“What do you want to do doctor?” portals to horror in Halloween 3 (1982).

Rev., October 15, 2016. Added as Appendix, Halloween 3 and a clue. Rev., October 30, 2015.

I reviewed Halloween 3 (1982) some time ago, and gave it a poor rating, declaring it, in fact, the worst sequel ever made, as it seemed to have nothing to do with Halloween, the franchise, at all. That is, there was no Michael Myers, and no relation to MM, and it was not set in Haddonfield, or anywhere near there, it just seemed to have but a totally pretextual and entirely incidental connection to the Halloween franchise. But my thinking has changed, and, in fact, in the past three years, more so each year, the movie has become something of a threshold movie leading me on, by rescreening, into the Halloween season (this season, Collider, on online movie journal, even declared Halloween 3 the best of the original sequels). Why? Partly this is due to further developments in dynamic agency theory, where I have found that the agencies of works of art, popular or high, are not fixed, as in the ancient world, but highly malleable, especially in the space between the work of art and the viewer. This means, just by itself, that if in former screenings I was looking for a continuation of the telling of the story of MM, then I was looking at it from the point of view of the original, and then saw the continuity happening only along the path of its mythology, as set down in the first movie, and any other deviation was verboten. That is, I had viewed Halloween as a cult movie, and wanted more of Halloween in each subsequent sequel. But now I view the movie as a threshold movie, a doorway, as it were, from the unhaunted world, to the haunted one, and, just by that, I now view the movie with the intercessional gaze, wanting from it a leading in, not an arriving at, the cult figure of Michael Myers. Then, too, in other reviews, I found that sometimes, as in the Dusk to Dawn series, a sequel can hang by a thread as a sequel simply by the benefit of having repeated a motif or device, even if whispered, inferring connection. Because of all this, I saw that my view of the movie, my expectations of it, had changed.

What changed? It became apparent that there was a momentum in the early going of the movie that seemed in its drive to imitate or track over the drive of the early parts of Halloween. It is those parts of the movie that I liked best, and still do, and, for this, I am intrigued. For example, in the first movie, something 1) happens in a hospital far from Haddonfield, to cause the monster to come at them; 2) the doctor in charge suspects something worse, and follows the demon; 3) he travels on the road, by gas station, in a kind of journey, one preacher who picks him up even calls him a pilgrim, looking for the apocalypse; 4) when he gets in town, he enlists the help of law enforcement; 5) he visits the Michael Myers home, and 6) finally there is the confrontation, or the main event of the movie. Just on surface, what interests me about the original is, precisely, this section, leading up to the haunting, rather than, strictly speaking, the scary part itself. Same thing with Halloween 3. Here we have 1) something going bad in a hospital, an injured man killed by a robot; 2) the doctor in charge is confused by the appearance of the robot, and suspects something terrible; 3) he then enlists the help of the victim’s daughter (but who shows up rather too easily?) to head out on the road to find the solution to the problem; 4) they arrive in town, and they hole up in the motel, having sex, until they can make the effort; 5) they visit the factory, to confront power; 6) then comes the capture, and the escape, then the punchline. In other words, it is a quest, and, just as in One, so in Three, the quest model was made use of to create tension and buildup of drive early on in the movie. Thus, 3 is based on a displacement of the same haunting energy from Haddonfield, to northern California.

The art of the movie, then, is how well it, in fact, works out this dynamic, moving from A to B, and on to the climax. The first weird thing that happens is that the hospital is empty most of the time, security is lax, and the hallways are shown as long and ominous. It is meant to be a place where you come to to seek and receive care, but it turns out to be a place where the physical plant has become so mazelike that you get lost in the system, and are prey to the machinations of operatives in the system. It is the space of a sliding signifier, or disintegration

halo3 1It is of interest that the victim’s daughter shows up mechanically amidst the apparatchniks, and Doc sees her in the room, identifying the body, rather too easily, and then off in a corner in the corridor nursing her wounds, but, oddly, with odd looks between them, in a way that seems to imply that she loitered there to pick him up. In any case, both the mystery of the case, and then her connection to it, and then, too, that she is a beautiful young woman who has caught his eye, all lead him out of routine life. The key moment in this transition comes in a very nice scene where he sits at a local bar (I also like how the movie ripped off the dating technique of Legend of Hell House). a few things about this shot intrigues me. One, he is alone, which means it is the middle of the afternoon, when others had not yet come in; then two, he is getting drunk, but, in doing so, is assaulted by media, and it is media related to the problem he is mulling over; and three, the space is highly mediated, but by mural painting. The aloneness implies that he is on a bender, leaving everyday life, and normal responsibilities, then the annoyance of the media indicates just how much the mystery related to its imagery is bothering him, compelling him to find out what is going on

halo3 2but the thing that excites me most here, is the mural. It is a profuse mural, and, behind a bar, something you don’t often see. Visually, it is the equivalent of a stack of bottles, offering drinks to inebriate one. But murals also have a deep pedigree in horror, going way back, always indicating media overflow, the seeping or flooding out of media out of the house, into the world around it. If the mural is of a landscape, and a landscape picture indicates trouble is coming to the house, then a mural would break down the border between inside and outside and announce that the trouble was already here. Murals bespeak the lack of boundaries between interior and exterior space, and, strangely, communicate an extreme state of vulnerability. halo3 3the fact that the murals appear to be highly figurative, and crowded with vignettes of some aspect of life in the manner of a Thomas Hart Benton mural, also suggests that it serves as a large scale extension of the predicament picture, or the action picture as I call it in the context of Euro movies. The murals signals that his mind is filled with scenarios of what has been going on, and what might go on as a result of what is going on, and he is trying to decide, how to proceed. Then, when he is shown seeking decisiveness, he is backdropped by not one, but two apparently predicament pictures

halo3 5in the movie, you cannot tell anything more of the paintings that this. All they say is that things are happening, as such, by their facture alone, these are action paintings, and he is trying to decide. But, the fun thing is, on a website spelling out the locations of movies, it turns out that this scene was shot on location in Santa Miera, CA, and this is the Bucaneer Bar. This means that I am able to definitely identify these two paintings, we find that he is backed up here by Blackbeard and Captain Kidd

halo3 6In blurred filmic analysis I simply saw these backdrop elements as action pictures, in the mode of Neo Rauch, bespeaking the moment he is caught in, trying to get out. But once identified as such, it is clear that they exist as icons of his or someone else’s person, and he is being haunted by that. The fact that these are pirates, and all the paintings in the place are pirate themed, is, in fact, perfect, because he is deciding right there whether or not to go rogue, to go on the lam to figure out on his own a problem that he has been told at work to ignore. It could not be more finely tuned. And then, even more fun is, having set things up with him twice getting glimpses of the daughter, she now decides to make her appearance right here, at this junction in his quest

halo3 7This must be from a somewhat different angle because the picture that comes between them, to act as a maledicta balloon to characterize the nature of their interaction is a third picture, off to the left of the picture that backed him up as his totem-icon

halo3 8he is blackbeard, and, it is implied, she is someone else, le grande

halo3 9the backdrop of these pictures, then, bespeaks their contact. It is to be noticed that it is at this point that she at last lays the leather look on him, the big hair, and flashes her big, very big eyes (implying too that Nelkin was particularly known for having very large breasts for a very small body). Knowing the outcome of the movie, that she turns out to be a robot too, one might be forgiven for thinking that at this point she is a sincere human being, working with him to solve their problem, or her problem, but the movie can also be read, by reading their first interactions as being too coincidental, and always orchestrated by her lead, as meaning that she, even then, was a plant, a robot, even then, to lead him into a trap, for the message not to be divulged. This is implied here by her manner, and her eyes

halo3 10and by the fact that her eyes are flashed at him not long after he had been being bombarded by the bar tv media of the evil commercial

halo3 11the funny thing about knowing the real life location source of the paintings is that they are all about pirates, done in a playful pulp fiction style by modernist California muralist, Frank Bowers, before the 1960s, and it included in it a lot of pirate fantasy regarding damsels in distress, usually sexed up to add spice and sweetness to the effort.

AAAAINSERTand another even looks like her, and foreshadows (but again, this is not in the movie, or visible only in the deep, deep background) his disrobing of her later

AAAINSERT 2In any case, it turns out that this innocuous little encounter is the turning point in the movie, the point at which they decide to head off north, in search of the answer as to why her father was killed. All through, rereading over it knowledge of the ending, we might be forgiven for worrying over hints of deception. For example, when they come into this local costume shop, I have previously read the rake as the wobble strigulus effect that announces that they are leaving everyday life, and entering upon an adventure, but it might just as easily be read as a hint that the muse or Beatrice of his quest has metal in her veins, and is as mechanical as that rake

halo3 15then they drive north, on the open road. This too is a quest image, filtering out previous life, and involving them entirely in the quest, just like in One

halo3 16and the interesting thing is that as they approach the town, she is reading its history, and the view out the window seems to try to impose over northern California a geographic translation of Ireland to there, as will be seen in the mind of the mad doctor, as it looks quite remote, by being shown all green near the ocean

halo3 17then the town itself is marked as a circled-wagon, a closed community, by a sign which signifies its solidary by means of a fixed, and single totem, the shamrock, and, it is company town, entirely mobbed up in the doings of the factory

halo3 18everything in it (and all these locations have also been mapped out) is Irished up

halo3 19and like in any small town in a horror movie, even in the Wicker Man, whenever a stranger comes to town, the locals stop what they are doing and look out upon them, through their Irish trappings

halo3 20they feel this surveillance, so decide (or he does, knowing what is to come) that they have to retreat to a motel, so bringing in Psycho here, to take cover, and talk and gather their thoughts

halo3 21and in general I will say that both the signage and the structure of the buildings is wobbly, that is,s wavers in form, and, as a result, it is all part of a veil they are passing through, the wobble of the entoptic phase, as it drops down.

halo3 22so far, then, we have passed through several veils of initiation, the hospital, the bar, the road, the town, all of it depicted as a leaving behind of the everyday concrete, and entering into a world of dream and spirit. The spreadoutness of this quest, in California mode, is embodied by the panoramic mural, then reflected in the panoramic space. The Beatrice guide is the daughter. Things are moving along, we are in the movie’s variant of Haddonfield, and now is the time to buy in.

I have written before of the motel sequence in the movie. Oddly, enough, it is one of the best motel sequences I know of. That is, the motel scene is beautifully instrumentalized. Not only do the odd meetings out in the parking lot, perfectly capture the “too close” aspect of vulnerable motel living (at one time, coming through the door, the doc says, “this place is a zoo,”) but the closeness but not knowingness of that way of life is also conveyed by the recovery of the body of the woman in secret from the place. The fact that a motel room never quite entirely becomes a safe room, inside the door, is conveyed by the fact that they are constantly going out to get booze, and keep coming through that door over and over again. The big moment of transition comes when the third portal opens up, and that would be her private parts. Sitting in front of the landscape painting over the bed, which signals trouble coming from the other side of the wall, or outside, but, in this case, since she is sitting in front of it, signals that the trouble is coming from her, she asks the doc at his lamp what do you want to do doctor? And he says that is a stupid question, and so they kiss, and have sex, underneath that landscape

halo3 24it was an important detail that he was about to turn off that lamp, for them to head out on the job

halo3 25but then he doesn’t, meaning that they will stay “under the lamp,” which in this case means, inside the intimate space now transferred to her body, which is now willing to open up, and have sex with him. It is a very sexy scene, but, in retrospect, she is sitting at the edge of the bed, a worry spot, she is profiled by not only a landscape painting, meaning that she is trouble, but a landscape painting with a winding road in the middle, meaning that she, her body, her boobs and her bush, is a vehicle that will lead him down the primrose path to deception, then there is wooden paneling, which bespeaks either him or her becoming the trophy to the other, and then he leaves the lamp on, which means that he is turned on by her lamps, her body. And then the movie takes another odd turn. One must assume that after the movie breaks off from their kiss, that they stripped, and fucked, right then and there. But then, night falls, and they are still in the motel. Again, we get a panorama, again the shallowness of the town bespeaks its fragile Potemkin village like nature as a façade, a deceptive place, there is curfew too, so any action on the street is illegal, yet he is shown sneaking back from a liquor store

halo3 26and again we get a shot of the wavy motel, the wavering line of dream, of having sex, now turned on with a big old inflamed-vaginal red Vacancy sign

halo3 27I have previously also worked (see Appendix) out how in a room too shallow to ever become a safe room, in from the parking lot, the bathroom becomes the safe place, and she takes up in that bathroom to shower, and by means of stepping out of the shower door, running to grab a towel, then grabbing even the bedspread, all of this bespeaks her coopting of the bathroom to become the safe place in the place, that is, her intimate body. The fact that as she steps out of the shower there is a brief shot of her pubic bush, the black flag announcing total nudity to audiences then, but also, in horror, signifying that she will die, and him too, that this is death sex, all the fact that she twirls her body all around the room, filling it with her sex, makes her the room, and implies again her mechanical seductive nature

halo3 28I have also previously worked out how the whole design of all elements in the room are, when he comes in restocked with booze, and she, all showered, now engages in her ta-da exposure of his body to him, for him to then lay her back on the bed, for sex, starting with oral, all of this means that she is the third portal, that this IS in fact a movie of deception

halo3 29there is no shower scene in this movie, which is odd, but also a signal, as it is not the female who is vulnerable; there is no, really, sex scene, just indications of it before and after. And then, after, when she is still sitting on him, there is the business with the woman on the other side of the wall. She too is in a landscape painting, but it is of the sea, and, as I have worked out several times before, this means much more tumult for her. One assumes that she had to have been annoyed by them humping and thumping on the other side of the wall all night, while she was trying to read. But then that complaint si served back at her in an evil form of revenge (one does wonder if there is any connection between the proximity of the woman and the chip here), for it to zap her to death, it’s an odd sequence, and from this reading it signals that someone who complains about sex on the other side of the wall is complaining about life, and, for that, a death impulse will zap back at them, even more so if the life impulse it being faked by a death robot

halo3 30So, I guess I would connect the large landscape paintings in the motel to the panoramic pirate painting in the bar where he launched his quest, to suggest an extreme state of danger that he is not aware of.

This theme is connected when they visit the factory, first under the guise of being buyers. It is interesting that Mr Cocoran is styled as a collector of automaton toys, this is a confirmation of what he know about the robot men, but a hint of what we don’t know about her, it is curious filtering device, enlisting references from any number of mad doctor sources

halo3 31there is even a House of Wax moment where the automata are so lifelike that he is faked out, so he is in a zone now where it is not clear what is real and what is not, this predicts the ending, but he is blind

halo3 32things now whoosh down the wormhole, as we find out more about the mad plottings, in the motel family who is now made guinea pigs of, they are shown a room that is a parody of a motel room, the flowers mean death, emptiness, deception, the lamps are lying, the houseplant is warning

halo3 33they are locked in, like in The Haunting, she is creeped out

halo3 34And then the demonstration goes on. This leads us down through the whoosh, into the nightmare stage. Now, the interesting thing is that at this point he has his binding experience, he is bound in a mask forced to watch….the original movie, Halloween.

halo3 35oddly enough, he watches the sections of the movie where Tommy is spying the bogeyman walking around the outside of the houses. Annie has been killed, but the great finale with Laurie has not begun. Why? I wrote about that sequence in the movie that it was a distancing device to estrange the house and the fear, from the perspective of a boy afraid of the bogeyman, and, then, his mind filled with science fiction, blowing his fears up big, to see the house as that, this serves here the role of an exterior injection into the movie to signal that same sort of escalation, that we are now to leap out of “normal” factory suspense, and enter into a sci fi world of out-of-town factory suspense that I have previously argued is not only one of the most evergreen of tropes in horror, but go way back to the origination of my interest in the genre, in the movie Quatermass 2. It is in the context of the appearance of the bogeyman, that Corcoran gives his wonderfully spooky speech about the old catholic lands, the hills running red with blood. What this means is that he seeks to calm the gods, and better the crops, by compensating nature for its effort, by expiation of a sacrifice, he will give the earth children to control the world, and guarantee success and bounty, this also being a magic offering as youth given means youth received. While sacrifice is completely repressed as a reality in modern life, shunted off to accidental collateral damage stage, horror often addressed this theme, seeing our lives as lived based on the sacrifice, literally, of others. After he spells out his plan, however, to by broadcast kill children, we get the finale (by the way, this implies that he bought commercial time during some sort of ritualized tv rebroadcast of the original Halloween, much like Kit Kat has bought up the commercial time for the AMC Fear Fest showings this year). Having formerly shown the media in the form of the commercial, and as annoying, now it is made menacing, with intention, he plans to use the movie, to literally become their bogeyman, or rather golem, and kill kids.

In escalating Corcoran to the kind of Dr. Frankenstein golem, we now have more filters leading us deep down into dream, the classic box top vision of factory mass production, an alienating image to all individuals in the modern world

halo3 36We then get an image of the command center control of media, another lattice image whooshing down

halo3 37but then he figures things out, runs about in the catwalks about, gets a box of the tokens with their chips in it, then rains them down on it all, to cause it all to short circuit

halo3 38and it is at this point that the translation device of the movie, which brought Ireland (or England) to a factory in northern California, was an actual portal to nightmare, a monolith of Stonehenge itself which, if activated, could zap with energy all the kids to death (this sci fi was set up for by the translative scale of the landscape heading up, a transferred Ireland, to make old Ireland now, today)

halo3 39we then find out that somehow he was electronically connected, a golem in fact

halo3 40and I also like, after it is all over, the firey town, the whole thing going down effect, here reminding us where the fire started, but, at this point, warning us that his rescue might not be all it is meant to be

halo3 41and the end of course is when in the car he finds out that she is in fact a robot, if from treatment in captivity, or from the very different, it is hard to say, though I am leaning toward the latter reading, all of which wraps things up as a simple mission to get the TV stations to stop playing the commercial that will cause the kids’ heads to explode, and short circuit his whole plan to bring again the bogeyman in mass scale down on Halloween to invert trick or treat into the worst possible scenario of the urban legend of trick or treat stalkers and kid killers, the end.

All in all, then, the movie appears to have spun out from the original by way of Tommy’s vision of the other-planet alieness of his sightings of the bogeyman. It was then conjectured, how to make of this fear, as sci fi level horror, and then they resituated to a comparable distance of ground to travel from inciting incident to scene of the crime, with the drama then playing out. The First movie and the third movie only link by way of the first movie appearing on a tv screen in the third, so it also taking in something of the original, which made a point that The Thing and Forbidden Planet greatly contributed to Tommy’s extraterrestrial scale horror in the first one, all of that transferred to a realization of it here. And in the middle of it, a woman who might be a robot, or alien, and, more interesting to me, a progression of paintings that are all the time screaming at him, trouble is coming, and, yet, he is so besot by sex, and the red herring motive of getting away from his life, that he does not see. Thus, while I concede still that Halloween 3 appears to have little to do with the original, it is also true that it is spun out of the original in formal and tangential and trope-originating ways that is at least an interesting thesis on how the sequel imagination sometimes also works.


Halloween 3 and a Clue.

Rev October 30, 2015.

One of the surprises of recent seasons, is that in annual rebroadcasts of the Halloween series, as part of Fright Fest, each year, AMC has shown Halloween 3, and, watching that one, a movie I have officially given one star to, and even called in review the worst sequel ever made, is beginning to grow on me. Why? The first issue is that of priming. It is important, when reviewing anything, that you are on the same page as the object of inquiry. If you are not on the same page, or are off topic, then your comments will not be about the actual work, but other issues, and end up as such not being criticism. This happens so much more often in the internet age, when few magazines can be said to have actual old school editorial oversight, that offtopic unprimed writing can be said to be a plague in criticism today (just last week I read an absurd piece by an African American writer who chose a review of Goosebumps to go off on a “why aren’t there any black actors in movies?” rant on whiteness and invisibility and etc etc etc., all of which was way off topic, absurd). The fact that the internet is built on posturing before the right thing, means that the more pious and polarized an opinion is, the more likes it will get, so a second time internet ecology corrupts criticism.

In any case, why would Halloween 3 (1982) come to begin to seem like a better movie to me? A few reasons. For one thing, I originally screened it in sequence after one and two, and, for that, was looking for a sequel which still dealt with the same story material, its divergence entirely from the storyline, then, sunk it for me. Now I no longer worry so much about that: I recognize that the franchise skipped from two to four, in following the Haddonfield side of the Meyers saga. Second, I have of late cultivated a distinct taste for a subgenre of horror I call Califhorror, all of which happens in Northern California, involves a small town being invaded by outsiders in some nefarious way, and then a legend trip to go see what the problem is. I have reviewed a whole list of these, I now see then that Halloween 3 represented not only a divergence of the sequel, but the wresting of the story into a Califhorror subgenre, and then it devised a Quatermass 2 plot to correspond to the demands of that subgenre.

But then, even more so, an appreciation, on a more formal level, of sequences in horror, sometimes overcomes my better judgment, and, in fact, Halloween 3, out of the blue, has a very good motel room sex sequence, which is quite amusing, and which I have written on before. In that context, it also makes good use of motel room art, which is also fun.

The main purpose of this note is to indicate that the movie also has some surprise features that make it noteworthy. Stacey Belkin plays Ms. Grimbridge, and it is apparent that in a spooky way grimbridge is a roundabout way of referring to her crotch and her vagina. She is the crux of the movie, from the very beginning. And then when she goes up with Dr Challis to the plant in Santa Mira, the same town made use of in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, they shack up together in a strange little motel. The motel scenes are choice, but the key moment is the shower sequence, and, indeed, it could be said that the shower sequence, and the sex sequence, and then a killing sequence, are all, in 15 solid minutes of good moviemaking. The key moment is the shower sequence. We see it from outside the bathroom door, and a towel with a pattern on it indicates her presence. Or rather, the towel, in contrast to her clothing seen piled up on the dresser, tells us, alerts us, that she is naked

halo3 42then she surprises us, because we do not see into the actual shower, we only see her, from outside the door, reach out of the shower, across to the door handle, to fetch a large white towel. In this context, frosted by an opaque glass door, we get a nice impressionistic profile of her bare back and her boobs

halo3 44the door then swings out, and she steps out in back of it. Consider: the arrangement usually is, girl in shower, behind curtain or glass door, taking shower, then only after does she step out. We see her nudity while she is taking the shower. Here, we see that shot after, when she is reaching for her towel, and then to dry off. So, the stock moment has been shifted to the external, she is doubly exposed. She is also behind TWO doors, that is, the one door, and then the other, that is, the space is a bridge from us to her.

halo3 45But the more important point of this resituation is that she is moving, and when moving it is more likely that her private area might accidentally be oopsed in exposure. And, indeed, it amuses me that even on AMC this flash of pubic hair came on so fast that it was broadcast on tv when most of the boobs and other mayhem of the movie was all edited out. The thing is, as I discovered in The Incubus, and others of the early 80s, by that point exposure of pubic hair, especially in the shower, signaled to the audience, even if so quickly flashed, that this girl will die. It is a very important upping of the Black Flag, and while in the 1960s that flag simply told the male gazer that the girl truly was nude,e by the 1980s that Flag said, she’s also a dead woman walking. This makes her dangerous. In so far as the space between us and her, between the door and the shower door, and between the front labia of her vulva and the interior of her vagina could be called “bridges” this black flag flash also indicates that she is something of a black widow whose vagina brings death with it, she might as well be named grimvagina.

halo3 46This flash is literally on screen for about a sixteenth of a second, you hardly see it, it’s another one of those million flashes of not-seeing that modern film used to enliven subconsciously the eye’s reception of a shallow image. It is quite a shot, shows that she has a large bush, but it is over very, very quickly

halo3 47the fact that the towel seems in fact a bit small, a typical motel towel, means that even when she covers up, it doesn’t quite cover her up, and for that there is second echo exposure of her pubic hair, to accentuate the problem of her being

halo3 48now she actually bridges the scene from back to front. She runs out, because, again, apparently the towel did not dry her, so she has decided to run for the bedspread, and cover herself in that. But in doing that, more exposure, and then, even as she negotiates dropping the towel, and picking up the bedspread, some flash shots of breast exposure too

halo3 49so, the particulars of this scene, on a micro shot level, were meant to express that she is a “bridge,” that she is very free with her body, that she lives in a mechanical universe she may not appreciate, and that just to get dry it took two doors, and running through two enclosures, to large bedspread enlisted in the task. She’s a lot of work. The fun thing about the whole motel room is that from the very first he gets in there, he is shy about staying there with her, but she settles that by asking in as enticing an ingénue voice as possible, Where do you want to sleep D r Challis, and as I have noted this remark was made in front of a landscape painting with a winding road in it, all indicating trouble of a bridging sort. Then, when he comes back in, she finally decides it’s time to get down to sex. This is indicated on screen by the fact that even the lamp is designed to echo her pubic hair

halo3 50then the small landscape painting on the far wall is meant to highlight her breasts, as she has adorned herself in lingerie, in her towel, to ta-da, back at the bathroom door, this time, he in the door, she out in the room, leading to them moving toward the bed.

halo3 51there is another odd thing about this complex rendering of motel living, in a motel that he describes at one point as a “zoo” in that it takes into consideration the common nightmare of the people on the other side of the wall. After they have sex, it seems they keep on having sex. They have sex under a landscape painting, which says that trouble is coming in on them. But then, here too, there is a doubling up, as the other side of the wall comes into play, and there is an exactly oppositely arranged reverse picture and bed set up on the other side of the wall. This means that as they bump in the night they annoy the person trying to read or sleep alone on the other side of the wall, and from picture to picture put all sorts of images and irritations in the mind. It means that in this set up they exist in a kind of threesome with this other trader, who has let a chip drop on her carpet. She settles in to read, annoyed that they are humping on the other side of the wall. She might be imagining what of sex might be taking that long, and if she had a primer from today’s pornography what takes so long is the priming and decompressing of the act involving a long series of oral sex offerings and givings. Thus, between walls where any complaint against the other would only be made by banged hand or voice, the mouth, the fantasy of oral sex dominates. Indeed, at one point, while the trader is examining the chip, it explodes in her face. At precisely this point, Ellie, who is seated on his lap, presumably impaled on his dick, on the bed, turns her head to wonder what was that? (though it is possible she knows). In any case, she asks the Doc what was that, and he so utterly consumed in the space between her large breasts (for a small bodied girl) that he says, who cares, and goes right on back to fucking. But what happened was that the chip zaps the lady in the mouth, and blows up her face. This is an activation of the threat implied in a quite flamboyantly apotropaic California motel landscape painting, and then an inverse acted out of the fantasy she had of what was maybe going on on the other side of that wall, oral sex. It ends up with her with her whole face blown out. In those days, it is not clear that the term face fucking existed, but the device is so common, to reverse the polarity of a blowjob, and force the woman to gag on pistoning of penis that is motored by the male into her, that it is unmistakable in its reference on viewing now.

halo3 52Then the movie gets even more interesting when they parody the evil motel room by sending the one couple with their kid into a test room version of a motel room, to kill them with bugs come from the tv and the masks, etc., so the movie does have a lot of fun with the lore of the motel room painting and the bad things that can happen in motels.

At the end, Ellie turns out to be a robot (or maybe was made that way through processing in the plant). In any case, he ends up chopping her arm off, and her head, then arm and head coming at him a few times. Its like a vile inverse of his using sex with her, as a married man, so there is that too. All of these twists and turns of a simple device: now that I don’t care that much how it is related to Michael Myers, I rather like that, like Messiah of Evil, this movie features another end of the world scenario, and using as a bridge into that world the sex of Stacey Belkin.

Mark Bradford’s apophatic faith in America: the American pavilion by the side door.

Rev., May 13, 2017.

Note: This is a blog musing, not a review or article, as I only took in the exhibition virtually, relating it to what is going on my mind, not necessarily the artist’s.

Once again, Venice manages to come up with an exhibition that gives pause, offering something of interest to the art world, and yet most of the art world will stroll right through. So, one must pause even longer, and muse on Mark Bradford’s US pavilion, which to me was the best of the Biennale. The installation, as mapped out by Andrew Goldstein on Artnet, then by Cara Ober in hyperallergic, was supported by several terrific ideas, then carried out with a holistic simplicity that retained in it the agency emitted from the decisions, thus avoiding all the pitfalls of busywork or wow art that plague the international biennial circuit. Then, too, Bradford has taken an apophatic approach to represent the US now (as opposed to my most kataphatic treatment of it), that is, by negation comes knowledge of the country in this moment.

The first good decision that Bradford made was that he looked at the US Pavilion and thought it looked like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It is a good idea, here is the US pavilion


And here is Monticello.

brad2And, then, he thought, let the pavilion “represent,” as a symbol, a building as symbol, the United States right now. Then, since he is black and gay, let him come up with some way to address the fact that he does not feel entirely supported by the USA at the present moment, particularly with DT in the White House. So, the first good decision is, close the front door, and leave it with a piece that enhances the effect that no one is home. This is the piece called Barren (2017), it consists of the closed door, the pile of gravel in the corner, a shovel, maybe some of the debris. You are meant to go up to it, and knock around, and discover that “no one is home,” an experience we all know, it’s a good idea

brad3But, then, second terrific idea, thinking Monticello, and that Jefferson had slaves, and slaves could not come in the front door (except, perhaps for Hemmings and her family members), Bradford, focusing on those particular avatars as his guides, stepped around to the side and decided to have everybody enter his exhibit, and orient his exhibition to entrance, from the side door. In this, he also referenced segregational Jim Crow management of racial proxemics in the south not so long ago, as late as the late 1950s


This too is a wonderful idea, because, in fact, the way people enter buildings does have agency.

Pausing to consider this issue with regard to government buildings. I know this best from entry into and passing through a building very similar, Federal Hall on Wall Street. When you come up as a franchised citizen the front steps


under the aegis of the stare of the first president


under the colonnade, and through the front door, to then come in under the rotunda, you DO feel like it is all for you, like you are participating, in a central symbolizing way, with the cult of what is being worshipped there, in this case federal power, participation in the USA and the history of the USA. The steps up, the colonnade, the rotunda all give you a sense of power


The looking up at and taking in the eye of the rotunda as it were takes all that into you, and gives you a participating sense of the power of the place, it is centralizing, it centralizes you, you feel the cult come down into you, you are one with it.

The Greeks certainly knew this because not only did they imagine that the gods came down through the facade of the Parthenon, and sat in the frieze above the front and watched


But then also set up on the front steps, a theoxenia, setting out actual couches, in which they invited the gods to come sit, and participate in their ceremony.  And then they did, right in front of the façade of the temple, a hecatomb sacrifice to the gods, the smoke of which they then imagined went up to the gods. By these visual means, charades with nonobvious causation, by what Burkert calls the comedy of innocence, did the Greeks imagine they had the ear of the gods, and the gods listened and acted on their behalf



So, they had a strong sense of the centralization of power as experienced by devotants at a site. But, then, they also had more sidedoor ways of coming to power too,


to observe cult to other gods, to complicate the site so that it is entirely, through and through, holy ground.


An example of this would be the Erechtheion where not only was the trident mark in the rock kept, where Poseidon slammed his trident down and claimed Athens as his, and there is also an opening left in the roof to let the sun shine in on it, but then you have to run round to a room on the other side of the small enclosure to get to the olive tree of Athena, and other sacred objects.

brad13It is also on a porch off one side of the Erecht that the virgins dance down the constellations on a certain night of the year, to empower the place.


As noted, it was on the site of the Erechtheion that Poseidon slammed down his trident, the mark of which could still seen by tourists, to crush Erechtheus into the ground. But there was also, by that mark, in the floor, a small pool, a piece of the sea, the primordial source of Athens, they believed, and Burkert conjectured that in so far as Erechteus’s son Emolpus was also crushed down into the earth, and a shrine to him was pointed out far below on the side of the Acropolis rock on the way up the Sacred Way, it may be by this pool that Emolpus was pressed down (Homo Necans, p. 148). Burkert also describes a “ritual arc” cast over the Acropolis whereby another feast, the Arrhephora, celebrating Cecrops’ three daughters, Aglaurus, Herse and Pandrosus, was overlaid. The cult is centered around an olive tree to Athena, also in the Erechtheion, but the mythopoetic path of their fate wanders over to the north cliff of the Acropolis, where, it was said, after having been driven mad by opening a box they were told to keep and not open, finding a magic snake, they went mad, then sought relief from madness in suicide. There remains a shrine in the northern cliff, in historical times observing Eros, possibly a later cover of this tale. This whole ritualized path starts at the Pandroseum, which is a section of the Erechtheion where the olive tree is kept, which Burkert calls “a sanctuary beneath the windows of the Erechtheion” (p, 150). Burkert’s careful explication of the site, and all the criss-crossings, and confabulations of memories into ritual ground and pathways on it, made over the Acropolis into a dense matrix of sacred ground for Athenians, through which they might weave ritual and celebration from many directions


and then there is another shrine on the side of the bottom of the cliff because it was from the cliff above that Pandrosus threw herself in suicide as noted (for years, Acropolis study was limited to the major architecture, only in the last twenty years or so has more time been devoted to working out the wealth of confabulated overlappings with which Greeks made the site in whole, approached from any angle, a condensed power place, with many, many points of access)


meaning that the sacred ground of the Acropolis is not only centered, and highly ritualized to the center, but also had a host of proliferating sidedoor access sites, and a whole confabulation of the ground with stories and shrine sites to enrich it through and through. What this means is that the center-periphery notion that is conventionally held in modern thought, inscribed in the word “marginalization” as the place where the oppressed are pushed, it is real, but it also must be properly problematized, as it is true that power is not always only to be gained by centralized power, but can be got by peripheral means too (and, indeed, it was by means of a more nuanced study of personal and political agency in the 90s that studies of American slavery began to document in more detail how in spite of slavery, for example, some African Americans in the antelbellum era still managed to make a life from or in spite of it), and that in a narrative or mythological conceptualization of ritual and social life there is a tendency to add on to the lore, to deepen the lore, to retell the lore, and by a series of reiterations of it, as in the retelling of a story, open up spaces which let more and more people into it, relating to it in various “profiles” that still, for the limitations placed absolutely on their lives (I, for example, was not born the King of England, I don’t have a country palace, or summer on the Riveria attended by a staff of five; I am not Marilyn Monroe, and did not lead her life, etc etc), provides in its agentic array sufficient reagent, counteragentic or reverse agentic ways to create wiggle room where people can make meaning and thus live. For this reason, I prefer an archaeological reading of Bradford’s installation, over a simplistic center-periphery, power-marginalization model. It is not simply that his installation seeks an end-around around centralized power, he has created an entity spirit which occupies for the moment the place of power in a changing way.

Indeed, as I go through Pausanias, I find that side door entry, or, at least, circling round to the side, then the back, is all part of the walk through of sacred sites. Again, my purpose in studying these sights is not religion per se, but the religion-fused-with-magic that amounts to but another way of civic living in magic, and these physical actions enact agency in ways that create uncanny crawlspaces and adjunct spaces in and around the centralizing object. Thus, I mentioned on FB a site where you come round the back to a stone wall enclosure inside which is a gorge in the ground which was said to be where Hercules tossed the hound of hell, presumably you toss something in to.

In a post about Bradford, I brought up these issues


and the images




and then my graph


and, interestingly enough, interested here mostly in the gorge in the last enclosure, where Hercules threw down or drew out the hound of hell, Bocklin seems to have a painting of just this sort of thing


and then apparently Bradford’s closing of the front door


The primary agencies are cult, intercession, votive and apotropaic. Cult would seem to countenance direct address, but intercession allows for the use of go-betweens by populations who might think it a bit too forward to address the god directly. Then votives are even less direct, usually left outside or at the side of a site, and in proliferation, and then apotropaic rituals and leavings can take place on any of the corners or sides of a site. Complicated arrays, as a result, can develop.

So, by walking to the side door, Bradford was eschewing a feeling that at the moment that he totally identifies with the US government and its politics (though, politically, of course, he remains a citizen of notmypresident USA), and sidesteps that to a less direct intercessional address in which he approaches the same by the go-between of an agent, a psychopomp, and symbolic figure, who will let him in by the side door, to make meaning by that address. Thus, we have moved from cult, to intercessional agency.

Then on the side of the door is a Roman style stone inscription, with a poem to Hephaestus.


You can take this as referring to Hephaestus, the actual god (as I do, since Hephaestus means something to me), or it could refer to the cultural fact that in the old antebellum south the masters thought it humorous in a weird way (I have not researched why) to name their slaves with Roman names like Pompey and Cicero, and why not a Hephaestus? for this poem does seem to refer to a woman of color. The other uncanny thing for me about Bradford working with inscriptions like this is that I have spent a good deal of time over the past year perusing inscriptions in Rome, and am intrigued at how they keep on site in a nonconspicuous, and nonpressing way, the faint presence of an event that took place on the spot. My favorite example of this thus far, in my reading of Tyler Landsford’s The Latin Inscriptions of Rome (2009), which a tour book of inscriptions, in Latin and English, is the plaque on the fourth pillar in the nave of a notable Roman cathedral which says that this was the sight of Augustus’s house and his bedroom where one night he had a dream and dreamt of the appearance on that site of the “child of the new era”, which later Christians took as a premonition of the birth of Christ. The point is, inscriptions inscribe places, they keep a holy site, and a memory, they can also be effaced and submitted to memoriae damnatio, in complex ways, as noted by Charles W. Hedrick in his terrific study of the fate of a single inscription in Rome in the 5th century, History and Silence (2000). Thus, Bradford enlists the threshold, or the space in front of the inscription, since the poem is clearly about some woman who is not a god, to communicate that something happened here, this is a memorial to her, an offering, a souvenir, but in intercessional form, as it were, to mark the spot.

It also helps to superimpose upon the sequence or, what I call in horror movies, the mis en scenario, of Bradford’s occupation a dream theory structure, and, in that regard, an inscription introduces the place as dedicated to the memory of a particular unnamed woman, but, at the same time, in dreams, this is the kind of thing you see just as you fall asleep, your conscious thoughts being abstracted and fading way.

And then, supported by that, invested as it were by her, you enter into the temple. But, entering in the side door, it will bring up you coming in on things from the backside. This might be super exclusive, as for example, in Goodfellas (1990) when Henry brings Karen into the Copacabana by way of the kitchen, kitchens, the sites of creation, being prestige places to sit in the old restaurants of Manhattan (my dad was into, but in a tourist way, this culture, we sat once in the kitchen at the Palm), this scene confirms that old ritual.


But by and large those in power come in through the front door, and other folks make it in the side door. And so here again Bradford expertly manages the space by bringing you in media res into the back of an enormous occupation, as if the god himself was already holding forth in the space, a large foot of Hephaestus himself.

Working with the metaphor of entering a temple from the side or back door, and taking in the cult power of the site by a crawlspace means, creating counteragency, one could construe a scenario where in this temple, seen from the inside out, an unwelcome interloper would imagine an enormous and overpowering image of the god would be present, and coming in around at it from the back would make it seem even more imposing. Of course, in the USA, we have the Lincoln Memorial (here visited by Klaatu and Bobby)


But the Greeks had their Athena in the Parthenon, said, by the way, to speak, but only because rats scuttled around inside of it (the Greeks, after Caligula failed to get it shipped to Rome, believed, or joked, that in the scuttling of the rats inside the statue, they could hear the goddess laugh). So, you come in, and imagine a supergigantic statue of Hesphaestus, only for Bradford’s imagination to evoke its anger, it is alive, and, as alive, as fire (one thinks of the painting of a church fire come alive as a crackling furnace in the dream sequence of Rosemary’s Baby), and he talks about the earthquake feeling of the present post-election of 2016 moment, he equates this with Hephaestus being like a Titan, alive with fire, imagined as a natural superheroic force, whose great firey lame foot presses you down


And you can lie under it


Or squeeze by it (you are allowed to touch it, in his accommodation to selfie reality Bradford also shows some welcoming realism)


But you must cower, and be careful, the god is in the house, but the god is angry and dangerous.


I have noted that the pictures of the installation also partake of the classic stomping foot trope in adventure movies where the giant foot of the giant figure stomps down in shot, here is one from Curse of the Demon (1961)


And others from Jason and the Argonauts (1963)


And another


And I related this to the fact that there is another big foot in Venice at the moment, Damien Hirst’s demon


And shots of him or other shots by others of the feet only reinforce the stomp trope idea, that there is some large force weighing down on us, for various reasons.


Also of more incidental circumstantial interest is that there does seem to have been a vibe at Venice to express chaos in the world, but by way of poltergeistlike installations, scattering things, such as by Liliana Porter (and best example by Geoffrey Farmer at the Canadian pavilion).


But the problem above is that the scatter device has lost its punch, it also relates to a time of sliding signifiers, and we are most certainly not in such a period, but in a period caused by active chaotic behavior at the seats of power, and what is perceived as a defensive wave of populist (ie conservative) resentment at a wave of immigration, then it represents the chaos in a diffuse way that does not capture the possessed nature of the times, as if we are possessed by some whiplash pingpong demon of driven partisanship, who cares what’s true so long as it brings the other side down, that is scary (what some people ridiculously call the post-truth era, but which I would only refer to with regard to the problem that you cannot, now, find an impartial man, in such poison politics times). As such, then, in my view, a megafigure consolidates the problem, in a compacted holistic, packed-in figure of energy, which then expresses the charge, if you will, of the moment, big explosive power, acting out of control (I addressed this problem with regard to Rachel Harrison’s situation, More News, at Greene Gallery in June, 2016, in my view, the only show that captured the nature of that moment; well, except for Jordan Wolfson’s figure, so, both figural).

But the broader issue, which I have also addressed, is, why do megafigures rise up in the imagination? On one level, megafigures are standard features in adventure gods movies, like Gods of Egypt, where the hecatonchiron of Ammat was depicted as a storm, and then this one


And this goes back even to Disney’s overlooked depiction of the Titans in Hercules (1994) (with the kind of burning, cracking-up, earthquake-volcano figure becoming in fact a trope)


I guess this is called the lava titan


But in a more specific way, I have been personally haunted by megafigures since 2013, and they seemed to have emerged when my middle class life and its house of cards came crashing down around me, and I had to seek exile in a cheap place to live, and thus found myself with large gaps in my consciousness, unaccustomed to my new life, all around me. These gap spaces, on a grand, alienating, that is pushed-out level, were filled with megafigures, so several came to the fore. Also, my psychogeographical sense of the country changed from a closed-in neighborhood level, to a set-adrift national-map level, as I saw myself as living 2000 miles west of where I used to, and could not, in my imagination, and my longing, close that gap (and have not since), so into that gap too, megafigures converge, to fill the void. For that reason I have been really interested in megafigural art over the past four years, such as Goya’s


Oddly, enough, and, oddly, also in an early May, Vulcan came to the fore as a figure of the country as imagined in the riled up days in the two years before the election of 2016, but it was the Vulcan of the 1904 world’s fair in St Louis


And I was made to think of him by the image of the world’s largest mine, in Russia, in Lawrence Gipe’s panorama shown at Fiendish Plots gallery, Lincoln, NE, in 2015


And that made me think of miners, and the miners in my background (my Irish Catholic ancestors in America spent some 50 years in the lead mines of southwest Wisconsin, centered around Shullsburg)


This, oddly, also might be a time of year thing, as last May I thought of Marcus Curtius’ leap into the void, kept in memory in the forum, in Roman history (a gap had opened up in the forum, and he was told by an oracle it would only close if he lept in, so he did)


And this year, as noted above, I thought of the gap in the ground in back of a temple where it was said Hercules drew or threw the hound of hell (it could be, as summer no longer offers me release, I feel a lesion in the calendar in May, which these geomyths bespeak. And here I am, again, mid May, talking the lesion).

So by this means, Hephaestus became a kind of tutelary god of my current predicament, a megafigural representation of just how large the gap between me and where I used to be, taking everything for granted, was. If you are in your bubble, that is an abstract space, you will not likely feel the presence of megafigures, but if you are outside the bubble, or the bubble breaks, they rise up. Thus, in its scale, and in its crawlspace entry, Bradford seems to be forcing us to address the god in a cowering way, as if to make small our votive power under its apotropaic force, a way of saying, and I agree, that apocalyptic forces are at work, right now, and you had better pay attention. But you have to address them with care, and caution, too. To my mind, this squeezing compression of apotropaic-cult agency, which might’ve been experienced by viewers going through as oppressive, was still a third great idea in the invocation of the place.

I mention invocation. I use the word in the Roman sense. When the Romans saw that the gods would have to leave a place, because some blasphemy had ruined it, they had a ceremony whereby they removed the gods, and this was called an invocation (by the way, my treatment of Rome and Greece cares nothing for their role as “white” people at the origins of Western culture, to me, while much of that is true, they were believers in traditional magic like every other traditional people on earth, and I view them as representative of all mankind living pre1800, irrational, religious, superstitious, agentic. It is said, to the wise man, Greece is everywhere, which means, it represents ancient and traditional culture, only we happen to have the best record of it, so work out from there, to understand all mankind). Once the site was invoked, the gods were gone from it, it was no longer a sacred place. This appears to be the underlying visual strategy of Bradford’s installation.

Then, too, dream theory also reinforces the psychological “rightness” of this inclusion, at this point. It makes sense that the first gallery that you enter, coming into the sequenced exhibition, would be the first stage of dream, and that would be the light dream stage I call the entoptic, which is simply when, soon after falling asleep, you still linger in a misty stage composed entirely of wafting entoptic imagery. But, interestingly, there is a one theory that this field of entoptic imagery is fed from the outside, and references in fact the sleeping body sensing its surroundings, even as it sleeps, but through the warning system of dream. That is, entoptic sleep phase is encompassed by, and in some ways an internalized expression of the sensing of the skin. The entoptic then passes down to the glass onion, where the frame of the body manifests as the idea that a ghost is an expression of some inner bodily function (as Scrooge said to Marley’s ghost). Then, the lattice is when something presses down on you like a hag attack sitting on your chest, but all stages fed by the body awareness around the dream. This idea for the entoptic is manifest in such quaint ideas as Roscher’s, who believed that Pan ended up as a goat because Greek shepherds in the ancient days slept under wool blankets made of goatskin, and so they dreamt of goats. A more modern example happened to me just the other night, when, falling into light sleep with a fan blowing at my back, and always during sleep aware that the fan was blowing on my back, I had a light dream of a large polar bear having come up behind me and was hugging me from behind. The notion that you had a dream in which a large hand or figure was pressing down on you is also ascribable to the lattice, the most famous example of it in popular culture being Rosemary casually talking through the motion of Satan on her body above her while being raped in her dream.


Thus, Bradford remits us to a hypnagogic state in which we imagine ourselves pressed down upon by a skin, like in the entoptic phase, but then also a humongous foot, just like in a lattice dream, and we edge our way around it, to get through. Since this trope also often inhabits thresholds, Cerebus, for example, would be such a compound being, Bradford’s Hephaestus’s foot joins the parade of those inducers of sleep, moving from light to deep.

According to a video viewed of the progress through the installation, we now come to a gallery centered by the Medusa. She is the dark oracle of the site, said to be composed of the strips of tinfoil used in beauty parlors, a device employed to evoke several woman in Bradford’s life, it is the place where wisdom is to be found, and will speak (beauty parlors being a well-known trope of such oracular pronouncement in popular culture). It is the dark Delphi of this invocation. At Delphi there was carefully sequenced space, and at the center was the “stoned” woman sitting on a high stool over a tripod and all of it in a small room at the back containing a few sculptures and then the gorge in the earth from which the emanations of the gas came up, according to ancient writers. And oracles existed in the inside of other places too, or were gained access to in other ways. In the cave of the nymphs in Arcadia there was a spring that if you drunk from it you would speak in tongues in a state of euphoria the Greeks called nympholepsy, and I think this is what is going on here. Your address has now turned into direct encounter with the chief intercessional figure, you feel, at last, like you have come into power, and can, for all the marginalization in life, find a way to power still.


The Medusa’s centrality in the gallery is reinforced by the fact that the panels here seem to serve comfortably as simply background objects, to provide her a setting to exist and emit her power. Perhaps these are relics of exhibitions gone by, maybe they were misunderstood, and Bradford hopes to get them a better hearing, informed by the presence of Medusa. They are called “Thelxiepeia,” “Leucosia,” and “Raidne> and Cara Ober in hyper has a good take on them

“As you squeeze past “Spoiled Foot,” your pupils dilate. Three giant, bruise-colored canvasses are bathed in natural light from above. As with earlier bodies of work, wherein the artist collaged end papers from his mother’s hair salon on canvas and applied layers of stain, “Thelxiepeia,” “Leucosia,” and “Raidne” feature tiny, translucent rectangles that suggest a rhythmic and cellular presence; repetitions coalesce into surfaces that recall strings of binary code or protective scales. Named for ancient Greek sirens, the dangerous female monsters who lured sailors to their deaths, these shimmering surfaces enchant but refuse to recede into depth, holding their ground in a direct challenge to the viewer while offering only a dusky silence”.

Their darkness, and the fact that they too are made of the material from hair salons used to affix or duct tape coloring or dyeing, also points out that as an oracle, Medusa is a rather hard choice. In mythology, of course, she has the stare that paralyzes, and hair of snakes, and has been read for that as many different things. The use of the Medusa in art is such a rich and deep trope it hardly needs to be gone into (there are numerous books on the topic too). But, as an image, on the front of shields or temples, she represented, in Gorgon form, a simple apotropaic face meant to ward off demons just like her, or make the enemy in battle momentarily pause, so you can stab him to death. She exists to distract, and also to reassure. One can mention Medusas in art history (I recently had cause to mention Franz von Stuck’s Medusa, because Hitler thought his mother looked just like her)


Or Ruben’s classic


And then fusing this with popular culture, there is the Medusa in Clash of the Titans (1983), another Harryhausen creation. It is a trope with a rich and deep history


But the situation of the Medusa, her scale, the fact that she can be read as simply a three-D abstract painting, just hanging there, a conglomeration of all those strips, piled up on each other, making her a kind of scarecrow too, also means that she is often viewed partially from the side


And from other sides


And what this means is that in approach to her, and in one’s posture vis-a-vis her, and in our inability to find the face, and look her in the eye, because you cannot quite tell if it is a figure, or just abstract, that fact then protecting us then from being paralyzed by its return gaze, it hangs there in a way that imitates a lattice figure in the declension of dream states as the mind falls asleep (and, again, a good model to explain the difference between life and art is: life is when you look things directly in the eye, and are turned to stone by your fear, art is when you use Perseus’ reflective shield to get close to it, and kill it). In movies, the lattice shot is a well known trope, large head in profile on the right or left of the shot means, everything you see hereafter is inside his or her head. I have collected many examples, there is little doubt this is a fixed trope. A classic example from Polanski’s Repulsion (1965)


thus sideways approach, going sideways at and around it, it means something, proxemicly


But in dreams per se, the presence or rather arrival of this figure on the scene means that the entoptic and glass onion rotations and wanderings of light sleep are now pooling down into a decisively important and transfixing image, which will dominate the dream from then on. It announces not only that what you see from here on out is in her head, but that what you see from here on out rotates down from the issue fixated upon by her, and follows from the theme introduced here. Since this is a female trope, and a Medusa, and is made of materials derived from a beauty salon, and Bradford has made mention of his use of this material, and how he is now shying away from it, one can only take-away from the inscription out front, and then link it up to this head, to think that in some way deep down, though guarded by Hephaestus, this whole cult is devoted to a woman, a dark, left in darkness woman, but a female spirit, pervading the space, to guard it (Pausanias mentions a town where the citizens thought its wall impregnable because the local temple held what were said to be a few hairs cut from the Medusa’s head).

At last, Bradford had to come into the main rotunda, with all that symbolizes in terms of power and centrality in a building of this sort, but, more so, in buildings which Bradford made this small pavilion symbolize. But before I simply compare this rotunda to rotundas per se, I will follow up on previous remarks by noting that if it is true there is a hypnagogic logic in the progression of Bradford’s installation mis en scenario, then having passed through a rather claustrophobic entoptic phase, then skipped down to the lattice figure, to weigh us down in, this dome arrives with circling and spiraling forms at precisely the correct moment in the falling-asleep sequence as when the lattice gets too heavy, it presses down upon the dream state, and then breaks through, upon which one goes whooshing vertiginously down the spiral to deep dream. And it is pretty clear that Bradford has activated the dome so that it rotates and spirals on the eye of the viewer looking up at it, because there are pictures of the spiral


And the deepening spiral


And then the drain at the bottom (or top, in this case),


And then too things swirl down and out the other openings, and you see another dark place beyond.


It is all set up to recreate the whoosh stage of falling asleep, the spiral down which the dreamer actually falls.


All of this can be read simply by its visual effect, which spirals, and, for that, one might relate it to the familiar trope in Euro movies of using a camera pan of the cornices of mouldings of rooms as a symbol of vertigo, or in the case of Barbara Steele, orgasm (as I mentioned in review of Rudolph Stingel at the Pinault in 2013) (this from Terror Creatures from the Grave)


in which sequence, she scratches at the pillows, digs in, and might even be said to be scratching at the sides of her private prison


the notion that, somehow, the subtractive gesture above, the removal of the plaster, and then in setting it with the materiel at hand, strips of some material, results from a scratching away, alludes to scratching afflictions of the body, and for that to then be reflected in a building or its walls one has to posit a resident avatar who is scratching the walls, which brings us to the well-worked trope of the scratches on the walls by previous tenants of this prisoning place. A good example was in Silence of the Lambs (RIP Jonathan Demme).


An equally dark inference in this work is derived from consideration of its material, as continued from the material in the Medusa, thus characterizing this chamber as somehow part of a spread of miasma from the Medusa to here, an out of control contagion of not-goodness spreading, as it were, through the building. This, too, something I know well. But, then, too, in consideration of the material, and then the source of the material, a beauty parlor, I relate it to hair, and to, then, in horror movies, rupophobia, that is, the fear of filth, which has usurped the place of erotophobia as the grounding fear of our age (it replaced the former in about 2002), setting a new more physical-contagious model of the world that has not only made movies obsessed with filth coming up from plumbing or the like, but also I think has contributed to the neo-racism that has rolled the rock back in the country over the last fifteen years (this also having to do with the replacement of the Platonic mind-over-body, with the all-body, agentic-body, with its much more clinical view of itself, its much more frank espousal of its physical needs, and its extreme attention to details of body, resulting in an epidemic of both plastic surgery and body shaming, which, of course, brings race back into it in a way that would make “strength of their character” Platonists like Martin Luther King turn in their grave).

But, then, the primary signifier of ruphophobia is hair, so it is odd that Bradford makes use of elements derived from his life in hair styling. When I first saw the piece, and saw that after scraping away the plaster, he had as it were edged into the scrapes a substance made of the strips used in hair coloring, I was like, it kind of has a Ju-On vibe. Indeed, the Ju-on movies, starting in 2002, have had a major impact on spreading rupophobia, by way of fear of hair, or hirsutphobia, through America. I mentioned this in a post today


and the shot I was thinking of in particular was when the hair covers the ceiling, and pulls the two lovers up, hanging them


and we see that the hair is, in fact, a miasmic extension, contagiously polluting the world, of the haunting evil ghost (the counterpart to Bradford’s Medusa)


I also just coincidentally mentioned that Rachel Harrison also has an overdone wig expressing rupophobia in her current show at Greene Naftali




The trope even had a good work in a movie entirely contemporaneous to Bradford working on and installing his work, Rings (2017), where on the ceiling of the room of one of the girls that gets it from Samara, there is a spiral of black goo, a kind of processed TV static as miasma


and again


and it in no way bothers me that an artist and an art director are found to be working in a similar way on a similar or common trope, at present I continue to view this as a “remote quote,” since I think there is no chance Bradford was “influenced” by this, nor do I in any way assign creative originality to one or the other, and claim copying from one to the other, an irrelevant issue to me, unless obviously exploitational, no, there are tropes, both movies and contemporary art work in genre form with tropes, and it is what you do with it (in this case, while the room in Rings (2017) was pretty cool, Bradford beats it). That is as far as I will go, in terms of addressing this work from this angle, the purely bodily, but it does follow, Sirens, Medusa, hair snakes, hair styling materials, rinse, repeat, covers the whole world.

But, then, too, as one pauses in the site (for one is not dreaming, only walking through a simulation of a dream), one can step aside into an adjunct posture, and consider what it also means, this notion, scraping the plaster off a rotunda, replacing it with this swirling mass of organic material and color, in a political sense? Here, again, Bradford preferred not to overlook the fact that the strange little pavilion is modelled on public government buildings, which are modelled on temples, but put that information back in, and worked from there. And, in this capacity, the rotunda is a central place of petition, of intercession.

Of late, again, over the past few years, my mind has spent a good deal of time in the rotunda of government buildings. On an actual level, I have spent some time in the rotunda of The Nebraska state capital, I have written about how, though the unicameral seems oblivious to petition, it is as if the centrality and singularity of the building in the city has made of it a symbolic zone of petition and protest. It is there, that the Xmas tree is put, but there too that the congress loiters, preparing to enter the chamber. Last winter I made mention of a Betsy Riot protest at a ceremony to light the Christmas tree. And then earlier last year, and mentioned in review in March, 2016, I noted that UNL photographer Zora Murff had has some of his photographs placed in a place of petition in the lower lobby, to at least for the moment sharpen their petitional power. Also for Medicaid extension, a political issue with direct address to me



And on a broader level I spent some time considering the suicide of Marshawn McCarrell on the steps on the Ohio State Capital in Winter, 2016, as a bad sign for BLM, and its success up to that point in petitioning power by protest at capitals like that.



It is also part of my lore that the pictures in the Rotunda in the US capital have meaning, in particular the picture of The surrender of Cornwalllis, which I magically believe is controlled by Senator Suicide (Rand Paul) to, every time he passes another edict to restrict help to people (as when in December, 2014 he let lapse extensions to long-term unemployment help for millions), it turns into a black smoke that passes out as a megafigure into the country to knock on doors and tell people, it’s time to commit suicide.


we also saw some symbolic use of the Capitol during walkouts early in the Trump administration


there was also the great Pulphis picture controversy, also played out in Capitol space (a situation that in my view lead to the generation of crisis pictures, first CNN coverage of events in the hallways and corridors under the Capitol, now, in May, with the three-strike controversy (fires Comey, told secrets, asked Comey not to fire Flynn), the from-the-bushes views of the White House


For all of this, rotundas of public buildings mean something, and have, symbolically, for the past five or so years, been reawakened by growing concern that power at the state and federal level is no longer listening, and petition is faltering, and something must be done to counteract that trend. It is therefore uncanny that Bradford sought some way to give voice to the difficulty of giving voice from a minority position in such places. In particular, perhaps he asked, what kind of art could bespeak the inability of minority groups to receive adequate answer to their petition in these times? In ancient times, when you could feel the frustration building, at the gods not answering, people just resorted to making more abstract votives of nothing but ears, hear me, they cry



And Damien Hirst even referred to this problem of urgency by sticking an ear at random on a foot of an Apollo in one of the his surnamed god statues


This represents a displacement from representational petition, to simple call petition, but, what if there is an even more shrill and closer to the edge call, a nomos (as I theorized years ago), a deep cry from the heart, of a voice so long silenced  that it erupts as all but a natural force? How would that cry be visualized? Here, again, uncanny convergences. I read in De Quincy’s The Avenger that a Jewish serial killer kept in his upper middle class house one room in which, having fully appointed it with all the best in furnishings, and china and mantels and pictures and the like, he one day went into it and trashed it, and then he locked the door and one day every year he would go in and commemorate the fact that the temple was destroyed and the jews were expelled from Jerusalem, and by that commemoration gain strength anew to continue on, this then to motivate him in his evil work (his vengeance was based on his mother and sister having been lynched in town while he was away). The footnote to the edition I read said that De Quincy made this idea up but that there was a Rhineland tradition of Jewish homes scratching down to the bare wall a square patch of wattle and daub to remember the destruction of the second temple. De Quincey called the killer’s commemoration room a “chamber of desolation.” And this raises the issue that in addition to positive address to the god, there has always been a negative, or apophatic address to the god, an address effaced, or made in darkness. This is how I first posted about it


And if this is supported by a “negative mythology” (examples of which would be myths of curses and the like, Jews, the Irish too, gypsies, most peoples, in fact (there having been only a dozen or so true power peoples in world history over the past 3,000 years) all have negative mythologies, which work to explain their plight in the world, rather than build them up as the new gods of the world), and so a negative approach is allowable, so long as one is aware of the fact that this is not strictly speaking “negative” in a modern rational sense but “negative” in the “negative space” sense that the addressor has devised a manner of address that he feels most comfortable with, and most likely to gain response, given his position and power in the world. African American culture, ultimately derived by way of the blues and gospel by way of the Black Church going back to slave era culture, and the retention of African cult like voodoo and the like (and all witchcraft is, basically, a means by the powerless to redress their lack of power by inventing a nonobvious route to thinking they have some power, to psychologically keep themselves going) would be an example of such a tradition. For all this, then, another good idea, Bradford stripped off the plaster of the dome, to then replace it with what looks like a miasmic substance or stripping that occupies it as with an infection, not unlike hair or other black mold-like contaminations of sites, and return the dome into a cave or enclosure that shelters the needy as opposed to glorify the powerful. It does look like people got the whole grotto effect, too, as the pictures do seem to cower


Again, this is a kind of iconoclasm, and I suppose in a broad category Bradford’s address could be viewed as iconoclastic, in the tearing down of the plaster (scratching images off plaster walls was standard practice in many of the iconoclastic wars of the premodern era, you can still see scratched walls in the Hagia Sophia), but, I don’t entirely think it is that. The negation involved, to replace heroic presence, with a dark miasmic presence,  relates more to trying to symbolize the conflicted and beleaguered nature of petition than in tearing down the images of those in power, thus, the strategies mentioned above, to empower, by dark magic, the petitioner, seem to me more accurate.

A negating site like this also is meant to address some chthonic power, as, for example, pits and gorges, and the like, related also to Hephaestus, and for that also correspond to the theme of negative address. The apophatic device, here negation and subtraction, creates a suspense and a sense of fear and caution, commanding respect, and delivering one to a state of the uncanny, before coming to the cult event of the site.

Such not-so-much negation, as apophaticization of the site, seems to be a theme of address, calling attention to social ills, in social justice art of the time. Social justice art is often mistook as mere protest, but it is far more than making signs with catchy slogans on them for the purpose of protest. It is about understanding the frustrations of the people who are protesting, and their problems with address, then finding a way to represent that frustration, and protest in a way that brings that state to the fore to characterize address in that way. This does seem to becoming the style of the social justice subset of African American artists at present and Theaster Gates’ piece at the National Museum right now (May, 2017) showing the roof and parts of a Catholic church which left the inner city, and thus contributed to the unravelling of a Chicago neighborhood, is yet another example


And which I also compared to the type of commemorative strategy, but in a negative way, you would see in the highly agentic spaces of Greek temples (Pausanias describes a temple hung with the chains used to keep down an enemy; and then the hide of the Hercynain boar, so worn down by time it had exactly one bristle left on it). So, I see Bradford’s scoring subtraction of the heroism of the rotunda as evoked by unplastering as part and parcel with Gates’s display of slate as a slate wall when it once served as a roof to a church to offer some shelter and sanctuary to local residents.

And, then, finally, it would appear (again, I review entirely virtually, by way of video), that at last one simply comes out into a gallery that looks and serves as a conventional gallery for two large paintings by Bradford, which I suppose for this reason he is arguing were painted in deep REM state dream, or should be seen as what art looks like in that state. At present, on these individual works, I do not have much to say, however. Nor does the video at the end seem entirely necessary to me, it is almost as if Bradford, on second thought (waking up, then trying to explain the dream), wondered, are people going to get this? so had to dot the i’s with a more explicit political statement relative to the neighborhood (though I concede it could also representing a waking up from the dream of the inner exhibition)


Thus, I gage the agency of Bradford’s piece as a whole, and as a sequence, also informed by dream theory, and find in it some of the twists and turns that I most favor in review of contemporary art. It not only has agency, it has reagency. Then, it turns aside the power structure, and puts it at its shoulder, to create in the space a counteragency. It then dwells in counteragency and creates an uncanny aura at six pressure points, door, inscription, approach to Hephaestus, the oracle, the rotunda, the pictures, the video, to create a roiling compound agency which, if you feel it, means you have moved through votive-intercessional, apotropaic-cult, apotropaic-votive, and then intercessional-petitional compound agency, all of it, at all points, alive with felt purpose and engagement.

As a result of all this, I have no problem assigning to Bradford’s installation a map which records several displacements of modern rational agencyless address, replacing them with restored agency in four layers of intercessional address, with a votive out front, and an oracle inside, and a fearful and dour encounter with the power of life itself, in a dangerous moment, on the way in. This sequence is also, amazingly, logically reinforced by, apparently, an intuitive knowledge of dream theory, as the votive is conscious, then the guardian presses down in the entoptic state, the oracle appears as a lattice figure at the pause before the spiral into dream, the rotunda represents the spiral of the whoosh, and then, at the end of it all, the dream of abstract art. Is it is rejection of America? It might be, I do not know Bradford’s personal politics, or to what extent he has adopted what I see as the often misguided retrograde neoessentialist rhetoric of the African American left. But, from this analysis, no, it does not record as a negation of America, but as a plea to restore petition, it reenvisions America, as symbolized by the pavilion as an avatar structure representing the capitol, as a place where minority voices once again have petitional power, are listened to, do have representative power, and are able to reshape the debate so that that those increasingly circling wagons into in-group power cliques and cadres acknowledge what the world looks like from outside in, and act to redress their failings accordingly. Overall, it is call, a call for change, indirect and apophatic, but one that still has hope in it, withal. And what makes it “work,” in the sense that it touches one’s core humanity, in that it is addressed to a nonobvious cause, in a way that ritualizes the petition, to make it resound in the mind with hope of its realization. This intuitive approach to political petition contrasts with the crepitational petition of straight up politics, which really only works in politics, not in art.

For this, uncannily, I cannot help but like Bradford’s Tomorrow is Another Day, on a personal level because Bradford has ended up addressing just about every idea that I have been exploring in recent years, but, theoretically, most definitely because has created a situation rich with agency, and, therefore, alive with humanity, apart from all the ersatz artspam and artsploitation that one sees all over the rest of the Venice ritual. Though the debates in politics over the past few years has been glutted by rationalization and exploitation, and by line-drawing and wagon-circling, and therefore does much to devour itself in the expression of it, and my agentic approach, searching for the live wire of the elan or life force as it expresses itself, and itself through people, in the four basic ways, sometimes has put me at odds with the separationist and rationalized rhetoric of social justice petitioners, this roiled up atmosphere has characterized the zeitgeist of the country since at least 2013, and it lead, for better or worse, to the election of 2016, and, somehow, Bradford latched onto the cacophony, but found a way, by way of his painting, to work his way through it to keep it real and human. And for this, I consider Bradford’s piece, and not the piece by Anne Imhof in the German pavilion, which looks like more of the same (but maybe not, though I will not write about it), to be the best in show at Venice this year.