In 1999, Lars von Trier was commissioned by a leading Danish gallery to develop an installation called The World Clock. Cameras in New Mexico film the movement of ants across a stretch of desert. These images are broadcast by satellite to a 19 room Big Brother meets The Truman Show gallery where 53 actors improvise all day, every day for weeks on end. Each of the 53 actors has a pre-defined character, which in turn has four different states of mind which are triggered by a sort of multicolour traffic light in each of the rooms. And these lights change colour on the basis of the movements of the ants in New Mexico. Make sense?
The Exhibited offers a fly-on-the wall expose of the whole process, following the stories of the actors or exhibits throughout the whole process. It might sound like an excessively indulgent European art experiment, but with von Triers hands pulling the strings it actually works. What we see is a soap opera of epic proportions, with the added fun that its live, the audience stand on the set, and none of the actors know the different moods that will be triggered in the other characters. For example, The Cur is a man who hates everyone, and when the lights go red, he has to start a fight with someone. What the other actors dont know is that he must always lose those fights if challenged but because of his aggressiveness, no-one tries challenging him.
Of course, if you allow 53 actors to write their own scripts, they will all want the best part. So as the experiment continues, small drama such as seductions escalates into high melodrama, with suicides, abortions, murders, assassinations, rapes and weddings. But thats all part of the fun. As the installation goes on, the actors find their lives becoming intertwined with those of their characters. And in turn the characters are intertwined with the ants. One day the man in New Mexico feeds the ants a French fry, and madness ensues; another time the ants eat each other leaving only two survivors, and very little drama as a result.
As a documentary The Exhibited is decent, standing back to allow the story to tell itself. Because that is where the most interest lies in this part social experiment, part interactive art watching a group of actors at the hands of grand master von Trier having their lives dictated by a group of ants on the other side of the world.
The Exhibited (de udstillede) dir: Jesper Jargil, Denmark, 2000