There’s No Place Like Home (And That’s Probably for the Best): Olaf Breuning’s ‘Home 3’ Takes on New York

In Home 1, Mr. Kerstetter portrayed a young man in a ratty wife-beater who tells a series of fantastical stories in a kitschy hotel room while variously stoking a fire, taking a bath and jumping on a bed. In one vignette, a gang travels to Pennsylvania’s Amish country, assaults a young Amish boy, strips him and puts an ET mask on his head. As the line between reality and fiction blurs—is this a story the narrator made up or one he’s remembering?—the film becomes claustrophobic and menacing, the narrator increasingly confused.

Home 2, which turned heads at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, resurrected the same character, this time as a goofy tourist who, through his unwittingly confrontational interactions with locals from Tokyo to Papua New Guinea, raises questions about exploitation and exoticism. By the end of the film, the editing has gotten choppy and fast-paced, and the protagonist seems on the verge of self-destruction. Where Home 2 walked a line between offensiveness and entertainment, the third installment feels less in-your-face, but perhaps that’s because it’s on familiar turf.

“It doesn’t matter where the films take place, they always feel like they’re in the same off-kilter, Breuning world,” said Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer. “The character is a little bit from another planet. And he’s a lonely character. There’s something quite melancholic about him.”

A longtime supporter of Mr. Breuning’s work, Mr. Jetzer included him in the first exhibition he ever curated, “Diana 98,” at X-Tra in Zurich. The show was timed to the one-year anniversary of Princess Diana’s death; Mr. Breuning’s piece was an installation set to speed metal music. Of the wide variety of media across which Mr. Breuning works—sculpture, photography, installation—Mr. Jetzer considers the films to be “the truest part of his work, because they’re his passion. There’s no market for the film work. He doesn’t do them for gallery shows.”

With his films—unlike, for instance, a outdoor sculpture commission he is currently working on in Toronto—“I don’t feel pressured to do something that people like,” said Mr. Breuning. “There are so many compromises. With the film, I can do whatever I want. And that makes me happy.”

He and Mr. Kerstetter started making films together in the 1990s in Zurich, and continued to do so after they both moved to New York around 2000. “We have a 12-year history of going out each Friday night,” said Mr. Breuning. “We meet, we have drinks, we have dinner. Then we go to clubs.”

The Home series was a natural outgrowth of their travels. “Brian is an incredibly good sport,” said Mr. Breuning. “He would take his clothes off and go into the street.”

Though not a professional actor, Mr. Kerstetter has a fabulist sensibility that works well with Mr. Breuning’s ploys. “We’d be out in Papua New Guinea and see something interesting. Olaf would say, ‘these 10 mud men dressed in white,’” Mr. Kerstetter told The Observer. “Then he would point to something on the ground and say, ‘Pick that up and see if you can get into some sort of conflict.’” He would, and then some: Mr. Kerstetter once got kicked out of Machu Picchu for chasing an alpaca while wearing a bull’s head.

But with both men entering a more domestic phase of their lives—Mr. Kerstetter has a child and may soon move to Belgium, Mr. Breuning is settling into family life with his wife Makiko—Home 3 may mark the end of the series. “I think the naiveté is connected to this innocent moment of jumping into the world,” said Mr. Breuning. “For a 42-year-old man, that gets lost.”

rjovanovic@observer.com

There’s No Place Like Home (And That’s Probably for the Best): Olaf Breuning’s ‘Home 3’ Takes on New York