Striving to define “horror” is itself a nightmare, as the term itself is dependent upon the subjective perspectives of those involved – both the creator and audience, as the case may be when discussing works of art and fiction. The curators (Dave and Debra Tolchinsky) of “The Horror Show” on display at the Dorsky Gallery in NYC are keenly aware of this, and have ensured the effectiveness of this gallery exhibit by including a myriad of vastly different artistic styles.
This is not a show of cheapened “horrors,” as there are no body parts or Halloween props – no blood, no gore and no quick-scares or shock effects . . .This is a show of the uncanny, a show of creeping subtleness spiced with the humorously outlandish.
Case in point – Mr. Christopher Schneberger’s Frances Naylor series. Mr. Schneberger is represented by three large sepia-toned prints that document the strange case of Frances Naylor, a young woman from the early 1920’s who, although legless, moved about for a brief time as if she had legs. The striking images clearly show Ms. Naylor floating about while participating in otherwise mundane family social events. The images are uncanny, in the true sense of the word. At first glance, they appear normal. . .but when actually looked at, the simple absence of the familiar (her legs) elevate it to downright disturbing.
Mr. Schneberger’s work is supplemented by the back-story of Ms. Naylor’s levitation – a brief recounting of the event told in such a dry, straightforward way that it becomes the aforementioned humorously outlandish.
Of most interest was the other supplement to the series – several sets of Viewmaster ™ reels set into viewers, showing these images and additional ones in Stereo 3-D. Mr. Schneberger has masterfully created a document of the whole Frances Naylor event, which he presents as the original stereo photographs taken by her father in 1921. It was thrilling to stand in front of the large prints hold up the Viewmaster ™ viewer at the same time, truly adding depth to this unique experience!
An additional compliment to Mr. Schneberger is due for steadfastly maintaining the fictional history surrounding the work, even in the show’s catalogue in place of the traditional “Artist’s Statement.”
An art gallery exhibit by its very nature is a voyeuristic experience, but “The Horror Show” often carries this concept further by forcing one to intimately peer and gaze into many of the works. The Frances Naylor Viewmaster ™ reels are but one example. . .
Quite striking was Debra Tolchinsky’s Man in the Mirror from her Smoke and Mirrors series, a quietly disturbing work that lured me closer and closer to peer into the elaborate ebony frame and the deceptively reflective surface therein. It was only then that I perceived the ghostly form trapped inside, an ethereal being apparently lifted from a silent-era expressionist film, but one with an even stranger origin. . .after struggling to discern the blurred being, I turned to the next exhibit to see a GIANT print of the mysterious being, now revealed as the “King of Pop” himself, Michael Jackson!
Dave Tolchinsky and Dan Silverstein created the compelling and aptly named Horror, an apparently simple sculpture that presents three portals – three choices for the viewer. . .a closed gate, an open door and a rather strange pit that once again forces the viewer to lean in very close to peer down into it. An escalating audio track presenting the horrors of indecision accompany the piece. The panicked voice, which when listened to for awhile, eases the tension and soon crosses the border from insanity to the absurd, humorously bringing to mind the Bridge Guardian’s simple questions from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the ultimate price paid for minor indecision!
Continuing the “pull you in really close to the art” motif, Brian Getnick’s Old Airport #3 is a post industrial nightmare that stirs one’s curiosity enough to overcome the admitted uneasiness of peering into a fuzzy yarn-like cocoon of a sphincter that is the only breach in its mechanical surface. Mr. Getnick states that he designed his pieces with traps in mind, and wishes to be able to have his pieces absorb and close around the people it traps. I’m personally glad that a few good laws prevent him from doing this. Kudos to Mr. Getnick for an effective piece, even if it doesn’t swallow you up as you look at it!
Still very much uncanny, the other dominant voyeuristic theme of “The Horror Show” is that of perspective.
Stephen Nyktas’s Underneath series gives us the strange perspectives perceived by beings that may exist behind a rock or under a porch. These glimpses make our world out to be the mysterious one!
Jeanne Dunning gives fancy desserts an uncanny spin when her large colorful prints reveal the assorted fungi that inhabit each piece of cake or pie. Her work would be horrifying if upon our plates, but exhibit a strange beauty when upon the wall.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is given a new perspective – from an auditory angle, of all places! Melissa Grey’s Variation Nos. 1, 9, and 11 dominates the Dorsky Gallery entrance with a large screen playing the infamous shower scene on a video loop. Ms. Grey has daringly replaced Bernard Herrman’s overly-known soundtrack with the above titled audio variations. Bach Toccata in Fugue in D Minor is arguably better known to the masses an old horror stand-by, and is amusing to witness when combined with Hitchcock’s work. Not so amusing are Ms. Grey’s more ambient and whispering chorus variations, which were appropriately disturbing and surprisingly successful. Ms. Grey demonstrates what filmmaker Gus Van Sant failed to, with his shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998.
The very effective Big Box 3 is a kinetic sculpture/video installation created by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. It takes a moment to absorb what you are looking at, and the moment of revelation was a real payoff. A miniature circular setting of wrecked shopping malls and mega-stores are populated by 1” tall plastic figures. The whole thing spins endlessly upon a turntable, which is quite disorienting when viewed from an average height. A tiny camera, however, has been mounted upon its periphery giving us a completely new perspective that is viewed upon a giant video screen mounted nearby. With everything now seemingly the right size, you see how wrong it truly is. The tiny figures are grisly zombies, and the background motion now seems to have increased to a frenetic pace.
What was suggestive of a toy train set is now suddenly realized to be a horrifying “what if?” vision of mass consumer culture, an idea similarly explored by filmmaker George A. Romero in Dawn of the Dead. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s deliriously inventive work is a fantastic new take on the doom that awaits us all at WalMart.
Another highlight was The Outcast, a large B&W print by Jean Marie Casbarian, whose headless subject is firmly rooted in nightmare and lies somewhere between Muybridge and Murnau with a nod to Dore.
Facing Panic is a room-dominating video installation by Renate Ferro, addressing the horrors of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 9/11 terrorist threats that we live with today.
Craig Yu’s Untitled painting from his Airline Disaster series also addresses the modern day horror of flying, through abstraction and disorientation. An airplane bleeds smoke during its crashing descent, as masterfully represented by his few broad strokes that evoke certain dread.
Up in Smoke is a brief video by Ellen Wetmore that is based upon a nightmare of her body being reduced to ash. Ms. Wetmore presents this vignette to us, tempered by a very conscious absurdity that makes it both more accessible and quite engaging.
The Genius of Coolwhip is a rather strange work by Jeffrey Sconce, utilizing audio clips from the British show To Catch a Predator and found images. It confronts perversions and the public’s reaction to them. . .
Josh Faught’s The First Person I Ever Came Out To Was a Convicted Sexual Predator, No. 5 touches on a similar subject, but with a decidedly serious tone in an overwhelmingly large representation of a rather ghostly child.
The last exhibit was a last-rites kit from 1912, ingeniously modified with a Schumann Resonator by Brad Todd. Halo, as he calls it, addresses the emotional state of the grieving by translating the 7.83 Hz frequency of the earth itself into a palpable field surrounding the kit.
The catalogue for “The Horror Show” aptly opens with the famous quote by Nietzsche “. . .And when you stare for a long time into an abyss, the abyss stares back into you.”
The Dorsky Gallery has even printed the high-end catalogue’s cover in a highly reflective silver cardboard stock – a final treat in which your own face is distorted through a funhouse mirror effect as it stares back at you.
It doesn’t get any more uncanny than that. . .
Like any great “Horror Show” deserves, let’s hope that the Dorsky Gallery will give us “The Horror Show 2”!
The Dorsky Gallery is located at 11-03 45th Ave., Long Island City, New York.
George Higham knows horror. By day, he X-Rays corpses at the morgue. By night, he creates monsters and waxworks, often photographing them in Stereo 3-D.