A major pleasure of reading is the stream of images that comes bidden into one’s head over the course of a book, produced by the exchange of one’s memory and the author’s imagination and occasionally syncing with, but always illuminating, the words. In Sue de Beer’s work since the early 2000s, we get to see—the way we don’t see our own—her personal image-streams on a wall, excellently crystallized into a series of lucid and fey film installations: Disappear Here, 2004, with a title from Bret Easton Ellis and a monologue from an untitled (and so far unreleased) novel by Alissa Bennett; Black Sun, 2005, with a title from Julia Kristeva and texts from two Dennis Cooper novels; The Quickening, which was based on writings by Joris-Karl Huysmans and Jonathan Edwards. Her latest, The Blue Lenses, 2015, relies again on Suspiria-type style and At Land–ish narrative, not plot, to give us horror in its truest form: life. It also gets its strangeness too easily. It questions what we read as “foreign” while making “foreignness” the reason to look.
The Blue Lenses is a noir transposition from London to Abu Dhabi of Daphne du Maurier’s blackly magic story by that name. Du Maurier’s heroine is cured of blindness only to see humans with animal heads; de Beer’s lead is watchful and silent, following an older male swindler to trip-hop parties and huge deserted malls, letting us see humans in the Middle East who are basically like humans in the Middle West. If that recognition is supposed to be a twist, it’s unacceptable: It’s the opposite of what de Beer has done best, which is to make viewers feel like tourists at home. (At Boesky East, the cobalt windows and plush rugs evoke a school trip to Islam.) Yet she is also doing film better than she has before, better than almost anyone in contemporary art, with an offhand control over an ever-wilder array of cinematic tricks for true beauty.