Edward Hyde, Esq.
Conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker (in pajamas and robe on Sunday mornings in our Pittsburgh basement rec room) my father’s creased eyes betrayed the nascent glisten of rapture. This was his private time. I wanted no more to see him cry than he wanted to be seen because in all things, other than his Sunday commune with the RCA stereophonic console, he was a hard man who equated sentiment with weakness.
We are, at least the greatest number of us, wallflowers at the “Emotional Expression Ball”. We’ve even veneered this infirmity as a virtue, an emotional poker face concealing our tender and vulnerable selves. Of course, there are those who are too effusive, too ready with their emotions. We regard them with suspicion. They frighten us with their rawness, much as do the mentally unstable who sometimes accost us in the street, unnerving us with their unfiltered sentiments. We’d prefer surrogates do our emoting, employing a variety of diversions to wrench our unwilling feelings from us—sports, melodrama, and horror.
This last area—horror, fear, the bogeyman—is the subject of the exhibition, In Love With Night, that has assembled a number of compelling American and international artists to explore darkness, romance, terror, and dreams through interpretations of our physical and psychological fascination with nighttime. Featuring objects, installations, video, and photography, the works draw on contemporary and historical imagery that interprets night in both its objective and symbolic conditions, for night has remained the unguarded frontier of our dominion over the earth, or at least our little part of it, the self. Apart from the very real fears of darkness such as the concealment of danger, the propensity for accidents, and the lonely vulnerability, the night represents the unknown and the unknowable—fears of unexpected transformations, things out of balance, and secrets made known.
Guided by a belief that adoption is rather like buying a pig in a poke, some parents will endure any medical procedure and bear any expense to have a child that shares their DNA. This, of course, is eugenics by another name and suggests a naïveté that assumes biological children are less likely to turn out rotten. The Aryan Brotherhood prison gang is full of sons raised by their biological parents and the stranger/foundling has a long history of suspicion mixed with celebration—Moses, President Gerald Ford, Kaspar Hauser—but Chicago artist Jill Thompson, herself an adoptee, has created artwork for A Dog and His Boy (Dark Horse Book of Monsters, et al) that captures the chief fears of youth; abandonment, displacement, and puberty. Ms. Thompson creates a series of images that tread that tortuous path between a childish yearning for freedom and its attendant fears. The boy, adopted by a pack of hounds, is not merely a stranger; he is also of an age when uncontrollable urges make strange demands upon the body, causing it to change rapidly. Alternating between tender and terrifying Ms. Thompson’s images show the boy as fragile, in his forlorn abandonment, and ferocious, when he transforms into a ravenous and uncontrollable werewolf. The wolf in sheep’s clothing, and many other fables and fairy tales, illustrate our ancient folk traditions and religious beliefs.
According to Hamlet, “…the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape…” (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, II, ii, 434-435). Such a devil is revealed in the work of Dutch artist Erik van der Weijde, who photographs the ice-skating rinks and playing fields used as hunting grounds by Belgian fiend Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped, enslaved, and tortured six young girls. The photos of recreation centers frequented by the notorious serial killer have an evidentiary appearance and without the knowledge of their significance they could easily pass for the mundane civic documentation of a neighborhood clean-up plan. That quality is precisely what makes them so distressing, the locations are resolutely nondescript. An analog of this work might be Chloe Piene’s video work, Blackmouth (2006), that shows a muddied girl, attempting to stand, as if newly foaled, and falling again into the muck. The howling girl, perhaps twelve years old, seems ambivalent of her transformation. It is a slippery path she will now follow and these earlier stumblings, she appears to know, will seem nostalgic in comparison to the world of pain ahead.
Darkness has an unfair advantage. Whether it is merely the inability to see or the influence of those mysterious and proverbial unseen forces, darkness puts us off balance. Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets series for DC Comics’ adult imprint Vertigo tells the story of vengeance made possible. Rather than hopelessly lashing out at loved ones or strangers 100 Bullets offers a scenario, in each installment, for genuine revenge. Illustrated with stunning economy by Eduardo Risso, 100 Bullets shows us that we have a taste, but often not the stomach, for justice. This imbalance continues with the vertiginous work of Shana Lutker, who builds and documents familiar interiors that she has never visited, reconstructing the wayward architecture glimpsed only in the illogical fragments of her dreams. Yet our dreams are often more memorable than our waking life.
Some in light, some in darkness,
That's the kind of world we're in.
Those we see are in the daylight
Those in darkness don't get seen.
This quatrain of Mack the Knife from Brecht’s Three Penny Opera could easily be the theme song for the Department of Nocturnal Affairs (DNA), a Los Angeles-based collective who, as both a work of installation and performance art, document and publicize the night animals in this pseudo-paradise we call Southern California. Unshakably on the side of the animals, DNA is happiest when nature, annoyed by our arrogance, reminds us just who’s in charge by placing a coyote in a traffic intersection, a cougar on the hill above a schoolyard.
Forgers and con artists (and sociopaths) trade upon the desires and expectations of their victims. Blinded by their eagerness to clues of deceit, the victim realizes too late the depth of their credulity and the architecture of their avid belief comes tumbling down. The fake Vermeers of Han van Meegeren, the Hitler diaries, the seemingly endless supply of pantomime scions of famous families; all produce their illusion by enlisting us as their co-conspirator to keep ourselves in the dark. Osaka artist Michiko Yao reveals her unpleasant truth slowly and sweetly. Her Samsara Pleasure Principle II, (2008), is a video installation that recalls Dutch vanitas painting and would pass admirably as a reiteration of mortality, yet the conqueror worm in this instance is a toy and the dying flowers artificial. Implied is the power of ritual and artifice to manipulate at will and an admission of its intent to keep exploiting that authority. A similar authority is referenced and exploited in the work of Inga Dorosz. Untitled (2005-2007) allows us to gaze into the infinite blackness of space, as if passing through a belt of asteroids. Based upon a discussion by two Irishman on the limits of infinity, the San Francisco-based Dorosz has built a fragment of the universe through the sly photography of homely potatoes. The revelation of family secrets––we all have skeletons in the closet––tend to rewrite our personal histories, putting the lie to the good old days, as Ken Gonzales-Day’s works testify. His Into Eternity (2006) discloses the twisted and unforgettable branches of our family tree, with its strange and bitter fruit.
There is a reason we take copious photographs of weddings and birthdays but almost never of deathbeds and funerals. Good times are ephemeral and need explicit evidence to be evoked. What was once euphoric is eventually diffused into a brief smile of recollection, an ever-dimming echo. Sorrow and fear, however, have an ineffaceable staying power and need no catalyst to materialize. They return with undiminished power, even fortified with repeated visitations; the blood quickens, the emotions reel and the bizarre and complex function of our humanity is put on full display—we bristle with life. This is so intoxicating that without a genuine event we are obliged to prime the pump of our soul by proxy, inventing and indulging in counterfeits that produce that same addictive delirium—the weeping, the screaming, and the trembling of the hairbreadth escape.
Max King Cap
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