressed in the film) I stumbled upon a deeply disturbing website for a pro-death-penalty community, with a user who described lethal injection as an ‘anti-crime vaccine’. It was only then I realized that redemption, not delusion, is at the core of this film – through love, through God, through art – and so by not explicitly confronting Turner’s crime, criticizing the politics of the death penalty, or addressing the ethics of his and Andvig’s roles, Laumann steers the audience along an unusual path through this ethical minefield.