vox clamantis in deserto
For his first show in Italy Norwegian artist Per-Oskar Leu (Oslo, 1980) presents the film Vox Clamantis in Deserto, a swan song for the ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’. Infamous for its misanthropy and blatant rejection of traditional Christian values, Norwegian black metal was thrust into the world’s attention in the early 1990’s, following a wave of murders and church burnings. Vast media coverage of the events sparked an unprecedented mass hysteria, but as more and more bands won critical acclaim, the tide soon shifted on a phenomenon that had initially been deemed as evil and antisocial by the general public. Twenty years later the genre is considered one of Norway’s biggest musical exports, and the performers have become unlikely ambassadors of Norwegian culture abroad.
The film Vox Clamantis in Deserto is based on the aria Vesti la Giubba from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci. Dressed in characteristic black metal costume, Leu interprets the role of Pagliaccio, the tormented clown who kills his wife and her lover in a fit of jealous rage. Shot at various landmark locations such as the former record store Helvete (literally meaning Hell) and the Holmenkollen Chapel (burned to the ground by seminal figure Varg Vikernes in 1992), the work attempts to dismantle some of the myths that still surrounds Norwegian black metal to this day. Additional scenes are filmed at Oslo’s newly built opera house where further parallels are drawn between the theatrical nature and grand gestures shared by both musical expressions.
Questioning notions of authenticity is a recurring theme in much of Leu’s work. While black metal is still hailed by some as the last truly transgressive youth culture, Leu chooses instead to trace its transition from satanic underground movement into mainstream entertainment. Thus Vox Clamantis in Deserto reads as a Faustian tragedy, dwelling on the seemingly impossible task of asserting rebellion in a society where a place in the spotlight will successfully neutralize any attempt at subversion.
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