Tag Archives: Surrealism
It’s official. My animated short film Domestikia: The Incident in the Nursery has been selected under the International category for Animaldiçoados/Animacursed 2012, a film festival in Rio de Janeiro that features horror, suspense, and “other cursed” genres of animation. Mine is probably under the “other cursed” or possibly the “WTF” category, should they have one of those.
Visit the festival web site (in Portuguese, of course) and check out the selected films. Pretty solid programming! Amazingly enough, I’m sharing screen time with Julia Pott (see my last blog entry When I grow up, I want to make films like Julia). Not sure how that happened.
No, seriously. This animated short film by Julia Pott, entitled Belly, is a phenomenal achievement. Visually stunning, disturbing, and poignant. I could continue slathering on the superlatives, but you can see for yourself. Official Selection for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
At last, I’ve completed my second stop-motion animated short film. Domestikia uses paper cutouts and articulated paper puppets in a stop-motion animation to explore the strange, dreamlike and uncanny realm of the Domestic Gothic. With a healthy dose of black humour, it tackles the anxieties and challenges experienced by parents of young children. The ‘Domestic Gothic’ as a motif developed through the writing of 19th-century women Gothic novelists, such as the Brontë Sisters, and dealt specifically with the horror of confinement felt by women who were ‘imprisoned’ within the home and unable to move freely in Victorian society. With contemporary women still predominantly acting as primary caregivers to their children — and thus financially penalized by either remaining at home or opting for employment that allows for ‘family friendly’ work hours — this sense of confinement is still present. The realm of the domestic has become infiltrated by strange creatures — a giant butterfly, an octopus, and bird-headed children — whose presence suggest a level of discomfort within the home. These creatures are the physical manifestation of Freud’s das Unheimlich (translates to English as ‘the uncanny’), a term which literally means ‘unhomely.’
All images and animation were done by me, in my basement.
The dog days of Summer are now upon us, but don’t let those increased hours of daylight discourage our mutual reveling in the dark & macabre. Summer is the perfect time of the year to relax, disengage your critical thought and wallow in the raunchy, gory, completely tasteless absurdity of horror & exploitation films. For the bookish crowd, there are “Summer Reading” lists offered annually by media sources such as Toronto Life and CBC Radio. Now, don’t get me wrong – I do love to curl up with a good book whenever the opportunity presents itself. Film geek that I am, however, I derive greater enjoyment from seeking out and viewing obscure, bizarre and, um, not-exactly-high-brow films — such as the films I list below. If your taste in film is rather like mine, then track these films down as a “Summer Viewing” project. You probably won’t find these titles in your local Blockbuster video store, though. If you’re successful in locating any of these, then cue the DVD, pull the curtains, and embrace their insanity. Then tell me what you thought in the Comments section at the end of this post.
1. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Czech: Valerie a týden divů) is a 1970 film from the former Czechoslovakia, directed by Jaromil Jireš. This is the most “artful” of the films that appear on this list and, even though the print I viewed was of very poor quality, the stellar cinematography clearly stood out. The film is a dark, coming-of-age fairytale as only the Czechs could envision. The titular heroine, 13-year-old Valerie, grapples with her burgeoning sexuality, as well as the many priests, vampires, men and women who attempt to seduce and/or kill her. Fortunately for young Valerie, she possesses magical earrings which, when placed in her mouth, rescue her from impending death — which happens with great frequency throughout the film. Disjointed and surreal, you’ll hurt your brain if you try to make sense of the proceedings. Characters often change appearance and, as in the case of the ‘Polecat’, occupy shifting and ambiguous roles. Is he a priest? A vampire? Valerie’s father? A weasel? All of the above? Yes. Don’t worry about it, just enjoy the many beautiful images and the hazy, dreamlike pace of this film.
2. Thriller — A Cruel Picture (Swedish: Thriller – en grym film, also known as They Call Her One Eye, Hooker’s Revenge and simply Thriller) is a 1973 Swedish exploitation film. The film follows the typical Rape-Revenge formula: the heroine suffers tragedy and physical degradation until the latter half of the film, when she exacts bloody revenge on those who’ve abused her. (Read my earlier post on the Rape-Revenge film for my thoughts on this exploitation subgenre.) The teenage Frigga — who has been rendered mute by the childhood trauma of sexual abuse — is kidnapped by the local pimp and forced into both heroin addiction and prostitution. When she is initially non-compliant, Frigga has one of her eyes cut out with a scalpel in a brief but grisly scene that reputedly employed an actual cadaver as a body-double. From then on, she silently endures abuse from her clients while she saves up her portion of the financial transactions. She packs her Mondays (her one day-off work) with karate class, rifle-shooting and driving-really-super-fast class, as she secretly plots her revenge. Montage after long montage, she finally dons a black leather trenchcoat, matching eye-patch, and a sawed-off shotgun, and pays a slow-motion visit to each of her (soon to be former) clients.
The film was marketed as the first film ever to be completely banned in Sweden, although the one that actually was first was Victor Sjöström’s The Gardener from 1912. It has received a cult following and was one of the inspirations behind Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, specifically the character of Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). In Daniel Ekeroth’s book on Swedish exploitation movies, Swedish Sensationsfilms: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema, it is revealed that the producers took out a huge life insurance policy on star Christina Lindberg, as real ammunition was used in the action sequences, and that she was asked to inject saline solution during the drug scenes. — from Wikipedia.
3. The Living Dead Girl (French: La Morte Vivante) is a 1982 campy classic from French fantastique director Jean Rollin. Reanimated by the spillage of a toxic waste goop on her corpse, the aristocratic Catherine discovers she has a new-found taste for human flesh. Like all of Rollin’s films, the aesthetics play a much more crucial role than the story or, indeed, the acting. His films are as gorgeous as they are completely ridiculous. The absurd plot devices — toxic goop dumped on (surprisingly well-preserved, two-year-old) corpse interred in family crypt — exist only to furnish Rollin with an excuse to create his signature erotic-grotesque imagery. Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl is splatter gore-meets-arthouse, served up with a little Jean-Paul Sartre on the side. The existentialist exchange that occurs between Catherine and her childhood friend Hélène is thoroughly hilarious:
Hélène: You were never dead. The dead don’t come back to life. You were put to sleep, drugged, driven mad or I don’t know what. I don’t understand. I never saw you dead, Catherine. They put an empty coffin in this crypt.
Catherine: No. I’m dead, Hélène. I know I am. Don’t you understand? I know I am!
Heady stuff, people. Heady stuff.
The following text has been copied from an interview with Terry Gilliam (source:
) in which the animator, filmmaker and former member of Monty Python reveals his creative inspirations.
The Mascot (Wladyslaw Starewicz, France 1934)
It was at the Sitges film festival that I first saw an exhibition of work by the pioneering Russian animator Wladyslaw Starewicz, and the puppets were so enrapturing that when I got home I ordered up all the tapes I could find of his work. His work is absolutely breathtaking, surreal, inventive and extraordinary, encompassing everything that Jan Svankmajer, Walerian Borowczyk and the Quay Brothers would do subsequently. This is his last film, after The Tale of the Fox from 1930; it is all right there in this cosmic animation soup. It is important, before you journey through all these mind-bending worlds, to remember that it was all done years ago, by someone most of us have forgotten about now. This is where it all began.
Pinocchio (Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen, US, 1940)
For me, as an American growing up in Minnesota, Walt Disney was animation. But the joy of Disney’s films always came from watching the baddies. Pinocchio is visually the richest of his features and it is also the darkest. The Bad Boys’ World is a truly immortal nightmare, full of eerie images of kids turning into donkeys and all manner of strangeness. Then there is that stuff with cages, and I notice now that every film I have made features a scene with somebody in a cage – a trait I attribute to watching Pinocchio. Great songs in that film too; Disney was essentially a musical film-maker. Plus there is something intriguing about a character who desperately wants to be a real person, but who we all think is actually more interesting as a piece of wood.
Red Hot Riding Hood (Tex Avery, US, 1943)
The magic of Tex Avery’s animation is the sheer extremity of it all. The classic Avery image is of someone’s mouth falling open down to their feet, wham, their eyes whooping out and their tongue unrolling for about half a mile: that is the most wonderfully liberating spectacle. Avery would just stretch the human body and face however he liked, and the result was unbelievably funny. There is no hesitation in his work, no sense that you can go too far. I think that nowadays they should put on Tex Avery festivals as an antidote to political correctness. There is also a childlike sense of immortality and indestructibility in his work; people get squashed, mashed, bashed, bent out of shape, whatever, and they bounce back. In essence, it is like the myth of eternal life.
Out of the Inkwell (Dave Fleischer, US, 1938)
I first saw this when I was a teenager and, in retrospect, it was a career leap for me. This was when I first discovered surrealism. You have a scenario in which you see an animator creating something which suddenly develops a life outside of the cartoon. The character starts communicating with the animator, and then it is Frankenstein all over again, the creation of a monster over which you have no control. Until I saw Out of the Inkwell, I had always thought of animation as existing on one plane, but here were the Fleischer brothers taking you right through the looking glass and into the picture. Of course, when I saw it I loved it – not because I wanted to be the animator whose ink comes to life, but because I wanted to be the animation, the clown wreaking havoc upon the world.
Death Breath (Stan van der Beek, US, 1964)
After college, I lived in New York with some people who would watch experimental avant-garde films. We embraced them because they annoyed everybody else, even though they were mostly awful. One night we were enduring some of this stuff when on to the screen came a cut-up image of Richard Nixon trying to talk with his foot in his mouth. It was the simplest animation pun imaginable. Years later, when I had come to England and we were working on a TV programme that was meant to make people laugh, there was a problem with dramatising one of the ideas. So I got a picture of Jimmy Young, cut it in half, moved his mouth around a bit and everybody laughed. That subsequently became a trademark, for which I think van der Beek should take credit.
Les Jeux des Anges (Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1964)
Walerian Borowczyk was a twisted man whose films were infused with a unique cruelty and weirdness. He started out making extraordinary animations, graduated to directing classics such as Goto, Island of Love and La bête, and then ended up directing Emmanuelle 5, which I think is a perversely fitting end. Les Jeux des Anges was my first experience of animation that was utterly impressionistic. It didn’t show me anything specific, just sound and movement from which you create a world of your own.
Dimensions of Dialogue (Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia, 1982)
Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion work uses familiar, unremarkable objects in a way which is deeply disturbing. The first film of his that I saw was Alice, and I was extremely unsettled by the image of an animated rabbit which had real fur and real eyes. His films always leave me with mixed feelings, but they all have moments that really get to me; moments that evoke the nightmarish spectre of seeing commonplace things coming unexpectedly to life.
Street of Crocodiles (The Quay Brothers, UK, 1986)
There is something peculiar about falling for Jan Svankmajer and then discovering the Quay brothers – Americans who came to Europe and somehow wound up working in a style that felt like Polish animation. As an American, I always wanted to be seduced into this strange decadent, rotting idea of Europe, and the Quays have created that world in a manner which hypnotises me, but which I don’t fully understand. Maybe I like them because they ended up going further east than I did.
Knick Knack (John Lasseter, US, 1989)
John Lasseter’s work was the first digital animation that had genuine life in the characters. To be able to mix that level of characterisation with the smooth, crisp, clean quality of computer animation, to give it a real sense of three-dimensional existence, of touchiness and tactility, was like discovering a whole new texture of animation. The quality has endured from Lasseter’s short films such as Knickknack through to Toy Story 1 and 2, both of which are touching, funny, intelligent and brilliant.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Trey Parker, US, 1999)
Parker and Stone are the only guys who were ever inspired by me, who took the crudeness of my animation to even lower depths. Their stuff is so shoddy that it is miraculous that it works at all. I assured them that while it may be great for TV, there was no way to sustain it for 90 minutes. And, of course, their movie worked just brilliantly.
Like the majority of moviegoers, I’m often bedazzled by the computer-generated worlds created by Pixar and Dreamworks. While it would be difficult to dispute the technical virtuosity of these animation mega-giants, I must admit to having a soft spot for the low-fi underdog that is stop-motion animation. Perhaps because it involves a fully manual approach that relies more heavily on materials than pixels, I feel a greater affinity for it. One of the most basic and “low-fi” of stop-motion techniques is the paper cutout which, as the name suggests, involves drawings or prints on paper that are cut out and manipulated to simulate movement. The high degree of artifice and theatricality associated with the paper cutout makes this technique particularly well suited to animations which are fantastic, dreamlike and surreal. Its relative simplicity enabled many visual artists not typically known as animators to use this technique to create time-based work. Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, who had received a very classical training in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, used paper cutouts to great effect in his animated short films Les Astronautes (1959) and Les jeux des anges (1964). Borowczyk capitalized on the anti-realism of the cutout to produce his surreal and frequently nightmarish worlds.
Borowczyk’s compatriot and sometimes collaborator Jan Lenica used paper cutouts for his masterful Labyrinth (1963), an animation that, through its incorporation of 19th-century illustrations, closely recalls the eerie beauty and surrealism of a Max Ernst college novel. Eastern European animators such as Borowczyk, Lenica, and the Czech stop-motion master Jan Švankmajer, were highly influential on the work of contemporary animators/filmmakers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam.
One of my earliest exposures to the technique of paper cutout animation was the feature-length science fiction film La Planète Sauvage, (“Fantastic Planet”, 1973), a collaboration between the French director René Laloux, writer/artist Roland Topor and a team of Czech animators at Jiří Trnka Studio. The sophistication of the paper cutout technique is astounding, and the visual style unique and thoroughly memorable. There’s quite a good synopsis of this film, accompanied by several screen shots, at the Twitchfilm blog which I would recommend. The author of this blog ends her/his post with a paragraph about the “adult” content of this film. It is, most assuredly, aimed at an adult audience, and I particularly enjoyed this author’s summary of the many and varied deaths the Oms faced in Laloux’s La Planète Sauvage:
In case you didn’t suspect it yet: this is not exactly a children’s film. Eureka (or rather the BBFC) rates this DVD “PG” but the film was clearly made with adults in mind. Some Draags wear very revealing outfits while the humans are naked, half-naked or wearing rags. Mating rituals of both humans and Draags are shown, but far more disturbing is the seemingly unending variety in which the tiny humans keep getting eaten, squashed, shredded, poisoned, radiated and stomped on by both Draags and the local flora and fauna. — Twitchfilm blog
“In 1930, after having furiously and methodically composed my
novel ‘La femme 100 têtes’ I was visited almost daily by Loplop,
Bird Superior, a private phantom very much attached and devoted to me.”
– Max Ernst
Poised amongst the brood of bird-children sits the nanny, a character within my Disobedient Dollhouse that was modeled after myself. Downstairs in the kitchen, a second version of ‘myself’ cast as the household cook struggles with an absurdly large cooking utensil. These characters are the result of an amalgamation of Gothic heroines I have borrowed from sources such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and, most especially, Lewis Carroll’s Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Costumed in a fashion reminiscent of a Victorian girl, my ribbon bonnet, puffed sleeves and crinolined skirt (fig. #8) recall the famous wood engravings of Alice by British illustrator John Tenniel. By incorporating my own image into these characters, I have effectively embedded myself within this miniature world. This role-playing is one of the creative strategies I employ in order to generate a private mythology.
Throughout my visual art practice, I have used various legends and myths as cultural ready-mades into which I introduce my own personal symbolism and meanings. Over the years, these pre-existing myths have been absorbed into my artistic lexicon, contributing to a complex language of symbols by which I construct a private mythology. Myths supply an accessible and universal narrative to which I can attach my idiosyncratic story.
Renowned scholar and mythologist Joseph Campbell describes one of the goals of myth as “…effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will.” Similarly, in his essay “The Expressive Fallacy” Hal Foster cites Nietzsche’s discussion of an artist’s use of myth to express an interior world: “The whole notion of an ‘inner experience’ enters our consciousness only after it has found a language that the individual understands – i.e., a translation of a situation into a familiar situation…” The “language” to which Nietzsche refers can be interpreted as “mythology” which provides a universal narrative to which all cultures, no matter how disparate, have access. The “inner experience” may be read as the personal, psychological or emotional world that the artist seeks to materialize through the use of myth. In short, myths connect us to each other by anchoring the idiosyncrasy of the individual to a universally shared point of reference.
The construction of a private mythology is a procedure that allows an artist to explore deeply personal and intimate subject matter while simultaneously maintaining a level of psychological distance. In my own work, I employ the strategy of role-playing as a means to address autobiographical content. In an earlier body of work entitled The Bitter Seed (fig. #9), I combined images of myself as a child with the character of Persephone, a heroine borrowed from Greco-Roman mythology. By adopting the role of Persephone, I universalized the idiosyncratic – depersonalizing the personal content. This process provides a psychological distance while simultaneously rendering the work more readily accessible to the viewer.
The mythological character Persephone has supplied my artwork with its most recurrent of symbols: the pomegranate. My series The Bitter Seed took its name from the pomegranate seed that Persephone was forced to eat, thus sealing her fate as the goddess whose annual death and rebirth would usher in the changing seasons:
“Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Hades, the lord of the Underworld, surprised Persephone one day while she was picking flowers and carried her off to be his bride. Demeter, the distraught mother, threatens to destroy all mortal men by causing an endless drought unless her daughter is returned. Zeus, who is the king of the gods at Olympus, commands Hermes to fetch Persephone from the realm of Hades. The wise Hades chooses to obey the command of Zeus; however, before Persephone is returned, he tricks her into eating a seed from a pomegranate. This deception is later revealed when Demeter asks her daughter ‘…have you eaten any food while you were below? If you have not, even though you have been in the company of loathsome Hades, you will live with me and your father…but if you have…you will return again beneath the depths of the earth and live there a third of the year; the other two-thirds of the time you will spend with me…’”
To the ancient Greeks, the myth of Demeter and Persephone served to explain the death and regeneration of plant life each year. Persephone personified the cycle of the seasons through her annual sacrifice.
A pomegranate motif appears repeatedly throughout my Dollhouse. A highly stylized version of this fruit is featured in all of the stained-glass windows, and pomegranates adorn the wallpaper of the bedroom and the head and footboard of the bed. Two of the framed, miniature pictures that hang on the bedroom wall also contain the pomegranate. One of these framed pictures features a self-portrait, in which the curly locks of my hair transform into undulating, snake-like vines (fig. #10). These vines terminate in a single pomegranate, delicately suspended above my open palm. This self-portrait, however, makes only a vague reference to the pomegranate from the Persephone myth. Within the narrative of my current project, I no longer inhabit the role of this Greco-Roman goddess. The pomegranate serves not as a symbol of sexual subjugation – as it does within the Persephone myth – but rather as a symbol of female empowerment. The partially opened vulviform shape evident on the pomegranates throughout the Dollhouse make the linkage to female sexuality quite explicit.
Whenever an artist includes self-portraiture, the temptation for the viewer is to read autobiographical content into the work. Such is the case in my work, although this content is largely mediated through my use of symbolism and mythology. The grotesque and dreamlike imagery of the Disobedient Dollhouse obscures any straightforward reading of autobiography, softening the distinction between ‘the invented’ and ‘the real’ elements. The dark, psychologically tumultuous material that the Gothic would seek to conceal, and the Freudian psychoanalytic model to repress, my Dollhouse opts to place on display, albeit cloaked in myth and symbolism.
Blurring the boundaries between ‘the invented’ and ‘the real’ through the creation of a private mythology was a strategy often employed by artists who subscribed to the idiom of Surrealism. The fantastic and frequently grotesque imagery of Surrealist art closely relate to my Dollhouse’s otherworldly and Gothic-inspired content. In fact, the aims of Surrealism – to question rationality and uncover sublimated fears and desires – seem to echo the urge of Gothic novelists like Brontë to expose the concealed darkness of the human psyche. “Surrealism and the Gothic share a decisively anti-Modernist stance,” wrote curator Christoph Grunenberg, “rejecting Modernism’s emphasis on order, rationality, and purity.” One of the most ‘gothic’ practitioners of Surrealism – and an artist whose work was dedicated to the manufacture of a private mythology – was the visual artist Max Ernst.
The collage-based books and graphic work created by Ernst possess an especially heightened quality of the Gothic. To a large extent, this quality derives from the source material Ernst used to construct his collages, which included wood-engraved illustrations taken from 19th century French popular fiction. The subject matter of these ‘pulp’ fiction books and periodicals generally involved:
“…torrid love, torture, crimes passionels and the subsequent incarcerations and executions (by guillotine), hatreds and jealousies among the very wealthy and the very indigent…”
These are the same dramatic, sinister and darkly romantic themes that typify Gothic fiction. Ernst’s disjointed juxtapositions only served to amplify the already emotionally charged content of his source material.
One of Ernst’s most famous collage novels is Une Semaine de Bonté (fig. #11), in which the days of the week are represented by seven seemingly arbitrary “deadly elements” such as the “Lion of Belfort,” bats, serpents and dragons, and the mythological character of Oedipus. It is in the latter chapter concerned with Oedipus that the bird-headed creature named ‘Loplop’ first makes his entrance into Ernst’s novel. The hybrid bird-man Loplop was a creation with which Ernst closely identified. His identification to the bird-headed man prompted many of his contemporaries to view Loplop as the artist’s alter-ego, an association that Ernst strengthened through his writing in Notes pour une biographie. Ernst frequently mixed actual autobiography with his Surrealist art, making it impossible to distinguish between the artist’s life and his wildly inventive stories. In one such account, Ernst forges a strong link between his early life and his artistic creation Loplop:
“1906. Head Bird Hornebom. A friend by the name of Hornebom, an intelligent, piebald, faithful bird dies during the night; the same night a baby, number six, enters life. Confusion in the brain of this otherwise quite healthy boy – a kind of interpretation mania, as if newborn innocence, sister Loni, had in her lust for life taken possession of the vital fluids of his favorite bird. The crisis is soon overcome. Yet in the boy’s mind there remains a voluntary if irrational confounding of the images of human beings with birds and other creatures; and this is reflected in the emblems of his art.”
Ernst’s motivation behind this conflation of his art and autobiography remains unclear. While writers such as Werner Spies describe Loplop as an “autobiographically tinged bird-creature”, there remains a degree of mystery surrounding Ernst’s personal attachment to his alter-ego. His complex vocabulary of recurrent symbols and characters, including the omnipresent Loplop, may have been more the result of a Surrealist intellectual game than a deeply personal expression of psychological catharsis. Driven by a fascination with psychoanalysis, Surrealist artists like Ernst frequently engaged in game-playing as a means to access the random machinations of the unconscious mind. The technique of collage was particularly well-suited to this end. Thus, Ernst’s juxtaposition of disparate images, such as a male figure topped with a bird’s head, could well be the result of his Surrealist investigations into randomness. Regardless, inspired by the psychoanalytic writings of Freud, his private myth-making created a forum in which he unearthed and explored the repressed material of the human psyche.
The bird-headed women that populate my Disobedient Dollhouse can be viewed as the great-granddaughters of Loplop. Female counterparts to Ernst’s invariably male creation, they inhabit a similarly enigmatic role. While it is enticing to read these bird-women as extensions of myself, this close association remains ambiguous. My own image is represented in the appearance of the ‘nanny’ and ‘cook’ characters. Cast in these roles, my social status within this world appears subservient to the two bird-headed women, one of whom leisurely plays at the piano. Has my character/s been enslaved by these menacing creatures and forced to care for their offspring while they lounge? Given my real-life status as artist, wife, and mother, one could easily attach this autobiographical reading. Caution should be exercised, however, to interpret these images too literally. Similar to the private myth-making of Max Ernst, my work contains as much theatrical artifice as it does legitimate psychological exploration. Steeped in dramatic excess, my Dollhouse is self-consciously prone to hyperbole.
The genesis of my bird-women has little to do with Surrealist explorations of the unconscious mind, but instead, are visual evidence of my recent interest in dioramas. In fact, the figure of the bird-woman holding the skeletal rodent was not only the very first image I created for this project, but she derived entirely from a taxidermy diorama I viewed online at the A Case of Curiosities web site. Anthropomorphic taxidermy dioramas were a strange passion of the Victorians. Walter Potter, one of that era’s most celebrated practitioners of this macabre art form, was renowned for his complex and large scale tableaux such as his Kittens’ Tea & Croquet Party (fig. #12). The ghoulish spectacle of Potter’s taxidermy dioramas neatly encapsulates the type of grotesque art to which I am drawn as an artist, and therefore, it is not the least bit surprising that these provided the creative ‘jumping-off point’ for my dollhouse project.
The hybrid bird-women and host of other grotesques that populate my Disobedient Dollhouse represent the wild, unruly and random elements of the psyche that stubbornly resist the process of repression. The nostalgic impulse that seeks to construct a too-perfect version of the past – one that suppresses the ‘dark family secret’ or other psychologically troubling material – is thwarted by these defiant monsters. The idyllic view of domesticity generated by nostalgia rejects the ugly, soiled, imperfect and dissonant. This romanticized construction is illusory and cannot be maintained. Shaken to its very foundations by the uncanny creatures that swarm its interiors, it will inevitably falter and collapse like the ill-fated House of Usher.
Epilogue: A Perverse Thrill
“Who has not a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?”
– Edgar Allen Poe
The music builds to a crescendo that ends in a sudden, resounding crash, followed by silence. “She’s dead”, pronounces Dr. Markway after he grasps the arm that dangles limply from the open car window. This is the dramatic finale of Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting, in which the character of Nell meets her end in a fatal car accident on the grounds of Hill House, remaining forever as the caretaker of the vindictive ghost who haunts the nursery in this classically Gothic house. “It was what [Nell] wanted, to stay here…” explains the clairvoyant Theo, “…she had no place else to go. The house belongs to her now, too…maybe she’s happier.”
Moviegoers have flocked, myself included, to horror films like The Haunting in order to vicariously experience the eerie and macabre. What is it about these frightening experiences that we find so intriguing? Much like the malevolent spirit of Hill House that beckoned to Nell, we feel urged by an inexplicable force to seek out the locked doors, hidden rooms and dark, mysterious corners of the Gothic house. The more we have been instructed by the rationality of science to reject the nonsensical, the superstitious, the absurd and otherworldly, the more we seem compelled to seek these out. The shadowy interiors of these cinematic and literary haunted houses have significantly shaped the construction of my oneiric house, the one that I dream with the endless doors and secret passageways. They also inform the grotesquery of my Disobedient Dollhouse. Rather than reject the absurd and uncanny, my Dollhouse celebrates it.
- Preface & Chapter One: A Sense of Nostalgia (jenniferlintonart.wordpress.com)