LOS ANGELES — Dark whimsy and fecundity abound among the artworks of Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s exhibition A Pancake Moon, currently on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery — first in the smattering of resin flower pieces and two anthropomorphic egg sculptures, “Poached Egg on Chair” and “Soft Boiled Egg on Chair,” that populate the first two gallery spaces, and then in the foreboding musical compositions of Hans Berg, a musician as well as half of this artistic duo, that emanate from the doors of the third space, home to the exhibition’s titular collection of artworks, A Pancake Moon (all 2022).
Surreal and psychologically compelling, the sculptures of A Pancake Moon are best understood by watching the artists’ new stop-motion animation of the same name. In this video, Djurberg and Berg trace the life cycle of a beautiful young egg, starting with her childlike appreciation of herself, as she admires and receives pleasure from her own existence alone in the woods, rubbing her body, dancing, and speaking words of praise to herself. A parallel is drawn between the egg and feminine sexuality when two male characters, a fox and a bear, come into the scene with a voracious desire to consume the egg before she is ready or willing to participate. Consent or her relative immaturity do not seem to be at the forefront of these creatures’ minds. To escape them, she transforms into a moon, although whether this was a conscious choice or her body’s defense system kicking in remains ambiguous.
Now our egg has become a moon, and she floats through the sky as the fox and bear wait beneath her, hastening her journey downward by hurling words of discouragement at her, questioning her ability to stay suspended above. Eventually, she does descend, replete with a collection of dark, brownish spots covering her deflating body, almost like a rotting egg, and finally she becomes a pancake on the forest floor. At this point, the fox and bear lose interest in her, though not before the bear takes one final bite into her weary flesh. In the last scene the forest re-emerges, cleared of all its characters save for one small, unhatched egg, implying that the cycle is about to repeat itself, like menstruation.
The exhibition’s allusions to the rhythms of female fertility are impossible to ignore. Various sculptures, such as “One Lost Egg” and “Pancake Moon with Nothing,” not only refer to the narrative of the film, but also brings to mind the experience of freezing my eggs last year. A process that many women increasingly choose to undergo, it can be both physically and psychologically exhausting, replete with follicle counts, hormone injections, and thoughts of my “frozen egg babies” waiting in a fertility clinic. Anyone who has been through a pregnancy or IVF understands the ways in which your body is quite literally taken over by the experience, a process that can be both beautifully awesome and terrifying.
One brighter note in what could be interpreted as a relatively dark take on sexuality and reproduction are the floral sculptures that populate the space. Colorful and delicate, these stumps and branches are overgrown with the stunning variety of life that the creative and destructive cycles of Gaia, the Greek goddess of Earth, brings forth. They imply through their very beauty and allure that, while sometimes scary and wearying, these processes of making love and making life are worthwhile.
Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg: A Pancake Moon continues at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (1010 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles) through February 4. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.