Wunderkammer update

Work-in-progress shots of my latest paper cutout animation project, entitled Wunderkammer.* Coming in 2018.

SYNOPSIS: Madelaine’s cabinet of curiosities contains wonders strange, frightening, and erotic.

*A wunderkammer, also known as a “cabinet of curiosities”, is a place in which a collection of curiosities and rarities is exhibited.

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Storyboard image from “Wunderkammer”

Dolls House & Miniature Scene Magazine interview.

Somehow, I completely forgot to post the interview I had back in August 2013 with the UK-based magazine Dolls House & Miniature Scene. Here’s a scan of the layout and the article. The interview was focused on my earlier project, The Disobedient Dollhouse. Click on the images below to get a larger (and much more legible) article.

I found it amusing how the editor kept insisting on changing the title of my work to conform to the British usage of the term “dollshouse” with the plural, rather than my North American-derived term “dollhouse”. Whatever.

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Goth version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Viva la Google. Discovered this little gem via the search engine. No author’s name is attached to it, but here is the originating web site. Silly fun, so I thought I’d share it with you. Assuming the world doesn’t come to an abrupt end on December 21st as per the Mayan predictions, have a good holiday everyone! — Lady Lazarus.

Have a dreary Gothic Christmas and a wretched New Year.

Have a dreary Gothic Christmas and a wretched New Year.

With somber and tormented apologies to Clement C. Moore:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through our house
was blasting the “St. Vitus Dance” by Bauhaus;
Torn fishnets were draped on my forearms with care,
And two cans of Aquanet applied to my hair;
My thoughts were of graveyards, and horror and dread,
Black visions of pain and despair in my head;
And Bianca, whose face was as pale as the moon,
Had thrown up her arm for this evening’s swoon,
When out by the gravestones there came such a clatter,
I sprang from the coffin to find out the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a ghost,
Expecting to find a dark devilish host.
The moon on the breast of the uncaring snow
Threw ominous shadows on objects below,
When, before my tormented eyes did traverse,
But a gorgeous black Crane & Breed carved-panel hearse,
With a gaunt, shrouded driver, who filled me with fear,
And eight skeletal creatures that might have been deer.
More rapid than vultures his coursers they came,
And his deep Andrew Eldritch voice called them by name;

Now, Murphy! Now, Morgoth! Now, Torment and Woe!
On, Dreadful! On, Lovecraft! Mephisto and Poe!
To the top of the gravestones where fog wisps its breath!
With a weight on my soul I consign you to death!

As dead leaves that before hellish hurricanes fly,
When they flutter like giant bats’ wings to the sky,
So up to the crypt-top the coursers they leapt,
While dearest Bianca, like death, still but slept.
And then, to my horror, I heard on the roof
The clicking and scratching of each bone-white hoof.
As I drew in my arm, and was whirling around,
Down the ebony chimney he came without sound.

He was clad all in black, and he looked oh-so-goth,
A billowy ensemble of crushed velvet cloth;
His boots were knee-high, quite buckled and zipped,
And the Spandex and fishnets ’round his legs were ripped.
His eyes glowed with bluish fire, deathly and cold,
A black eye-liner’d face neither youthful nor old.
A broad lipless mouth drawn with torment and hurt,
And his sorrowful face was as white as my shirt.

A smoldering cigarette tight in his grasp,
Its smoke curling eerily ’round his cloak clasp;
His gaunt frame was topped with long ebon hair,
And a sharp scent of brimstone and cloves choked the air.
His arms were outspread in the shape of a cross,
And I quailed when I saw him, feeling sorrow and loss;
He narrowed his eyes with a twist of his head,
And I felt the full weight of his angst and dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his task,
Left some Dead Can Dance CD’s; before I could ask,
A single tear fell across his aquiline nose,
And then, like an angel, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his hearse, to his team he then hissed,
And away they all drifted like early dawn’s mist.
But I heard him intone, ere he vanished from sight,
“Gothic Christmas to all, and to all a good fright!”

Giant insects swarm the Art Gallery of Peterborough!

Quick and dirty snapshot of the installation in-progress.

My installation The Disobedient Dollhouse will pay a visit to the Art Gallery of Peterborough, starting this month. This exhibition will also screen my 2-minute stop-motion animation Domestikia: The Incident in the Nursery. Exhibition runs from November 9 – January 6, 2013. The opening reception will take place Friday November 16, 7 – 9 pm. Visit the web site of the AGP for details and/or directions.

Domestikia: An Account of Some Strange Disturbances. The Incident in the Nursery.

Domestikia: The Incident in the Nursery. from Jennifer Linton on Vimeo.

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 haunted ‘Island of the Dolls.’

Some of the derelict inhabitants of “La Isla De La Muñecas”, located on Teshuilo Lake, Mexico.

Ghost stories. Every culture around the world has them and, whether they arise from ancient folklore, the Gothic novelists, or the humble campfire, they continue to both frighten and fascinate. What is it about the ghost story that has held our collective fascination from time immemorial? I have a personal theory that, beyond their chilling narratives, there’s a psychological comfort to be derived from the ghost story. The very idea of a ‘ghost’ fundamentally supports the belief in an afterlife and that something exists beyond the grave. In spite of geographic, political, or cultural differences, an intrinsic fear of death is the one thing we all have in common.

So, if a good ghost story gives you a cold sort of comfort, then you might consider packing your bags for a trip to Mexico. Located on Teshuilo Lake in Mexico’s ancient Xochimilco district, the remote island dubbed La Isla De La Muñecas (or, ‘the Island of the Dolls’) has become a curious tourist destination for fans of the macabre. Festooned about this quiet and uninhabited island are thousands of dolls, supposedly left by the island’s former occupant to weather and decay. A tale of tragedy accompanies these dolls, offering a possible explanation as to their placement here:

In the late 1950s, Don Julian Santana Barrera came to inhabit the nameless island on Teshuilo Lake, which [was] then a lonely, overgrown spot and seemingly perfect for his hermit-like requirements.

But, unbeknownst to Julian, the quiet island has a dark history. Local legend maintains that in the 1920s three young girls were playing on the island, only for one of them to drown, falling into the canal’s murky waters close to a small jetty. The nearby residents claimed that the dead girl’s spirit refused to pass on and remained tethered to the island. The area soon gained a degree of infamy and few dared to venture near the supposedly haunted land, especially at night.

Now, with Julian’s arrival, the girl’s spirit once again had someone to talk to. She told him of the manner of her death and asked him to find dolls for her to play with; adding that they would also help to ward off the ancient and evil spirits that still wandered the prehistoric wetlands. Evidently, Julian listened to the girl’s appeal, and began to search the area, scouring the rubbish dumps and plucking any discarded dolls that floated on the gently lapping waters of the cloudy canals.

Some of the thousands of dolls that haunt “La Isla De La Muñecas”.

At first Julian was thought to be something of an oddity; a crackpot who would gather unwanted dolls because he thought they were actual children that he could nurse back to life, but eventually people realized that he was simply a harmless old man with a rather peculiar past-time. In time, Julian accrued so many dolls that the island came to be called La Isla de las Muñecas (The Island of Dolls) but according to Julian, no amount of plastic companions seemed to satisfy the spirit’s thirst, and soon thousands of the toys festooned the island’s every square foot. Julian even constructed a modest hut for the purpose of housing a shrine dedicated to the dead girl’s spirit and the most special dolls he was given.

On April 21st 2001, Julian and his nephew, Anastasio were fishing on the island. Julian told his nephew that strange voices had been calling out to him from the waters of the canals, beckoning him to enter the water and join them. He explained that he had often heard weird voices, but had always been able to resist their calls. The two men carried on fishing together until Anastasio left to undertake some errands. When he returned he discovered his uncle floating face down in the canal near the small pier – at the same place that the girl had lost her life in the 1920s.

— Source: ‘The Mexican Island Haunted by Evil Dolls‘, on the Environmental Graffiti blog.

Of course, the cynic in me says that the story of Julian Barrera and the drowned girl are completely apocryphal, and some enterprising locals collected discarded plastic dolls and decorated the island, inventing this ghost story in the hopes of attracting tourist dollars to an off-the-beaten-path region of Mexico. Whatever the truth behind the dolls, it’s still an impressive and effectively eerie sight to behold. Click on the link above to view more creepy photos of the ‘haunted’ Island of the Dolls.

Horror Films 101: 5 vampire films you may not have seen.

The beautiful Delphine Seyrig stars as the bloodthirsty Countess Báthory in Harry Kümel's "Daughters of Darkness" (1971).

1. The stylish Daughters of Darkness (1971) from Belgian director Harry Kümel continues to be one of my favourite indulgences when it comes to eurotrash vampire films. I’ve already dedicated an entire blog post on Kümel’s film, but a recently discovered quote from “dissident feminist” Camille Paglia has reminded me of my great admiration for this lesbian-vampire classic:

“A classy genre of vampire film follows a style I call psychological high Gothic. […] A good example is Daughters of Darkness, starring Delphine Seyrig as an elegant lesbian vampire. High gothic is abstract and ceremonious. Evil has become world-weary, hierarchical glamour. There is no bestiality. The theme is eroticized western power, the burden of history.”

— Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Yale University Press, 1990, p. 268.

Vincent Lannoo's mockumentary "Vampires" (2011).

2. Yet another Belgian vampire film, although the ‘found-footage’ hand-held camera-style of Vincent Lannoo’s Vampires (2011) could scarcely be more of a departure from Kümel’s meticulously crafted film. Touted in the media as “Spinal Tap meets the Munsters”, Lannoo’s mockumentary delves into the culture of contemporary Belgian vampires, all with a wonderfully deadpan, blacker-than-night sense of humour. After several unsuccessful attempts to document the vampire community — as the film crews kept, um, getting eaten — the crew that purportedly filmed Vampires manage to locate an amenable vampire family that allow them to document their daily routines. Even though the found-footage schtick has grown very, very tired in the horror genre, I found myself enjoying the detailed accounts of vampire customs and culture.

Director Larry Fessenden plays Sam, a world-weary bartender in "Habit" (1999).

3. The low-budget indie film Habit (1999) was written, produced, directed, and edited by genre fave Larry Fessenden. This is a grungy and unglamorous revisionist-vampire film that uses vampirism as a metaphor for addiction. Fessenden plays Sam, a world-weary bartender who struggles with alcoholism and the recent death of his estranged father. When Sam meets the mysterious Anna at a friend’s party, things eventually go from bad to worse. While this film offers little in terms of fanged neck-biting, it has an effectively moody atmosphere and some fairly erotic sex scenes.

4. Cronos (1993), written & directed by Guillermo del Toro, was the cinematic debut of the Mexican filmmaker better known for his later film Pan’s Labyrinth. A fairly unique treatment of the vampire mythology in which an ancient and mysterious mechanical device is used to transmit the virus of vampirism. An old antique dealer unwittingly discovers the scarab-shaped device in his shop and becomes infected. Fans of del Toro’s work will recognize his characteristic black humour and fondness for grotesquery.

The priest Sang-hyun saves his dying love interest Tae-ju by rendering her a vampire in "Thirst" (2009).

5. Another clever twist on the vampire legend is Chan-wook Park’s Thirst (2009). Sang-hyun is a devout Catholic priest who, for all intents and purposes, opts to martyr himself by subjecting his body to some radical medical experiments. When these medical experiments result in vampirism, the priest wrestles not only with a heightened desire for carnality, but also a thirst for human blood.

“Domestikia: An Account of Some Strange Disturbances”, stop-motion animation project.

My latest creative project is “Domestikia: An Account of Some Strange Disturbances”. Continuing my interdisciplinary approach to artmaking, I have created jointed, movable paper cutouts from my lithographic prints for use in a series of stop-motion animations. This project will include several short stories linked together by an overarching narrative, all taking place within an imagined dollhouse. The narrative is non-linear, so scenes are not “shot” in sequence.

I’ll readily admit to being a complete neophyte when it comes to animation, but thus far I find the process a rewarding one. Painstakingly tedious and laborious, but rewarding nonetheless :-)

Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door–
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door–
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore–
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
— an excerpt from the narrative poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. First published in 1845.

In North America and most of Europe, the raven is a bird that symbolizes ill-omen and doom. Due to its jet-black plumage, eerie call and carrion-eating tendencies, the raven and its smaller cousin, the crow*, have haunted the imaginations of mankind from time immemorial. American Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe famously employed the bird as a harbinger of doom in his poem “The Raven,” an excerpt of which is offered above. The poem tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The narrator — whom, it’s been suggested, represents Poe himself — mourns the loss of his dead love Lenore. The raven flies into the room through an open window and perches itself (permanently, as it turns out) upon a sculptural bust of Athena that rests above the door. It then proceeds to torment the narrator to the brink of madness simply by repeating the poetic refrain “nevermore” at the end of each stanza. For his part, the narrator engages in a curiously self-defeating game of “20 questions” with the raven, peppering the bird with questions to which — he’s fully aware — it can only answer “nevermore.” In true Gothic tradition, Poe’s “The Raven” is epic, highly theatrical, and steeped in a melancholia characteristic of that literary genre.

The crows begin to assemble on the play equipment behind the local school in Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963).

The crow, the raven’s smaller yet equally foreboding cousin, gets its moment in the spotlight in British film director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds”. A profoundly intelligent and resourceful bird, a flock of crows is called a murder because “…the group will sometimes kill a dying cow.” Hitchcock capitalized on the silhouette of the menacing crows — not to mention their violent reputation — in his classic horror film in which birds inexplicably attack humans. Oh sure, the idea of violent attack from a single budgerigar seems ludicrous. However, as one character in the film points out, birds significantly outnumber humans on this planet, and if they did group together to get rid of us…

Mrs. Bundy: Birds have been on this planet, Miss Daniels, since Archaeopteryx, a hundred and forty million years ago. Doesn’t it seem odd that they’d wait all that time to start a…a war against humanity.

Salesman: Your captain should have shot at them… Gulls are scavengers anyway. Most birds are. Get yourselves guns and wipe them off the face of the earth.

Mrs. Bundy: That would hardly be possible… Because there are eight thousand, six hundred and fifty species of birds in the world today, Mr. Carter. It is estimated that five billion, seven hundred and fifty million birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world…

Salesman: Kill ’em all. Get rid of them. Messy animals.

Mrs. Bundy: …probably contain more than a hundred billion birds.

Drunk: It’s the end of the world.

Sebastian Sholes: Those gulls must have been after the fish.

Mrs. Bundy: Of course.

Boy: Are the birds gonna eat us, Mommy?

Mrs. Bundy[explaining that birds of different species never flock together] The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t have a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?

Like the drunk guy said, “It’s the end of the world.”

*What’s the difference between a raven and a crow? Read more here to find out.