A note on medium self-transcendence (June, 2013)

After a detailed analysis of Clement Greenberg’s instrument for analyzing the internal dynamics of painting, I diverge…….


When Greenberg saw a Pollock he looked at the end product, the painting, the rest of the world saw Hans Namuth’s pictures of Jack the Dripper (then there is the story these pictures threw Pollock back onto a bender that destroyed his art, one never knows if we are dealing with myth here). Rauschenberg and Warhol learned too. A painter was no longer a gent with a goutee, smock and tam, standing with a glass of wine at an easel, adding a finishing touch to a painting of a model he had earlier paused in his work to have sex with but a guy in a t shirt spilling something all over the floor, a kind of mad man (feeding classic stereotypes of artists), expressing himself. The artist as the primary agent of art was now supreme, he was the one who expressed himself. In response to this, thousands of artists in one way or another would imitate that new freedom. In doing so, they heard what I term The Big Pop.

The Big Pop occurred in American art when the equation created for art by Jack the Dripper was multiplied by expression to allow for involving any figure and any ground whatsoever in the art process. That is, artist times expression equals infinity of figure-ground relations. Want to express your anger at your mother losing her temper when you were six in the kitchen? a can of chef boyarde slopped on a tiled surface support would do. Your memories of being bored in school? scribble chalk on chalkboard support is fine. Your love of sitting with your boom box on your bed in your teenage girl bedroom? an installation would do it (Karen Kliminick). And on it goes (in a process by which pop morphed into post-pop), the essential immaterial, deformative formula for most expressionistic contemporary art since was laid down. In this process, which I visualize as the transparent outer edges of the atom bomb test films that Stanley Kubrick gloried in at the end of Dr. Strangelove, pulsing through everything, irradiating, dematerializing and deforming forever everything, from 1955 on through the 1990s, medium specificity was torn up, and replaced by a dynamic, energy-driven force termed medium-transcendence (in 1990, in review, I acknowledged bouncing some of these ideas off of Thomas McEviley’s idea of abstraction as “bomb art,” I also still apply this model of deformation to Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling).

Greenberg had it the wrong way round: a medium does not excel to its greatest heights by bearing down on its essential material elements, but by transcending itself, and doing so until it reaches a point of self-annihilation or no return. This was happening in all media in the 1960s, when every media was changing, and fast. This process can be schematically represented as happening in three stages (and I concede that I map Hegel’s simple thesis-antithesis-synthesis rubric onto this, not to seem too freshman in college, but it explains transcendence in nature and culture, after all). The medium I discuss in this model is the guitar.

Consider, as one needs a simple example, the Byrds: the short-lived American rock group, the Byrds. Do a test, to see what medium transcendence sounds like; you can do it on youtube, right now. Listen to Mr. Tambourine Man: its guitar work is exemplary, masterly, wonderful, it’s a good guitar song, the guitar is played to the fullest, and fully used, as a medium of expression (I played guitar for 30 years so I know). This is the first stage of self-transcendence, the mastery stage.

Now switch to Turn, Turn, Turn, suddenly, the guitar is something else, it sounds like bells, chimes, gates opening and closing, the gates of heaven, it soars: why? the guitar player tired of the guitar only sounding like a guitar and wanted to push it past itself to sound like something else. He did this by mentally internalizing metaphors of guitar sounds, compared sounds to other sounds, and then imitated them, in his mind, resulting in pushing the guitar to new sounds. In doing so, he scaled up his guitar to a far more expansive conceptualization of its potential as an instrument. So, that is the second, metaphorical stage of self-transcendence. The space for creation in this stage is doubled that of stage one.

Finally, listen to Eight Miles High. Where we now? the title tells us, we have scaled up still another degree of scale, he now conceives of his guitar in the nth degree as the sum total of all the possible metaphors he might or might not be able to think of, but it would be too busy to do so, so he imagines an absolute vanishing point of union, gives voice to that, and, there we are, in heaven, listening to the music of the spheres, the static electricity of the edge of the universe, and kind of abstract art, in pop music. And the guitar is left behind, while he is still playing it, by a symphonic sound that is all-encompassing of the sound of the world. This is the third, absolute stage of self-transcendence, self-transcendence achieved. And the space for creation in this stage is doubled once again.

It is still the guitar, the untrained ear might not hear the difference, but in the three songs, in the mind of the guitarist, he has gone from playing the guitar, to playing metaphors of other things on the guitar, to playing an absolute idea of self-transcendence.

By 1966, the process of self-transcendence had been touched off in many media and in music regarding the guitar specifically it was sparked by George Harrison seeking out metaphorical expansions of guitar sound in the Rubber Soul album, accelerated on Revolver, with the arrival of the sitar (Harrison was only ultimately interested in the sitar as an instrument of the absolute self-transcendence of the guitar), and then the Beatles soared up from a pop cover band to the symphonic classical musicians they ended up as—in an episode that is increasingly beginning to look like the single greatest creative event in any of the arts in my generation–in a state of absolute medium self-transcendence (note: an interesting part of this thesis is that I proposed it in front of a class in senior year of college, so knew even then that I had been witness to something special, just a few years before). And then another whole decade of rockers spent all their time in the medium-transcendent state, and so on and so on.

Mastery, metaphor, absolute.

This is how self-transcendence works, it scales up (nature, fractal scientists have determined, is 1,000 degrees of scale big, meaning from the smallest microbe to our farthest imagining of the size of the universe scale doubles one thousand times (I thank my SVA student Gregory Tapper (Spring, 2013) for a research paper which relayed this obviously mind-blowing finding to me). It does so, not geometrically, but exponentially, that is, it doubles possibilities at each scale up. I stop at two scales because after that the individual mind does leave medium behind and most probably just move on to another profession, but the creative ones turn everything on from the inside out, this is the trajectory of creativity in a medium, self-transcendence.

Art as figurative conjuration in Evil Dead (1981)….and not in Evil Dead (2012). August, 2013

Why, one wonders, would the convention of the mad artist thrive in modern American horror? Some clues as to the underlying reasons for this are offered by the prominent role that art played in the original 1981 Evil Dead. After the college kids get to their mountain cabin, and some discoveries have been made, boding ill, we hear and see the ticking of the clock,

mad 1

But the clock is not in a dormant or unattended to stage, as it had been for all the while the cabin had sat empty before the kids showed up, it is in a gaze, it is being looked at, and looked at intently, by the smart girl, who is sitting in the corner, making a realistic sketch of it.

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It’s just a way of passing the time, in those days, and in days in which those days
were connected to the century before then, cultivated young men and women,
especially while travelling, would document and cultivate the beauty of a place
or thing, by making a drawing of it. They were not artists, they were
pre-artists, they were just persons offering a deeper and slightly more intense
level of attention to a thing. And, so, the clock is under her gaze, as an
object being drawn, and then, as she draws it, the clock stops,

mad 3

With this act, they enter into the no-time of possession. Very quickly, the girl’s drawing style undergoes a dramatic decline. She rips off the sheet on which her clock drawing is, and dives in after another drawing, she has something else on her mind, it is square, she draws it with such intensity that she tears the page

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And then, scribbling now furiously, more than drawing, she sees in it a face, and she rips her pencil this way and that, making crude marks, not drawing,

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And then we see that what she is seeing is not what is in front of her, but the cover of the grimoire that has just been discovered in the basement

mad 6

She has drawn the book and the face on the cover of the book. What this means is that, simply put, she had placed herself in a more introspective state of mind, she had put herself in a more concentrated kind of thinking, she has focused her attention on an object, to draw it, her eyesight turned into, at that point, a gaze, as gaze is seeing that reflects an inner power to control. By this slightly deeper level of mindfulness, she opens up an interval between normal relatively inattentive, superficial seeing the world, and the more focused and concentrated way of looking at the world by artists, and created a space in her mind which the demon could then possess. Through art, she opened the door. Thus, it is suggested, art, its introspection, conjured up the demon, and brought it in. For this reason, art is suspect, and somewhat dangerous, the state of mind that it demands can lead one astray. It is also likely that the gaze of the artist can be likened to the evil eye, a look with too much intention in it, and for all of this, art is culpable of letting the demon come back to life.

So, art itself, at a very basic level, below even the equation of expressionism and being a psycho, is represented as the state of mind that calls up demons. It is suspect. But then the movie follows that, by opening up the book. By the way, the cover of the book is quite good in this version of the story, and better than in the remake. The cover is made out of flesh, but the flesh it is made out of also had a malleable quality that was able to be sculpted or distorted into a vague semblance, or physiogomy of the demon’s face. The book in the sequel is just bound in skin, and stitched like Frankensteinian surgery. The book in the first is related to the chomping book in Harry Potter, the book in the second to the editions created by Ed Gein out of human skin and also the lore of the Nazi lampshades made out of victim flesh. The first book was both a good and a bad idea, leading on in the movie.

But the book also hosts a lot of good drawing. The book is more of a sketchbook, and an art book, with roots in occult drawings going back to the 18th century

mad 7

Many of the drawings are just inserts in a running text, in the Sumerian language, the marks come from any number of mumbo jumbo grimoires created by Hoodoo hillbillies who syncretized Hohman’s Pow-Wows, The Seventh Book of Moses and African American voodoo tradition too. Some of the drawings are anatomical, giving the book as a whole a kind of DaVincian quality. The drawings are works of art, again suggesting that it is the introspection of artmaking that leads to all the trouble.

The sculptural dimension of the book likely represses the expressionism of the drawing. The book is accompanied by a decorative ceremonial knife that will also feature strongly in the following

mad 8

there is a suggestion that it belongs to a set with the book, the best picture of the
book is a picture of the demon, a real work of art

mad 9

And it is suggested that the inside of the book is then expressed on the outside of the book and then that is expressed and “figured forth” in the knife too. Then the movie continues along that way. The director further figured out the grossness of the knife by having it held by a severed demon hand, the property getting better and better

mad 10

It even has a life of its own, meaning the demon spirit is still surging out through it, stabbing one of the possessed in the back

mad 11

Like I said, I do not care for the subsequent fights, but it is interesting that the book is brought into the fight, and animated by the fight. It ends up near the fire, a player in the scene,

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In one shot, carefully set, the hero and the face in the book, face off, and since the book has been singed, it seems gooier, more alivemad 13

Then the instrumentation of the book is enhanced still again as it is thrown in the fire, and joins all of the objects in so many horror movies thrown into the fire

mad 15

But the punchline here is that, we find out, in the fire, that not only is the
book sculpted to look like the demon, but the demon is actually in it, as we
now see it being burned out of it, and dissolving,

mad 16

This involves some claymation stop motion that seems in keeping with its origins as the sculpted flesh of the book cover

mad 17

And then, in a chain reaction, the burning of the book, and the demon in the book, touches off the burning up of all of the demons in all of the others, so all their gooey bindinglike demon faces also melt away in a jerky flood of tapioca pudding.

mad 19

What this means is that the book itself is the central instrument of the horror drama, and the action, and the movie as a whole is a figuring-forth of the potential of the sculpted book cover, as it contagiously spreads, and gains bigger and bigger form, in other manifestations, and then is burned up, and everything else goes with it too. This is an example of figurative instrumentation, and the frequency with which this kind of mis en scene was created in the pre-1980 period is what sometimes makes me refer to this classic horror as either melody-based or figurative or storybook, in this case, it actually IS the book that is at the center of the movie and all of its actions an unfolding and unravelling of the book. Thus, it is art, and art and drawing in secret books, that not only put the mind in an evil eye state which brings evil in, but it is books and drawings that these demons live. Thus, Evil Dead is a very good example of why art is so demonized in classic horror.

In Part II of this note, the point will be emphasized in the negative, by comparing the original to the remake of 2012, where this instrumentation is largely absent. More to come.




“Acheirodiptheria” and Evil Dead 3 (Ghosthouse)

In previous discussions of the traditional catholic methods of exorcism used by the Warrens in The Conjuring, I classified those objects kept by him in his museum (though, in fact, the museum looks to include 90% Halloween store artifacts to animate the atmosphere of spookiness around a very few actual case objects) acheirodiptheria. My reasoning was this, he said that they were the opposite of relics: just as touching a relic meant a blessing, touching these could mean a cursing. But it is also true that the prototype of relics is an original miracle image, an acheiropoetoi, a thing not made by human hands, but by divine. It stands to reason, reasoning backwards from him, that there must also be a class of objects called acheirodiptheria, or not destroyed by human hands, but by a demonic force. At the time, none of the objects in this collection are classified as that. But in the movie, Ghosthouse, or Evil Dead 3, the obvious example is provided. It is a mirror, an evil spirit gets into it, it begins to bulge and distort, and go all funhouse

ghost 1

And, then it bursts

ghost 2

Literally, it was destroyed not by human hands, but by a demonic force, it is a
acheirodiptheria image. The movie, in fact, is only ever good when these kinds
of images are animated. In a bedroom, another girl encounters an old portrait,
and a few dolls. Soon, a force in them causes them to send all their stuffing,
as feathers, out into the room

ghost 3

(this is an Italian idea, for Americans, such an image is perhaps blunted by the fact that it is usually associated with pillow fights, generally fun). This is related to the portrait, here it is

ghost 4

It also happens that some of the toys, including a Mickey Mouse, come flying at her

ghost 5

In The Conjuring, an evil doll played a role. It has been talked about as if
unfamiliar. But, here, the clown kept by the haunting girl is the evil
possessed thing

ghost 6

So much so that it is altered by possession, to make a grimace of teeth

ghost 7

Later, it accosts a girl, somewhat ridiculously

ghost 8

In this chandelier of variants, there is an original acheirodiptheria, the mirror; there is a possessed object, and objects used as catspaws, associated with, it, and there is an image that seems to act as a go between to help the spirit create a poltergeisting scare. These images are scary or not based on their potency. These images, in this case, had a shelf life in the movie, at odds with their fictive reality, in that they were the only thing about the movie of any real interest.









The Haunted Video: the case of The Ring

August 7 2013

In my review of The Ring (RoMMer Reviews), I expressed concern that the agency of the evil video that kills was not entirely worked out. Perhaps it is not necessary to work out every element of an agent of evil in a movie, but it is instructive to try to do so, as an exercise. So, let me attempt to find out how it might be possible that a video could kill. First of all, it is conveyed by TV, that is, the medium is not just video, but TV. Moreover, it is a TV that has gone to static

vid 1

This static is rather interesting. It has roots in Poltergeist, where static indicated interference, and a wiping clean of its role as medium of broadcast TV, to its use as something else, as an empty medium for conveyance of messages from the supernatural. An interesting thing about static is that in the pre-cable days it was not uncommon to come in contact with static. It often happened that, late at night, a station would just go off the air: the star spangled banner would be played, and then it would break to a flashcard symbol, usually of an Indian, and stay that way overnight. Or a more modern version is the color bar formation. But some stations just went to static. Static, then, meant, off the air. Once cable arrived, static was less easy to find on TV. Or rather, where it was located changed. Static was found whenever you went off channel 3, that hosted your cable, and went back to regular TV. You would immediately feel like your whole umbilical cord connecting you to reality was cut off. But that could be easily fixed. But then there was the deeper, more profound static of a loss of service, either because of a blackout, or because of nonpayment of bills. In which case one would get the static. But here in this shot it is late at night so this TV gets off the air static, symbol of the horror movie moment after the end of things, when bad things happen.

Anyways, this only serves to communicate that the TV can be taken over by outside forces, and used to communicate messages coming from sources other than local cable of TV. It signifies the late at night phase of medium, when it is open.

But then the intermedial relations here are complicated by the fact that once the kids watch the video, the reception of them in reality, by other media, is distorted. When pictures are taken of them, and when the boyfriend sees himself distorted on a shop surveillance camera, their faces are twisted.

vid 2

This is not an entirely satisfactory effect, and is never completely explained. The technical idea would have to be that they have been distorted as signals, and cannot be sent without distortion, because they are marked. As a photographic distortion this has roots in the slashing line pointing to victims in the photographs taken by the paparazzi in The Omen (1976), and is cousin to many other horror movies in which darkroom surprises (even in the late Amityville movies) indicate haunting. In some way, they have been marked. Marking is a territorial thing, the force behind the video has claimed them. For that reason, they become its acolytes, and sacrificial victims. So, in a set up, in the condition of static, normal functions undermined by disturbance, and with reach, the video has this power not usually assigned to videos.

This is the clearest example in modern horror of a medium being looked upon in a primitive superstitious way. Usually, the work of art is its own agent, and the viewer looks upon it as a work of art, without reference to what it refers to. Sometimes, in haunted portraits, and in other cases, the power of the prototype is so great that the work of art, even if by a famous artist, cannot wrest to itself full power of movement, and only ever refers to the original. The reality of the medium is then drained away, back to the original to which it refers. It becomes a mere portal to the original, a reflection of the original, a medium in a more magic sense, simply conveying news from the original. This is not the condition of modern art, and is not the condition of the student arty video, which represents the creativity of its maker, the artist. But in this case, something else is happening. The prototype rules, the work of art is not a work of art, but simply a representation of the original. And in this relation, we see what the video actually is. At one point, in the movie, we see Samara sitting aloof and contained in a chair in the middle of a clinical room. She is asked, where do the images come from? She explains that they just come to her, and then they are there, as if by magic. That is, she thinks them, and they do it all by themselves. This echoes on Coleridge’s remarks on how Xanadu came to him, it was just there. As such, then, it is an image inside her head, and then it imprints itself, of its own volition, onto a medium, a sheet of paper. But perhaps as an expression of inside-of-headedness paper is too material, therefore tape is better, as it is fluid, brainlike in a waviness, and the images on it are immaterial, just impressions on a reel. They are a more accurate extrusion of the actual thoughts in her mind, made partly material in video format. It is not explained how exactly this happened: the doctor holds up what looks like transparencies, asking that question. This suggests that they exist as kind of sungrams related to the heat of her psycho visions, which are instantly photographed as if by magic on the plastic sheet. By further concentration, these sheets could be fused into a reel, and then, further imitating how images move through the hypnagogic realm of floaters and Purkinjee trees, spit out in a sweat or precipitate of sticky image, on film, and so like a web spun from a spider the film is emitted from the pours of Samara’s head. And it in trying to figure out the agency of how this literally happens, as science, that the long hair has a purpose. She is effaced by the long hair, signifying that she is not seeking face in the world, this is not external saying to be polite, this is direct transmission of what is behind the veil of her mind, inside her head, without an interlocutor. So, the effaced face indicates mind, the hair suggests free flowing out of controlness, and the hair also serves as the medium by which the spiel fugue of imagery inside the head is translated out into skeins which then become film and in the end produce the video tape. Hair is how the thoughts get out of her head and onto a tape. And then once that miasmatic composition on film exists it must be set somewhere.

The tape was generated by the girl as she lay for seven days alive in the bottom of the well where she was thrown. We find out that the well is located on Shelter Mountain in a clearing just under where cabin 12 of the lodge was built over it. So it exists under the floor, in the cellar, but closed off, of one of the cabins, and the cabin the kids stayed in. The tape was conveyed to them by the fact that a business was set up over the site of the killing. The tape existed as a kind of scum on the site. When the proprietor found that reception was not good there, and the TVs often went static, he began to provide his guests a selection of VHS tapes. Again, the receptive unreceptive TV set, the reversion to tape. In this way, the girl spirit latched onto one of the boxes of the library of tapes provided, spun the tape she played out of her brain onto it, and offered it as a selection. It was then taken into the cabin and played, at which point a direct transcript of the thoughts expressing rage and revenge of her spirit against the world which let this happen to her, is transferred directly into the brains of the viewers, who then experience the same effect, and, to give physical expression to it, suffer a decomposition to waterlogged twistedness and corrosion not unlike the girl did in the well.

What this means is that the tape is not a tape, but a real transcript of her evil thoughts, a kind of curse, not unlike one from ancient Egypt, or a work of witchcraft. Like any curse, it is sequentially spelled out, it is a spell, and, then, surprisingly, when it kills, it reverses itself, and when it reverses itself (we only see this twice, once at the end, infecting all of us viewers) it serves as a portral by which the spirit of the girl is released, and can attack, and come out of the TV into the real space of the victim and mark them with her fate, corroded and twisted. The video can be viewed, then, as a magic sequence, a series of triggers, each one of which, recited in sequence, with repetition, make the spell work. It can take a litany form, of blaming. You who locked me up, up that ladder,

vid 3

you who gave me nothing to look at but that tree, that tree burned on my mind,

vid 4

you who looked at me with such hate,

vid 5

you who killed yourself, you now will be put up that ladder,

vid 6

you will be locked away, you will see the tree burn, you will commit suicide,

vid 7

you will drown, you will die like a horse in the water,

vid 8

you will shrivel up to nothing, you will suffer the well

vid 9

etc. Whether or not it is worked out in precise detail seems less important than the fact that it was a curse, in sequence (I tried to imitate the rambling spaceyness of Egyptian spells). Sequenced, as viewed, it draws you in, and, then, as happens with Naomi, you begin to see things connected with it, for seven days, which was the time Samara spent alive at the bottom of that well, it will haunt you, and, then, at the end, the
spring will be sprung, like a mousetrap, it will weaponize, and zero in on you,
bullseye, eclipse of the sun, pow

vid 10

Death, end of movie, end of life. Again, it is very rare, in modern horror, where the work of art is subsumed entirely in the prototype, where the prototype is given ultimate reality, and the medium vanishes, and is just an expression of the original (the only other example I can think of right now is the archetypal moment in Rosemary’s Baby when Rosemary realizes that this is not a dream, this is really happening; that is, what she might have passed off as a mere psychological state, in her subjective world, had become a real nightmare, in the real, actual world of the original). And, then, even rarer, the instrument of approach of the original, the entry into her sacred, but sacred-evil space, is forged into a weapon, and, when reversed, zaps back at the adorant, or captured soul, and kills it (well, this would be comparable to the weapons borne by the statue of Isis in The Mummy, which zaps the offending Adeth Bey, so there is precedent).

It is not so interesting that it turns out that the backstory for the creation of this girlmonster is an adoption that failed, and parental murder; or that country style Anglo parental child abuse was the cause of pain. But it is intriguing that the video reflects many of the elements of their dissatisfied torture of the girl, including the fact that she was hid up a ladder,

vid 11

Then, had to live within sound of the horses, upset by that, possibly leading her, it is suggested, to mysteriously kill them off, in revenge (it is of course interesting, and archetypal, that, in American horror, a livestock kill off is directly linked to evil, so often by rural legend the cause of devils).

vid 12

It is also of interest, and this is a wonderful property, that is suggested that in her bored terror she saw too much of a tree at sunset, and etched its burning image, by woodburn, into her wall, but, somehow, like a scar, under the wallpaper that tried to pathetically give a girls bedroom quality to her prison, into (It is not clear why it would be under the wallpaper, or who made it; but etched on wood, in that way, it feels like a witches circle, a kind of curse)

vid 13

This idea that torture victims psychologize into emblems of their madness the things they see most immediately out the window of their prison is an old idea, played with, for example, in Silence of the Lambs. Something beautiful, that she only saw as deadly, red leaves at sunset as blood leaves, burning’

vid 14

This restriction of her lead to her severe introversion, a turning away from her parents in hatred. And here again the long hair comes into play, related here to blacking out her mother’s face (a scratching out that also occurs in The Grudge),

vid 15

And then her own, refusing to communicate with others, or look them in the eye, a veil of her psychosis, as any shy teen knows (Ally Sheedy before her makeover in the Breakfast Club)

vid 16

It is also meaningful that what Naomi finds in the water, having come loose from the decomposing body, is just hair, like weed, like knotted weeds, catching one, related, then, to an ur inland lake mythos of evil (the association between hair and weeds linked to haunted inland lake lore, see What Lies Beneath, Lets Scare Jessica to Death, The Nesting, Zombie Lake, Mama, where dead bodies are thought to lurk, and the weeds are so thick that you can catch a boat in them)

vid 17

All of this then is compressed into the video, and, when played backwards, it becomes the zap of a psycho mind, making one mad too, killing one, after one has suffered what she did. So, in the end, the video as gateway into sacred-evil space converts back into apotropaic device, but in this case weaponized to make the evil attack.

But at this point, the method is still indirect. The viewer watches the video. It must have a trigger in the ozone or programmed into the last shot of the well that then zeroes in on the viewers phone line and hooks up the final segment of the video, which is only sound, and it says seven days, and then seven days later, the having watched the video, times seven days of decay in well water, turns the victim, instantly, into the twisted decayed zombie form. End of story.

But, as noted by the son, Naomi made a mistake by thinking that all that was needed to placate this evil spirit was some good old Christian redemption. Tell her story, find out the truth, dig up her lost body, still her wandering, nagging soul, bury her, to rest in peace, and all will be OK, it will be redeemed, she can move on then to heaven, end of haunting. But this is not a spirit that will respond to Christian therapy, played out in so many horror movies. Helping her, only gives her more power. So, now that she has been removed from the well, she has new power, she can zap on the TV without the viewers help, she can zap the video into the tv without even the cassette being used, she can be shown, as video reverts to live action haunted camera, crawling out of the well, a scene that was not in the video, and she can then come at you, close up, scaring you, in the video, but then, freaking you out, as she crawls out of the video

vid 18

This is deeply ancient in its instrument. The spirit now occupies the fetish item, the tape, for real, it is in it, and now it can come out and live in the world around the video. It is like an Egyptian spirit free now through the agency of the statue to come out and move about in the tomb. The spirit has been released from its temporary tomb in the well, from which it could only communicate indirectly, through the tape, and now can take over for the video, and freely attack on its own, as a mediated ghost, an image become its own medium, a phantom of medium,

vid 19

This is a truly retrogressive formation, banishing all media in favor of the immediate; erasing all mediated veiling between us and it, and stepping out into the real. I have long since been interested in horror movies that do exactly this. You are watching a movie, then, something about it, overtops the movie itself, and the TV set, and spills or brims out as I say over the edge into the space you are in, and spooks you in that space. It is the most common effect of successful (or failed) horror. It comes out at you in real life. And here it is, figured into the formulation of the agency of this horror. Here, we are back in ancient times, modern media is moot, we are face to face with a believed in demon, we are possessed, and we will die.

This brief impromptu essay, then, has documented that while in the watching the instrumentation of the The Ring is somewhat uncertain, figured out, it comes out to be an impressive display of authentic retrogression of culture from mediated to immediate reality, from a haunting to a presence, from a Christian formula for its redemption to a foreign formula that refuses it, to the physical manifestation of an ancient curse, in new physical image-in-medium form. The Ring, then, is an impressive exercise in possession (indeed, the last time I watched it, I did so in a limbic state, excited by the depression of a recent impasse in making a life decision, as part of an escapist movie marathon (following The Grudge and What Lies Beneath), and past my bedtime. I half wondered if having watched the movie at all, I might now receive a call on my cellphone, and a voice on the other end (and this an urban legend that even the Paul is Dead mythology become involved in) would say, seven days.

vid 20


Circulation of Images: a POV-view of LAT. 41° 7′ N., LONG. 72° 19′ W at Martos Gallery summer space

“Circulation of Images:” a POV-view of Bob Nickas’s LAT. 41° 7′ N., LONG. 72° 19′ W at Martos Gallery summer space, Long Island, closed September 2, 2013

Usually, I do art reviews, then I also, these days, do reviews of art in its parallel life in horror movies. It’s an art-life nexus, I am looking at the circulation of images, evidence of migration. Sometimes, however, the themes clash in my head, and I see an art show that registers with me more for its bouncing off horror themes than art per se (the other switch would be reviewing the actual artwork done by artists inserted in works of popular culture and horror, and I do that too). I just think more meaning is generated this way, versus a straight on art world review. And it’s fun, too. So, often, I’m looking from the outside in, it’s a POV-view, one that refuses to the art world the invisible defenses of the self-creating abstract world of art, but imposes the forensic evidence of its connections to the culture at large on it. The POV-view (as opposed to the in-art-world review), then, sees the art and artist as part of the larger culture, a small figure in a landscape (this from Friday the 13th).

mar 1

These thoughts came to me scanning through images of Bob Nickas’ very nice summer group show out at the Martos Gallery summer quarters on the North Fork of Long Island (all art pictures from the Martos Gallery website).

The country house is an idea deep in meaning, long-standing. There are common languages, in the culture at large. But if that house is “in” the art world, as a summer house, and not “in” the country, then many of those meanings are filtered out. Out in Pollockland, only the artiness of these spaces, ease, luxury, light, as if to ward off the darker impulses, is cultivated. For me, city bound and with no interest in country living, this makes most of the work not very interesting, I do not and cannot associate. However, I have been looking at outdoor summer public art improvised in or around yards and trees for over thirty years, and the genre has not changed at all. It is a conventional art, and much of the work out here were well within the bounds of the conventional.

But then there are some works that instrumentalize the spaces they are in, they elicit from the space some impulses that perhaps no one wants to consciously admit or acknowledge in daily life. In this show, these for me were works that whispered of other things. Most of these parallel a visual language that has in fact developed in American culture to address just such issues: the language of the horror movie with regard to country houses. And I got strong “horror movie” vibes from a few of these works, and these were the works I responded to.

A visitation of the alien to such a place is one of the more ultimate of scares. John Miller’s presence, Untitled, expediently made lightweight, as fake rock, is pretty great.

Miller John Untitled Martos East Marion

I am confident that it goes beyond representing in the abstract those kinds of wealthy home inclusions of rock, to represent a foreign or natural presence, conquered, indoors (this, Bambi, from the Lautner house in Diamonds are Forever).

mar 3

It has the presence of a blob, it sometimes “moves” on the eyes,

mar 4

but of apparent stone, it also channels hallucinatory fixating imagery, like Richard Dreyfus’s rendering of the Devil’s Tower, a sign that messages of alien invasion are being communicated to him, in the middle of his living room, in Close Encounters (a movie I do not care for; but love that Days of Our Lives is on TV).

mar 5

There are many possibilities, in the reading of it, none entirely settling, altogether making one just uncertain how to respond. For its oddness, its startling out of placeness, it is chilling and amusing at the same time

Peter Coffin’s Untitled is another high point. I do not know production details, but if Coffin climbed the tree to then carve hands making the Number One gesture, out of the ends of the branches of a dead tree, and then, after that, painted them: it is almost a ritual act amongst us treehuggers, and would greatly change a reading. Several possibilities, in the old south, and elsewhere in the Vodun-encultured underbelly of America, bottle trees were trees where bottles were stuck over the ends of branches to keep spirits in: here, the hands seem to release them.

mar 6

This is the only solid association that comes to mind, the ends done like this. Then the broader stratum of meaning comes from the deep history of just this sort of stick or tree as an axis mundi, a site of nature worship, a place where hands were raised to spirit, somehow, the work has a ritualistic feeling, and not at all a scary vibe, but a celebratory one, and, for that, it’s terrific. The rareness of this effect, however, is what makes it so original, I have not seen this done to a tree before (and I love “stick art”).

mar 39

Sean Moyer’s Birch Tide (2013) consists of several aluminum panels with a printed vinyl of the pattern of birch trees on them, attached to several trees in a part of the forest. Some of the actual trees in that part of the forest happen to be birch, but this is not a birch forest. Such an alteration of the color of the tree trunks is intended to make them less visible, or rather, deepen the hypnogogic quality of woods thus seen, a classic way of eliciting spirit (in all this work, one can hear the in-art-world explanation, something like, the artist thought the one birch tree needed some company–but one does try to not listen). This change of shade and genus then assists the forest in assuming its role as a less physical, more haunted place.

mar 40

The space between the trees has always been a problem for modern man, even Native Americans. Iroquois false faces are twisted representations of the faces that they thought they saw out of the corner of their eye in this in-between space of the forest (one suspects the Jason Vorhees hockey mask is an Anglicization of the slatted visuality of these in-between spaces).

mar 9

In modern horror movies, the forest is a place of haunting. If enchanted, it is dark; but, if utilized to elicit the possibility that something malevolently supernatural lurks, it is often rendered more as white, with slanting sun or moonlight venetian-blinding through. This can be seen in the classic use of the zoom camera in the Evil Dead movies,

mar 10

And in the use of the slanting moonlight combined with mist in The Howling movies.

mar 11

But birch itself has also been utilized as a specific genus of tree that can, en masse, elicit visions. In The Ring 2, the forest that Rachel enters, after she passes through the static of the tv screen, has to be represented as a forest inside a world of static, a
dream world, and so the tree of choice was birch, all through (if you’re a
materialist,  this just dematerializes).

mar 13

And this too has a deeper root in Euro horror, as in the 1970s Sirpa Lane ran from The
Beast in Space
(the birch trees most unfortunately stripping her already
Grecianly sheer gown to shreds) in a birch forest in outer space.

mar 15

So, for the moment it is of no concern to me if Moyer was aware of the culture-at-large semiology of birch, this piece does things with the eyes and the mind that are uncomfortable, and it seems clear the artist had some sense in the meaning of the shift to birch, the rendering of them as birch, dematerializes and unsettles, and, then, it’s a very modest, bright meadow, so it’s a nervous response too, it’s nicely done.

(Jules de Balincourt had another piece along similar lines, but with figures. Aaron Suggs’ Transparent Dingy (2013) plays with similar themes of mirage, hallucination, seeing things and the not-thereness of ‘there’ out in nature, by presenting a dingy that is entirely transparent, made of clear acrylic. This one touches on the same things, I think of Celtic tales of cities under the lakes, or the modern country-lake equivalent, the gowned girl glimpsed at, just under the surface of the water.

mar 16

It is an hallucination, a dream, but in this context, out on the surface, almost invisible, likely to be benign).

mar 41

Rachel Beth Day plays with similar themes of light and shadow in woodlands. One of the distinctive types of vision, long a part of the visual culture, is that of looking up into the trees, and the spaces between the trees, as they cathedral off or converge in a kind of natural kaleidoscope above. Normally, as in this shot from Friday the 13th Five, this view, a conventional shot, represents reverie, the release of the mind into a dreamy state. In this scene a lovely girl is having a reverie after a good bout of completely nude
blanket-laid-down sex, it’s post coitus satisfaction.

mar 18

But then, of course, this is a Jason movie, so the space snaps back, she looks up again, sees shears in his hands, screams, she dies through the eyes.

Day’s piece is, of course, much more playful, but it works with these themes and dynamics (I can’t tell if it’s about sex), whether consciously or not. Day has painted several basketballs white, then sigilized them with the signs of the zodiac, suspended them above, in just that sort of branching vision. I would think it’s best to look at from lying down under them. She suggests for this reverie then either a cultic or astrological meaning, either way, it’s fun and creative.

mar 38

Of course, country folk or city folk in the country have always been concerned with the uncertain visuality of upper floor windows glazed by reflections of the day sky with bypassing clouds. You can’t see in, because the volume of the space of the room puts out the light, and makes the rooms look dark: then the window has its mullions, sometimes suggestive of human dimensions, and then the uncertain glancing light. In the interstices of these micro-spaces, in the common household window, many a ghostly figure has been seen. It is entirely conventional, a common thing (You can see yet another example of it in this summer’s hit, The Conjuring, but also Woman in Black).

mar 20

So for Chris Martin to hang Dead Mother Returns #17 (2013), up on the side of the house, between the Amityvillish-arrayed windows, is fun. The fact that the dead mother in question is taken from a Dick and Jane type innocent black and white ad from long ago, set in a spray of bright hallucinatory rays, assists in the association.

mar 31

It is a truth well known, no serial killer can get much killing done out in the country without a good supply of tools. More often than not, this means he has to retreat to the barn or to the toolshed. Certainly, this has nothing to do with the piece. But Servane Mary has patted down with glow in the dark powder, and other substances, the whole backing of a toolshed board mounting drills, saws, hammers, screwdrivers, measures and knives. The whole board glows in the dark, accidentally expediting mayhem, but also assisting in rescue, if it comes to that. The fact that in patting there is an irregular facture, and varying brightnesses in spaces between some forms, we see reachings, and repeated touchings, etc., adds an undertone of human presence. The piece is intriguing simply for being based on a novel use of a material, though it is also of interest to me that, of course, the use of phosphorescent paint as an unusual means of misdirection is one of the very ur-forms of modern Gothic fiction, as this was the device utilized in Hound of the Baskervilles to make a mere hound seem otherworldly (and a motif repeated in a number of movie copycattings). So, it’s a rich work, reverberating; as well as a beautiful piece in terms of its own abstraction (it occurs to me that all these works problematize vision).

mar 30

Chris Harlan at one point mounts the top of a counter on a wall, in Counter (2013), replacing a picture. Such a displacement is fairly standard stuff (I curated into a show a wall mounted washer-drier top by Laura Nash in 1989), but in the context of a house, on floral wallpaper too, that it comes from the bathroom, the hole then emptying out the ‘art,’ this sort of displacement is just the kind of thing that can spook one to worry about poltergeistings. Nor does it have to be that ghostly, as it is known that the Manson Family before they began to kill spooked many a Laurel Canyon resident with a creepy crawl, sneaking into houses at night, stealing nothing, but rearranging the furniture.

mar 27

Finally, I also like Barbara Bloom’s Safe (1999), a simple picture which opens up on a hinge to reveal safe in a wall. Perhaps, in neoconceptual innocence, this sort of thing deconstructed the upfront specific medium insistence of modern painting, reminding us that painting often served as veneer for other needs in life. But this is after all a classic formulation and a well-known part of the other life that painting leads out in the world of real people. I have an affection for any painting that hides a safe, usually it has to be authoritarian, secret, mysterious, I would assume that the banality of Bloom’s cover is meant to suggest that even apparently innocuous contemporary art can find itself subordinated to security issues in that way, though it’s possibly undetected because the thief was looking for a painting of some stature which said, the safe is behind me. An example of such a use of painting would be the picture over the safe in The Hands of Orlac (1960)

mar 25

And here’s the Bloom:

mar 29

Thus, houses have meaning, houses in defense against fears have other meanings, furniture, art, décor, objects, tools, etc., all have their own accumulation of forensic meaning that precedes art. Art cannot abstract itself entirely from this forensic layer of meaning, it plays off of it. A POV-review, or POView, of a show looks at art with eyes from the outside world in, and make connections. This is a personal application of Belting’s “circulation of images” method, his “anthropology” of images. And the works that I liked best in this show were exactly those that seemed to have some sense, if abstract or unconscious, of the previous life of country house objects out in popular culture and in horror.

Pictures of course from the gallery, the others from screengrabs or all over the internet.