Volume 17, Number 40 | February 25 - March 3, 2005


Young buster gets a bath from his new father as a relationship of mutual understanding develops in Guy Ben-Ner’s 17-minute “Wild Boy,” 2005.

It takes a video project

A filmmaker’s childrearing serves as a metaphor for the human condition

By Dean Daderko

Occasionally, the most fascinating family is the one you are born into. Such is the case with Israeli-born artist Guy Ben-Ner, whose first U.S. solo show features himself and his two children in “Wild Boy,” a two-part video work at Postmasters Gallery.

The show’s title piece unfolds as the narrative of an abandoned child found in the woods by a man who nurtures and raises him. Played by Amir, the artist’s young son, the child communes with bunnies and a parakeet, and after being discovered learns to read and speak, slowly becoming culturally acclimated. The wild boy is renamed Buster (evocative of the father-son vaudeville acts of Buster Keaton and his son Joe) and adopts the dress and social mannerisms modeled by his new father, frustrated at times by the boy’s cognitive oddities, as when Buster chooses a refrigerator magnet of a rabbit, not a female form, to represent the notion of his mother.

When the father finally speaks to Buster on the child’s terms, however, understanding flourishes. Channeling a child-like creativity, the parent comprehends the potential for a two-way dialogue between father and son. Shown on a specially built set that approximates the film’s outdoor setting, viewers find themselves immersed in the considerations of how and why humans learn behavior from others. Ben-Ner crafts a story that functions as a metaphorical documentary of sorts. Perhaps Ben-Ner’s own growth as a parent and as an artist are at the heart of “Wild Boy,” demonstrating that how questions are asked is as important as the answers that are given.

A second work, “Elia” (2002) is also a family story, told through the guise of a nature documentary. Starring the entire family, the artist’s daughter plays the starring role, along with his wife and son. Donning ostrich costumes whose heads require the family to walk backwards, a series of interactions in some of the more barren stretches of Central Park investigate the characters’ relationships to each other. When the older sister ostrich is reprimanded after a fight that resulted after she teased her younger brother, the film offers generous meta-commentary that is perhaps applicable to all of our lives.

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