Sue de Beer’s The Blue Lenses at Marianne Boesky Gallery in the Lower East Side is a new two-channel film screened within an immersive sculptural environment. This experimental video sets out to make a Daphne du Maurier inspired film noir set in a fictional version of the Middle East. De Beer constructs images together through overlapping, fragmented, and kaleidoscopic shots where scenes are flooded with sharp greens, bright reds, and blues. The title is taken from the du Maurier story where a woman, upon having the bandages removed after surgery to restore her vision, finds that through her new eyes, the people around her frighteningly bear animal heads on their human bodies. In her film, de Beer continues to play with the ideas of looking, seeing, and distorting through the lens, where altered perceptions and experiences of the film’s main characters present a multifaceted picture with a sense of suspense and intrigue.
Over the course of 20 minutes, we learn more about Daniel, the mysterious character who switches between being a salesman, a connoisseur of fabric, a drug user, a magician, and a thief. Clips of disparate and unrelated scenes and snapshots of Abu Dhabi are shown between his fragmented narrative, told to us by either Daniel himself or by a young Arabic woman he meets whose voice we first hear at the beginning of the film. Shots go in and out of focus, the lens flickers, the camera is unsteady, and subjects are cropped at disorienting angles. Interruptions of the narrative, divided by five vaguely titled chapters, come in the form of a burlesque dance performance and eerie stills of the indoor ski slope located in the Mall of the Emirates. We are captivated and our attention is held throughout the film, nevertheless, and is carried along with the rhythm of a hypnotic drumbeat that plays midway the video and continues through to the end.
The gallery is also transformed into a sculptural installation where patterned, lacelike screens mirror the architecture seen throughout the film. The windows are tinted with jewel-toned cobalt blue, which is inspired by the film’s title and included to invoke the color that is associated with the power and beauty in Islam. This constructed environment, together with the film, propels us to question and examine what we consider foreign and strange. Through all these distortions and layered realities shared via memory, imagination, and the illuminating words of the main characters, The Blue Lenses ultimately asks us to defy preconceived expectations, make us question what we read and see, and determine what is real or true from what is invented or fictional – perhaps getting lost along the way when attempting to decode and unravel the given information. Although we are unsure as to what exactly takes place in this intriguing, ambiguous, and plotless story, it is powerful in the way it positions us to make a choice between accepting everything as is, or confront the “facts” with which we are presented.