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Art Review: Red Light Rodents on St. Claude

by Cheryl Castjohn

Andrew Brehm’s video installation “Ratss,” offered four minutes of awkwardly suggestive, terribly poignant postmodern social commentary. If you’ve seen this sort of thing around every other corner, then consider the possibility of said postmodern social commentary masquerading as porn parody. Not just any kind of porn parody, but porn parody starring rats.


The boppy, bow-chicka-wow-wow soundtrack played alongside a red light, a tennis aficionado, a captivating bicyclist, and an implied hook-up that warms up quickly but ends in unspeakable violence.  The action was curious and the production was good. The film and timing and music are technically dead-on, the actors are all on board, and the masks are notably well-made. This was not mediocre Youtube fodder whose production you have to overlook to get to the punch line. Brehm knows his stuff. It was funny, yes, but Brehm’s voice comes through with weird, uncomfortable clarity.


The piece opened with a doting couple who nuzzle and part, the presumed male leaving the frame and the female returning to her window. She switched a red light on, and draped a red handkerchief over the sill. What could be the white rat’s next customer appeared behind a tennis racket, and began stretching.  He lapsed into a tennis warm-up and trotted off out of frame, leaving the viewer to wonder if the innuendo is emanating from Ratss, or her own mind.  Soon enough, though, the camera moved in tight and reveals that "Tennis" is not the first rat to embed a few balls in this wall.  A poised bicyclist walked up and gave her Schwinn a slow, deliberate reach-around to extend a kickstand. 


The tell-tale advent of a split-screen close-up showed “Bicycle” thrusting away at an air pump (keep watching those credits – suggestive tire-pumping is not “Bicycle” rat’s only skill). Heated chopping of the least sexy vegetable in existence, the Brussels sprout, built to a frenzied crescendo, and a long, pink, floppy cylindrical object quadruples in size after a tricky cut-away after cut-away after cut-away. The slow, careful actions caught in close-up by Brehm’s camera direction eventually left no doubt that “Ratss” is really an innocent version of Skinemax, done rodent-style.


Brehm’s point of view is difficult to dismiss on the heels of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s recently released “Don Jon”.  Movies are taking on the embarrassing reality of movie sex in a thought-provoking manner.  The current dialogue regarding the weirdness of porn sex probably started in 1997 with Paul Thomas Anderson’s feature length film, “Boogie Nights”.  An uncomfortable tragedy loosely based on the life of John Holmes cast a critical eye on the adult film industry. Rather than portraying the Holmesian character as the luckiest man on earth, Anderson painted the picture of a not-so-bright, desperate social misfit who rolls down the path of excess like a bowling ball. An inter-racial couple found solace in their non-judgmental porn movie family, and this was good. An absent mother consoled herself with drugs over being forced to maintain the childless lifestyle her profession necessitates – which was bad.  Anderson’s fictionalized account lifted the curtain to reveal – ew – the warts beneath, as well as the trappings of tolerance which result from the actors’ permissive lifestyles.


The sex in Brehm’s “Ratss” was campy and funny and barely suggested, but was there.  The humor distracts while the telltale background music is still going for it like a non-discriminating friend in the back seat.  After watching a few times, the film started to feel like the discomfort of a high school crush:  The tingling sensation of blood rushing in the ears, the mind abuzz trying to maintain some semblance of social decorum and the gripping fear that everyone can feel the hum radiating from a libido in overdrive.   The film’s real coup was in its quest to help the viewer find out exactly how little it takes to suggest sex to him, cinematically speaking.  But more interesting is exactly at what point the viewer begins to squirm at the restrained innuendo. For the perviest, all it takes, apparently, is some watered-down muzak funk, a red light, suspicious kickstand management, and an especially large hot dog.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

Published Daily