The Pensato algorithm: the long time coming of antiassimilationist after-pop painting.

Rev., Aug 20, 2013. Posted, June 14, 2019. RIP Joyce Pensato.

Back in the day, I did not grasp that to write about art to a general public audience you have to use short-cuts, or heuristics. So I used to joke about the way Michael Brenson of the Times would always place an artist by saying he or she was “a synthesis of abstract expressionism and Pop Art” or “combines the best elements of Cezanne, Erte and Yayoi Kusama.” I used to call this checkers “brensonize.” It serves to place an artist, but this language is by no means art criticism. It’s OK, I get it now, when you write for the public, its got to be radarish, but I don’t do that anymore. It strikes me, after a brief encounter with the work of Joyce Pensato, and Pensato is frequently brensonized by critics who aren’t sure what she is up to. The usual line is that she presents, well, as above, “a synthesis of abstract expressionism and Pop Art.” This is inadequate. So, let’s try to figure out the algorithm by which Pensato extracted from prior practice of others, an original art.

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Very briefly, Pollock laid down the platform, from which all expressionistic or gestural painting comes. His art at its prime included material, gesture, form, color and a time-element. In form, that would include the support and where it was located vis a vis the artist. Greenberg, to simplify, focused on the interlacing of form as, suppressing material, even exertional gesture, color, and the traditional easel-oriented time element, Pollock laid down a kind of purely abstract painting that flattened out space and was only for the eye. Then Greenberg watched in horror as Rosenberg’s interpretation of Pollock gesture first, as action painter, took over the critical debate, and artists began to emphasize the gesture, from which the form of paint mark was an expression, in a way which spiritualized paint (Greenberg does have a funny reading of how that equation deteriorated quickly into a dreary mannerism I think he called the Tenth Street Touch, in his later essay on postpainterliness). Both interpretations were still cult readings of Pollock. Whether focused on for his process (Rosenberg) or his end product (Greenberg), either way, paint was a mark that represented either the pure psychology or pure spirit and expression of the artist. In this way, the artist as primary agent of modern art was instrumentalized, and painting became, for a time, the mark of the self, of expression. Pollock’s action painting only animated painting in a new way, intensying the embodiment of the artist in the physical output in a painting.

Predictably, in human activity, the cult brought other ways of animating painting. There were other ways in which the work of art was found to embody the inner self. These are beyond the focus of this little algorithmic exercise. But then too the cult image has an animated energy that others seek to keep, so relics of painting also emerged (played with by Rauschenberg), objects, found objects, additions, constructions, that could be added into the mix, the paint now taking on, to encompass objects, a more material second purpose to involve or sink or fix or embrace these objects in the goo of paint that represented still the inner self, but more in the manner of a stick substance that sucks outside inside into a tissue or an organ. Sacrifice was made to this relic keeping, and relics too took on magic purpose, as extensions of the cult of the artist (Rauschenberg again). And then of course along came the iconoclasts to break up the cult. Johns proved that an expressionistic looking painterliness could be executed in a non-expressive way. Call it the Five Easy Pieces response to Expressionism, how beautiful, says Susan Anspach, in the movie of that name, 1970, I played the easiest piece I knew, I felt nothing, Jack Nicholson responds. And Warhol too picking up on the iconoclastic moment declared that to express oneself in a painting was too personal and ickily subjective, far better to only pay attention to the outside of life, the culture around us, and, this from Rauschenberg too, paint with readymades provided by the commercial environment.

While in Pollock, then, the drip represented the self, in a cult of the self, and was, then, to a certain extent spiritualized, or animated by the artist, almost like the whispering blood in the Japanese movie Ringu 2, in Rauschenberg it was just a sticky substance that fixed outer objects in a kind of in-between space, part self, part space responded to, while in Warhol the drip was mechanized into a printing glitch or color variation in another process. The drip of course went on to have a whole afterlife in painting, and then in the 1980s artists again discovered that painting itself was not a spiritual substance evoking an inner world of idealistic spirituality, but paint, a material used to cover houses and walls, a material signifier, contributing to décor, and, as Halley said, comparing painted surface to the stuccoing on the ceilings of motel rooms, a flat, meaningless stain made sense of only by what network or circuitry it was involved in.

The path through art history does not provide us with a clear way to see how Pensato got to her work. Better then to return to the idea that the drip served the cult of the artist, and go from there. If the artist is the cult god, then substances come in, for symbolic purposes, as part of ritual cult activity. The first liquid substance is water, used to purify the adorant, and even to wash the idol, both acts which make sacred the sacred spot inside the magic circle of the rite. If paint, then paint in art, is the ritual equivalent of blood, and we might as well say, since we are talking about genius and torture, blood, sweat and tears. In ritual life, blood only came into the ritual picture only during the later or often central act of cult, the sacrifice. This was an act which was done to expiate or appease the god. It is a votive response to the cult, but entailing a sacrifice not leaving a votive work of art to continue to pray for one and seek intercession from the god. The relationship between Pollock’s drip and bodily fluids has been explored many times, with some wrong conclusions. But let’s just say that that is what it is. Blood, then, enters into it when in sacrifice the offering is cut, shedding first blood, then when killed, spilling the blood, and then when done, the blood smeared about to demonstrate to the god that it was done, to seal the deal of appeasement, to convince ourselves that our expiation has been recognized, and to therefore signify to the attendants that the sacrifice was accepted. Blood can also be spilled about widely as well as an act of precautionary expiation, to say to say the spirit of the jungle we are sorry for our sacrifice but there will be only this one, to let the god know that this was done in respect, and is not a savage act intending to kill other its subjects.

And I have also found other uses of blood: based on rubrics of relations between the physical and spiritual linked to traditional understanding. In this system, life is a series of onionskins, to be peeled off, to get down to spirit. Thus, blood signifies an inner layer of self, so shedding it ritually is a way for the adorants to shed body and get deeper or closer to spirit, it is a way to break down the wall between here and there, to get closer to spirit, through a gateway of blood. This way of thinking of it is partly related ritualized approach of sacred space. The simplest example of this is the famous dance of the seven veils, originally, believed, in art legend, to be a ritual act done by an adorant as she approached the sacred place, through seven gates, each time removing an article of clothing, so that in the end she arrives before the god naked. Translate this model to the body itself, and body peels back to blood, etc., etc. (the gateway model also made sense of the hours, as in the Egyptian Book of Gates, and seasons, Halloween being, for example, a time of overlap of worlds after a period of converging gates). The main traditional task of bloodshow was appeasement, to show the god that we have sacrificed, do not, therefore, seek other sacrifice from us. It was also imitative magic, giving a living being was like impregnating nature, to ensure next year’s crops would be better.

There is also the danger that the adorant will become so entranced by the act of sacrifice that they will spill blood not in hope of expiation or appeasement, but to express a blood curse, or a blood feud, that more blood will be shed, in effect, this is reverse magic, the fetishization of ritual (see above). Another human use of blood is to make a bond, in blood brothership, also a pledge to shed blood for one’s brother, see Henry V, it has come to that. Blood sacrifice, there are variants.

Moving beyond that, there are other fluids spilled for other reasons. In baptism, water brings a child into the membership. The water is also a sign of new life. When a priest tosses holy water on you with an aspergilliam the splash is meant to bind you the community in blessing. Water taken from a font is also a blessing that makes you belong. In this capacity, a fluid is spilled to materialize shed grace. Other forms: shirts permeated with the sweat or blood of a cult object are relics, treasured as elements of the self. This can include keeping of dabs of forehead sweat on a napkin, another relic of the body of the hero.

Some strange bodily fluid rituals emerge in sexual practice, but to note that these customs change by generation. A generation ago it was apparently to prime goal of sexual feeling in male or female to feel the ejaculate splash inside the body of the conceiving woman. Today in the safe-sex era bodily fluids are suspect, carriers of sickness and disease, and unwanted pregnancy, so common, is horrifying, so what used to be called pollution, the spilling of ejaculate on the body of the female, not inside the female, as a form of contraception sometimes recommended by the church, described as the worst sort of sexual perversion by Hepburn in an Albee movie, in the 60s, is now not only recommended but has been cultured, by cult activity, so that, by making a ‘thing’ of a ritual that seemed gross some time ago, both man and woman will remember, anywhere but inside the vagina, thus the facial, the spilling of the sperm on the face or breasts or body of the woman, is now almost a ritual.

In the pop age, it is likely that paint represented spiritual elements of creativity either purely abstractly or as an agent of attachment of meaning, sticking an object to the web of meaning embodied by paint. Only after Halley did the spill of paint adopt the more literal metaphor of being a kind of extraneous bodily fluid, the equivalent of sweat and blood, if measuring effort, but also sweat and piss and also, again, blood from wounds, the equivalent of waste and damage. In this time, the bodily fluid metaphor then turned sinister, and was soaked in a new negativity about bodily fluids. No doubt the metaphor was then extended to refer also to sperm. As the age of sperm invisibly squirted inside the interior of vaginas, under sheets, out of site, was replaced by an externalizing age which had to see for itself that it was spilled anywhere but there, the metaphor of waste may well have overcome the famous Pollock drip. In the Age of Intercourse, fluid was seed, fertile, in the Age of Onan, much less productive, more pollutive. Thus the drip completed its morphing from being a modern expression of inner spirit and pure psychology, the very ectoplasm of one’s spirit, to being a postmodern expression of external bodily function and impure physiology. It is in this context, in a charge that, again, happened under the aegis of the literalization of painting by Peter Halley in the mid-1980s, that Pensato likely developed the idea that the old spill could be used in a new way to perform new rituals and express new ideas about the world beyond pure psychology. This is just a conjecture, Pensato is 70, she would have been in her 40s in the 80s, it’s possible. In any case, given this elaborate evolution, it is kind of absurd to relate Pensato’s spills to the drips of the abstract expressionism. It does not seem to relate, except as pictures are lined up in art history textbooks and connections made based on formal and visual rhymes between things that have little in common (and not even monographs and studies).

This devaluation and externalization of the drip was then given license to be about more than just the bodily metaphor by neoconceptualism. Neoconceptualism was about taking primary structures and deconstructing them to discern all the workings of cultural migration around them. In conceptualism there were primary structures, touching upon nature, in neoconceptualism, there is no such thing as a primary structures, all structures are cultured, everything is culture. When you reviewed a work of neoconceptual painting, for example, it was not just the painting, but the situation of the painting in the culture of painting and in the larger visual culture that you had to also take into consideration. Bad painting read as simply painting was just that, bad painting. Bad painting correctly interpreted by the broader cultural lens of discerning where the images in the painting had come from, how they had migrated from one art form, usually in popular culture, to another, in what 80s artists still thought of a redemptive high culture, was what mattered. It was this kind of migratory calculus that I repeatedly sought to put into words in my complex reviews for Arts magazine in the 80s and 90s, with limited success. Again, Pensato ‘s work only has meaning, was only given license for its extension of the drip as splatter onto objects and images of popular culture, by the algorithma of migration theory as applied to neoconceptualism. In this context, a few things. Pensato performed, it appears, three or four functions with her paint. She used it as the material basis for graffiti, which she painted directly onto walls. This is not done by accident. Her paint then is more likely the equivalent of spray can paint or any other spill of paint used to make public places. It is groundless, in terms of formalist painting. It is part of life, immediate, spontaneous, iconic. I have written of graffiti elsewhere, but one of the most interesting things about paint in the context of graffiti is that, in its microstructure, it is simultaneously two things, from two views, it is both an act of protest from the protestor, therefore, brave, meaningful, wonderful, and an act of vandalism, from its opponent, an ugly smear, a stain, a desecration. She then gave form to these splashes by doing up her own versions of pop culture icons in the very context of these mixed emotions. In so far as when she applied her paint to these icons she often reversed their meaning and in particular extracted from what appeared to be only their positive elements in their market lives a darker, more sinister undertone, she was exactly in keeping with the east village art scene, the neo-geo revision, the emergence of so-called post pop in 1986, as well as graffiti or street art, and bad painting. Think of the difference: Pollock was in a studio standing over a canvas laid reverently on that floor with a can of paint to lace lazily onto it the fullest easiest most fluid expressions of his body and its nerves as expressions of his inner self. Pensato was confronting a wall, straining, splashing, dripping, smearing it, reaching beyond her comfort zone at all times, to remake in darkness an icon from outside of her mind, but part of her popular culture, internalized to her reading of it as an artist. While Pollock created a cult image of himself, animating his spirit in action painting, Pensato was performing a personally meaningful act of icono-change to create something new of a prefabricated cultural image and at the same time using paint as a splattering almost vandalizing substance (not unlike the vandal who threw green paint on the Lincoln Memorial last month), to redirect and deconstruct and tear down the pure positive iconic meaning of that cult image, out there in culture, so that the resulting image became an expression of the space between it and her interpretation of it in culture. While Pollock was about soul, Pensato was about perception, Pollock about painting per se, Pensato about the culture around painting, in Pollock paint was spiritual, in Pensato it is physical and personal.

I have wanted to characterize all of Pensato’s painterly splashes, throws, spills, drips, drains, etc etc globally, universally, as meaning one thing, in all forms. I have wanted to write that Pensato’s actions all represent iconoclasm or cultural vandalism. But they also build up, as much as they tear down. Some marks are examples of paint being thrown in a vandalzing way on an icon, some marks are just splashes of excitement, expressive of the process, some marks are drips in the Pollock sense, it’s a mix. It cannot be pinned down. But, a few things, about their agency. The primary difference between Pollock and Pensato is that while for Pollock paint was an internal element animating the cult of the inner self, in Pensato paint is an external element for enacting various acts of votive, sacrificial, iconoclastic, and even apotropaic acts against the icons she has selected to darkly worship in depiction. Put in terms of an old Greek temple, Pollock used paint like a cult image zapping an adorant with a sign of his life and power, Pensato is the adorant making offerings of various sorts in front of the cult image. Hers by no means is a classic modern artist cult of the artist art. She is acting as a devotee of the culture at large, to comment on the culture at large.

p 2Some of her marks seem to want to besmirch and smear icons with paint, to desecrate them, they are iconoclastic, they are meant to mess them up. When you see paint splashed on a picture of Abraham Lincoln, it comes off as an insult, the act of the artist as an insult. But then other icons like a rubber statue of Daffy Duck, while it could be said that at first her splash of black paint on it was an insult, an attempt by an artist to bring an icon down a notch, as the splash adds up the strokes begin to change valency in midstream, they begin to reformulate the image, they seem to begin to spill onto the image in way that makes him almost seek the spill, to glory in it as a sign of devotion, at last the obscuring lacing of the spill becomes so meshlike that you like it to a spider web and when considering that the dripping was let build up and spread over all things in Pensato’s studio its clear that at its most extreme form the splash did escalate into a culture-making, nest-making, spider-web-spinning way to wrest the object out of wherever it might have been before, and make it part of Pensato culture, inside her web of splashing and spilling (in this sense I could liken it to the webbings that miasmatically create new beings out of pods or other cocooning enclosures in various expressions in horror movies).

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John Yau (Hyperallergic, February, 2012, re Petzel website artist’s page) very cogently described Pensato’s work in ethnic terms. As an Italian American of a certain age, she knows that her parents were lumped in with all Others and subject to insults in Anglo Saxon American mainstream culture. One might imagine, taking images from movies, the various ways in which outsiders were bullied, with things thrown at them, marked, splattered on, etc etc (these images will have to be collected, but they are many: including Carrie, splashed by a bucket of pig’s blood). In this context, the marks are remembrances of those insults, but, also, since Pensato has built the practice up into a countercultural nestmaking, a return and retribution against those marks, black paint to remember and mark but somehow expiate for or at least gain a sense of understanding of the marks.

p 5This is where I think Abraham Lincoln comes in, as otherwise Pensato’s attack on him seems to make no sense. Lincoln too was demonized as an Other by mainstream America (though he was, in fact, Anglo), accused of being a melungeon, a halfbreed, a n—lover, a logcabin hayseed, a monkey, a freak with acomegaly. He too was marked, so he too gains admittance into the negative pantheons of the stereotyped and otherized.

p 10I think then in the end Pensato’s markings are finally redemptive, in an odd way. She is an iconoclast, but in a sublimated way. She still pays homage, but her ritual has taken in some negativity, grounded in a fuller grimly realistic recognition of the migration of her own blood in American culture, the struggle by the immigrant to become an American, and she has shown to given physical form in a weblike sticky substance to acknowledge the insults, but reverse or own them as part of her culture, meaning that in the end what we really see in Pensato’s work is not Abstract Expressionism or Pop or even PostPop but the antiassimilationist pop art of an artist with a private culture with its own particular pantheon that projects a different view, given her ethnic background, a kind of invented history, if you will, of the culture, a private culture. And in that private culture the icons are painted, and marked up, and worshipped, but negatively, and the blood is spilled in the form of black paint, encompassing in it metaphors of bodily fluid, and the rituals are different, blessing, splattering, including, desecrating, remembering, resolving, offering an expiation of I’m sorries, in her own sort of black mass inversion of cult worship, to say a large and lasting excuse me to the pieties and dualities of the modern era.


Blood Delirium (1987), an inquiry into another possible case of ophthchthony, part 2.

Rev., November, 2018.

Note: This is part 2 of this analysis. Essay includes a few adult pics.

In the loco castle, things begin to go loco for Sybil. There is a little wrinkle about a picture of a friend of hers, but the next phase of the movie starts when she gets up at night, hearing a noise, and without robe cover, does a gown prowl to find out what’s what, she is quite uncovered

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and when she comes through the ambient light the ability of the light to silhouette of her private parts speaks to the fact that she is walking into the zone where her female self and soul is in serious trouble, this is a very old trope, used here again in a sexy way, a stripping bare

z 62in her search, she discovers in horror, the coffin with the skeleton of the wife in it, and the mask. She sees right away what it is, why he made it that way, what he wants with it, and what he intends to do with her

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so she runs

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but she is caught, and put to bed, and then given some medication, to help her sleep

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this rather interesting shot, which I have also seen recreated in Terror, and in She Woman, is a trope, woman in trouble in bed, the fact that she is in more trouble than even she knows indicated by a picture of woman in less clothing than she has on on the wall over the bed

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so, the problem is, as it always is at loco castles, that she wandered out her bubble or nexus of the problem in the house, to go poke about his side of the sickness, and then in shock discovered a leftover relic from his mad motive to make great art again, this alerts her in terror to what he has in mind for her so she spins out, in panic, to escape, only to then spin down the whoosh to go splat at the bottom of nightmare

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and while previously she had seen the loco henchman try to rape a local girl, so she sees in horror that he is taking care of her, it is at this point, the nightmare-splat point of the movie, where she suffers real crime, not twinfire, but rape. He sticks her with another needle, to put her out, she writhes, exposing herself

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she goes out, he touches her breasts, he is free to now, she is asleep, this is a sleep attack too

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and then in the movie’s most brutal moment, so typical of giallo, he pulls back the covers, and inspects her below. This results in a shot that does, indeed, expose her

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now, again, it is embarrassing to have to detail these moments, but when he lifts up her nightgown, we see that she sleeps in her panties, but, that the panties do not quite cover all the pubes that women then let grow around the top and edges of the vulva, and then in trope this level of exposure would signify both that she is entirely naked, ie stripped bare, though she never is; and, moreover, she is a dead woman (but she survives, so it does not quite signify what it ought to, and so is just straight up criminal (and cinematic) exploitation)

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and then he enters her body and rapes her. This accords with a false secondary rape theory in Italian movies where it is not so much the act of violence, as ascribed to in mainstream feminist thought, but a sexualized act, this is just a perv who has lost control of his sex drive and needs it so bad he will rape anything to get it, it is a loco castle trope, ie the henchman is always a perv rapist.

But, then, here is where the movie goes into the odd visualized dream sequence that I started with at the beginning, we literally now subdivide from her being on the splat stage, She is flat out at the bottom of the hypnagogic, but inside her head, her body lying as crashed  at the bottom of the whoosh, she passes through a nervous pattern signifying body shock at being entered against her will (also got from rubbing your closed eyes)

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then there is a mannikin head, with a bloody nose, which she sees in her “dream”

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and then as he comes closer in to her, disgustingly, she is not aware of this

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Though she might be. With this possibility comes the movie’s most delirious moment, she appears to be, from in her coma, gazing up at something, and it is a floor crawling with lizards and snakes, against a backdrop of a rococo ceiling

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it is quite the strangest concoction of a vision I’ve ever seen on film

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and then she sees maggots on bodies, horrifying her

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and then the snakes and lizards climbing all over her face

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and then, in a state of all but catatonia, some time later, she wakes up

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and, then, even more stripped bare, tries again another gown prowl, to get out

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only, I think, to be caught again.

So, what is going on in these delirium scenes? Where in the mind, does it exist? Let me try to work it out.

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first, just the simple visual optics of it. I think the wrinkling is the entoptic coming down upon her eyes; then the mannikin is an intuition of memory of his horrible project, as evidenced to her by what she saw of the masks, but, then, generalized to perhaps include her and her girlfriend, and others, for us; then, in the middle, the lizards represent just the awful suffocating claustrophobic amphibian nature of her being in the slip of space just below, or just parting the layers of the splat before REM dream, partaking a bit of an inflation by dream, for her to just scream to herself I am awake, but I am not, I am caught, but there is something up there happening which is terrible and I am aware of it. So, a special little slipstream state, I will call it the splat slipstream, the redoubt, a very light skim of visualization which can, in that state, visualize deep truth. (I will also call it Ophthony, because it is visualization, but, now, I have three side-effect spaces bounced off from the splat to nightmare, as mapped out here

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(the ulterior motive of this search is to explore substates of dream, in the hope of finding out exactly what horror movies theorized about “black out”, with the hope that this state, if it does have a visual dimension, and a model of its formations, could provide clues).

But, then, as to that, I also think the director gave some thought to have the elements of this weird drugged out dream state represent, as one folk theory of dream says, an internal visual record of the horror that is happening to the body all about and outside it as one sleeps. This would by embrasure put all the actions upon her up in the lattice in vigilogogy above, as the body left lying on the bed in the real world is now, from in a dream like this, imagined as being above the dream state (see also The Sandman (2006)); and then inside that lattice, the visualizations are scattered and scanned in ways that read them differently, so that the first crackling is a visualization of the horror of her body’s nervous system response to the fact that this monster is touching her body; the snakes and lizards is a record of absolute horrific disgust that this disgusting awful monster is not only licking her, and kissing her, but, ala the lizard, putting his penis in her, and then moving it around in a nauseating wriggle, even, then, to ejaculate into her, it is just absolutely horrifying. So it is excellent work that this bizarre scene captures that, and then the mannikin is just a wider appraisal and warning that she is just like the others, and if after this she does not get up and try to escape she will end up like the others.

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and in so far as in this reading of the sequence the simple hypnagogic readings are reread by casting them up into an awareness of her body above and around her, and that it is under attack, and that these things mean different things when read from inside out that situation, this IS, I think, a parallel to Ophthchthonic vision, even though it is not, strictly speaking, the eldritch formation

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Finally, this sequence surprises because of the impromptu, makeshift, concocted, “let’s try this” quality of it, a value that over time resolves into a certain crispness. Thinking along these lines, where did the idea come from? two things. One, on the superficial level, in shower or bath scenes, it is always creepy crawlers who invade, horrifying women especially, because, lore reports, women are “open” below. For that reason, the lore argues, nothing is more disgusting to a woman than the idea of a creepy crawler entering her. This idea of female anatomy being open below goes back at least to the third century, when early church fathers began to argue that women became possessed by demons who entered them from below (Ustinova). Two, this idea might have lodged itself in the unconscious of folk culture, as in Greek literature it goes back to Appollodorus’s version of the Minos-Pasiphae tale. There, Minos is punished by Poseidon for greedily keeping a bull that was given him for the purpose of sacrifice to thank the god, by making it that Minos could only ejaculate snakes, lizards and other creepy crawlers from his penis during intercourse, this then explaining why women he impregnated gave birth to monsters. When he tried to have sex with Pasiphae, she fed him some milkweed, which killed the curse on his ejaculate (Library of Greek Mythology, 100 Ad). In any case, a strange sequence

But, now, her added problem, having by this point gone past the point of no return, having been raped and almost killed, is that she has now dropped out of he artist’s mania, that is, the nexus breaks off, and he becomes entirely obsessed with finding a reverse engineered form of the failure of his system. And so we return entirely to his twinfire nexus, and in chasing after the moron henchman who then murders ANOTHER girl after he rapes her too, the artist shows his level of compassion by suddenly noting that red, this red, blood, is the color of life, THIS is what he has been looking for! and we are now dropped down into nightmare splat dream House of Wax negative space territory.

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and the graph, lower left

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and in this madness, it is victory, the color of life, he is penetrating painting again, he is a genius, he has become, by this inversion and negation of the positive forces of art, by an art that depends upon murder to make it work, become his hero, Van Gogh, so this splat is twinfire crash, the fusing of the twinness in one flame, which is a holocaust of the twins (all this possibly taken from Color Me Blood Red (1964))

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to make it clear that things have switched over entirely to his side of the madness, we get a screen wipe of Van Gogh, signifying in this movie that he has become entirely unhinged, and mad

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and, then, she, by contrast, has been sent into dream state, or death below dream state, replacing Christine in her glass onion coffin, lying in state, waiting for her blood to be used too, but now entirely sunk down, through the splat, sliding into the state of permanent nightmare

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then we have to whole rescue sequence, which corrects all this, breaking it down, bursting the psyhosis which holds the house in thrall, fixated on his genius-identification, his cult-mania

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down below the splat, in a dream stage, the movie has one final great poltergeisting, to end with one even better than the one that it started with, he is now gone minimal, to reduce all space between art and life to a direct, immediate, struggle to live, to get life

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and now for his punishment, acting as a Nemesis, the avatar fireball form of his ex comes swooping in as a poltergeist to blow things away

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and just in a general way, again, on the left, I will just say that she is swooping in for the third time in the movie, first time introducing Sybil to her psychic receptive state; second time warning her, trying to block him from taking her into his obsesive state; third time, having had enough, killing him

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and the really good part of this is that in an REM dream state the objects fight back, they take on agency and come at you, apotropaically, so the canvas now bleeds at him

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this, then, wonderfully, causes the eyes of all the paintings in his studio to start to bleed too, meaning they are posssessed by her and her dismissal of his means of being an artist

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this is fun, implemented painting, painting weaponized, in the REM state

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and, then, one painting, remarkably, originally, as I have only seen in the dream sequence of Rosemary’s Baby, it bursts into flames, as if the flames of the picture  become real, the art to real-ize, rejecting its status as art, to reaffirm life

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the paint even, under the effect of heat, bubbles out of eyes

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the poltergeist, repeating a scene I have only seen to this extent in the Italian version of The Exorcist, to blow all the art off the walls

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For all the art to go flying

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even his new work, all destroyed for his crime against art and its relation to life

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and then, to top it all off, out of the portrait of Christine, comes a special fireball of light with his name on it, to attack him in a much more direct manner

z 107

and Christine now appears as a face in her portrait, to reject the twinfire that he has created, to deplore his finding a reincarnation of her

z 109

so she zaps him hard

z 110

and bounces it off pictures of others girls he killed to make illegitimate art

z 111

showing her face

z 113

turned into a memento mori, but reading, remember this was a fake art, built on a death

z 114

and now the red eyes of passage come again, previously I conjectured they passed from the zone of vigilogogy to hypnagogy, now I posit that they pass from the realm of REM state dream to pure death, the seventh gate of hell, below, beyond

z 115

and then with remarkable insight and targeting this poltergeist shock takes off his ear, so that he can have the same suffering as his idol, if he wants to be mad Van Gogh so much, take that

z 116

killing him for his cult of his idol, and getting caught up in a mad state of twinfire where it all goes bad

z 118

and then all is resolved, Sybil gets out, Chrstine says goodbye, she goes on living. So, this is what I have come up with. I find that the movie has a great deal of vertical vertiginous movement, that it does move from vigilogogy into hypnagogy, that its movements there are intensified by the formation of a few nexi wherein one state of twinfire feeds or opposes another, causing lots of back and forth; but then that at last she IS, in fact, splat down into total nightmare, she suffers a rape for it, during it however she has a vision of the situation, through an inner-upward ephialtic gaze that jumps up to her body awareness, to then see what is happening to her through the body, and that this gaze DOES seem to bear some resemblance to ophthchthony (though seems a little too messy to correspond exactly to the Eldritch formation, so I don’t force it); but then things switch back to his obsession, she is downgraded, and it is him that experiences in the end, driven there by his nemesis, the source of his twinfire, Christine, to die in the cult of Van Gogh as both a mad and dead artist without an ear, the end. As a result, though, this is another movie which has some very interesting ideas about the kinds of visuality that occur inside the head and the degree to which it seems to have pioneered an inner perception of imagery in the splat splistream space just touching on nightmare, to then jump up to body awareness to read it all over again, it is quite good indeed.

Blood Delirium (1987, Italy), an inquiry into another possible case of “ophthchthony”, part 1.

Rev., Nov 15, 2018.

The goal of this essay will be to the try to place the strange vision-within-a-vision that Sybil has, in Blood Delirium (1987), when she is drugged, while being raped, it seems she is, though “out,”that is, unconscious,  still experiencing some form of interior visuality, in the delirious form of what look like sightings of snakes and lizards crawling around above her in the entablature of a large castle room.

z 1

it is a truly delirious moment on screen, and my focus will be on identifying exactly where they placed this moment in the context of the overall hypnagogic visuality of the movie. Since I have begun to delve into the dynamic agency formations of deep hypnagogy, where one studies the sequences by which visions are had, in a dynamic way, I have been surprised by the fact that movies, even b-movies, seem to have actually tried to work this sort of thing out as a form of visual wisdom. In Bethany (2017, I think), there was a moment when she was in the hospital in delirium, and it was only at that moment, double-helixed into her nightmare, that she saw the truth; there is also a moment like that in Still/Born (2018), and, again, however thrilling it is for me to devise a map to situate these moments where they are, I am also amazed, how do they know all this? In any case, my abstract model is of the “Eldritch formation”, a dynamic agency state of seeing through shock into the truth of dream, which can only be got to by two ephialtic leaps out of nightmare, then body paralysis, then comes the ophthchthony, to see through

z 2

thus, 1) you are dreaming, but then suffer a fall down the spiral whoosh to go splat at the nightmare point, to then ephialtically bounce up, to then grab hold of the lattice in an altered state of consciousness, more aware, but, importantly, still asleep; then, 2) you go looking again, and since in this sleep state you are more invasive, you see more, but, still, it recoils, and you bounce out, only, this time, you bounce out to conscious vigilogogy, you are “awake,” but still sleepdrunk, you feel like your body is asleep, but the sign of your awakeness is that you are sweating, and in that state you can then 3) peer down through the remembrance of those dreams, to then 4) see through them to the truth, though there can also be dysfunctions down at the splat too. I do not hold all real movies to this abstract model in its fullest form, movies are made intuitively, and they do their best based on admiration and emulation of other scenes they have liked in other movies, so the loopings can work out in a bit more compressed, and not best practice form, but, still, I am interested to see where they place theabove sight. So, that is the goal of this paper. Sybil, while she is drugged, while being raped, nonetheless experiences a visual element of delirium, the question is, in the big picture of the movie as a whole, where in her mind does this horrible vision-in-a-vision take place?

To work out the whole visuality of this strange movie, then, is the goal. Things start off with twinfire, in the context of grief. So, grief as a state of mind is a missing, an alienation, an emptying out. If having what you had is a good thing, its loss is a bad thing

z 3

This is what John Phillip Law experiences, a successful artist who had thrived by creating a modus operandi that relied on his wife being his muse. But now she is dead. That is, in terms entirely of his art, he had built for himself a method that worked. As artist, he was inspired by Christine, she allowed for herself to be muse, he painted, together they fed the cult of the artist and lived their comfortable castle life. But, then, a greater cult came in against him, she died. In dying she also dismantled the entire structure of his method, he had lost his muse as well as his wife, so his art stops, and he begins to suffer. But, right away, at her funeral, there is a problem. His boorish henchman actually tries to have physical contact with the dead wife

z 4

and the artist is repulsed, but maybe because he has those impulses too

z 5

this is signaled demonically by the fact that when in the loft he is playing deliriously on the organ, there is a copy of God and Adam from the Sistine ceiling on the ceiling, I would call this rather a quote of its demonic version in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), than a direct quote of Michelangelo

z 6

soon, he cannot work, it goes on. Some time later, he gets desperate, they exume the body, now a skeleton

z 7

then, extremely creepily, with roots in effigy creation in Italy going way back, they adorn the skeleton with Christine’s nightgown, and then make a rubber mask for her, and then they bring her back into the studio, for her to sit and play for him, to inspire him again

z 9

and when she sits,

z 10

and tries to play,

z 11

he tries to make it work, painting

z 12

but it does not, and it does not because the cult does not work by way of effigy, it needs flesh and blood, so the mask comes off, the skeleton spins around at him, Christine, superimposed as a ghost, now laughs an evil laugh at him, how ridiculous you are !

z 13

and he tears up his work, in frustration.

z 15

so, what he has attempted here is a reagent regrouping of his lost culture. To do this, he must erase the negatives, and this he does by 2) countering the loss with a superstitious belief that it was the method of her playing the piano while he worked, and her presence, that inspired him in his art, an abstraction of the reality of his art that he feels he can recreate. And, then, to make that counterreality of dream real, he 3) reverse engineers back to life his wife by taking her skeleton, adorning it and masking it, to make it her again, then to have a tape recorder play her playing the music, and then that will restore his method and 4) in that reverse agency state, he will experience a rebirth of his art

z 16

the problem is, in his countering, reimagining his art as being the result of a fetishized method, he has mistaken it for the full reality of art, and for that reason, it all fails. This leaves him vulnerable again (dotted line).


z 17so, he is spiralling down four stages of disappointment, and growing desperation, departing reality, losing his mind

z 18

I guess I would locate these four downward spins in the core space of his mind, but in vigilogogy, that is, he is awake, but, he has jumped from the full agency of waking state art-making over into a half-asleep all but mad state of vigilogogy, and the narrowing device that casts him in this space, as suggested by the original focus strictly on his method, then it recreated by countering his grief with the use of the exumed skeleton, is that he cares only about his art, and the part his wife played as muse in his art, and not, in fact, about his wife. His failure to see that this is what he is focused on is what condemns him, and casts him down further and further.

z 20

but, then, the movie has a built-in figure-eight figure, to counterpoint his struggle, Sybil, who is a lookalike, at her younger age, of Christine. She, a complete stranger, also is lead into his state by living herself in a rather dreamy state, believing in occult things. She is drawn into the mysticism of the movie in the first scene. She comes home for the night, but her apartment poltergeists around her. The piano starts playing by itself

z 21

the lights swing

z 22

there is as if a spirit in the room, and the camera is swinging around, to capture its presence (not unlike the spirit entry moment in Twins of Evil )

z 23

the clock is turned to the side, disorienting her and us from normal time (an effect similar to one in Disconnected (1984) )

z 24

even the pictures take on a more pointed quality as place from where the spirit is coming, as she spins past them (this, then, like their use as well in Devil Fetus (1987)

z 25

and it turns out a voice is speaking to her, a voice from the future. It is not her, but it is her, it is some sort of partner, a part of her soul, but separate, she is confused and scared

z 26

so, very much in the manner of the simple binary devices in 1940s movies, like Dark Mirror, and others, the ghost poses the situation as a effect, two candles are lit

z 27

then she asks Sybil to hold them together, two flames become one soul, that is how one soul can be shared by two people

z 28

she rather surprisingly argues that two people can have the same soul, share the same soul, they can be apart from each other, even living different lives, but have the same soul (this would then support soul mate theory); so, this is a twinfire theory, as yet not played out as twinfire, but it certainly sets up the fact that she already floats in a vigilogogic state suppored aerobically if you will by Ambient and Sentient experience as given her by the appearance of a kind of oracle from the future, so she is awakened as a spirit open to intuition.

z 30

now, as a person who is floating on Ambient and Sentient signs, trying to fill in the wisdom of the twinfire formation of the candles, she then encounters a brochure from his show, and thinks she should go there; and, then, one day, when they are driving home by another way, she is surprised her current boyfriend took that way, but, then, awakened by the intuitive sense of it, because it turns out that way brings them right by his gallery, right at the time that he is having an opening

z 31

She goes in. And, with that, the artist treading water, trying to take compliments for work that is not his best, he sees her, and she officially gets caught up in the dangers of his twinfire, that is, he sees her as a reincarnation of Christine, and believes in reincarnation, and not as, who she is, Sybil, a bad situation for a person to be in

z 32

His mental world now clashes with her Sentient world, they square off against each other, and because in his gaze he fixates on Christine being gone, but now being returned to him by this lookalike, a twinfire state nexus is created between dead Christine and living her, much to her surprise and danger

z 33

in this shot he is on his side of the nexus reassuring himself by a point by point comparison between the woman in front of him, and his portrait of his wife, that it IS her back; while she is in front of him, closer to the picture, and cannot believe that she looks just like a woman he painted, meaning following her primrose path of intuitive occult coincidences, she is intrigued enough to want to explore where this is taking her, maybe to new love

z 34

It is when she responds, to go up to the castle, that, I think it can be said the movie drops down from vigilogogy in the real waking world into full on hypnagogy in the light dream world, with most of the effects after this taken from hypnagogic effects.

z 35

The crossing of that gap can be symbolized by the fact that just at this point, coming up to the castle, a Sentient Ambient force, her voice and then white flashing orbs, attack him, casting up a cloud of fog too, he asks, what’s this? what this is is the movie entering into the delirium of a dream state marked by twinfire,

z 36


but while it meant to block him

z 37

and like a Nemesis laugh at his pretentions again, and his violation of her memory by trying to reincarnate the method of his art by using people

z 38

with I think the red eyes used as a new and special device to indicate we are entering into dream state

z 39

(this is actually an odd form. In real life, flash makes the eyes of photographed people go red. But what seems to be happening here is the effigy of her form created by him with her skeleton and a mask, is being seen through by her spirit, but it cannot see through as the orb so it as it were creates momentarily for itself a mannikin form of herself to with red eyes see through. I am going to for now argue that this form, devised by the director, or whomever, is meant to announce the entry into hypnagogy, being hypnotized, in the vernacular, by the twinfire, and so it literally, graphically, represents their new sick relationship to each other, and I suppose the fact that it will lead to blood is what makes it red eyed, and then it is mannikin unreal, that is, working with trophies and not real people, because it is a dream relationship based on two bypassing fantasies

z 40

and then movie then does a whole screen wipe with the light of the warning spirit

z 41

and, then, as it were, it gives away the fact that he has been in the business for a while of killing girls to make paintings of them, or maybe this is a premonition of the other girl killed for a painting of her with her very pronounced boob and sharp balloon-popping nipple

z 42

but then the compulsive, inescapable drive of this twinfire is expressed by the fact that the spirit having attacked him, to block him, in fact, only creates a dramatic circumstance, almost of a magic sort, that brings her to the castle, and into his life; and since for her her experiencing that is a repeat of the opening scene of the movie that also convinces her, this is the path I must follow

z 43

so, we get to the castle, but something is off. We have, right away, the studio visit, and the art is a weird frame-shop hanging of a hodgepodge of Van Gogh copies, and other paintings, here are the potato eaters

z 44

and then bizarre fever dreams which strongly indicate that he has been being haunted and tortured by the Christine orbs of oracle zapping at him. This painting seems to depict a Chinese dragon coming out of the body of a contorted woman who seems to have a head full of blonde hair coming like flatulence out of her ass, crawling on the beach, under a volcanic sky, a strange white bat at sea coming in, my god

z 45

the movie has a laugh out loud moment when she notices the Van Gogh element in the hangings, and remarks as to having heard at the opening that he was influenced by Van Gogh, and he exclaims “I have loved him since I was a child!” with the portrait of Van Gogh right there

z 46

And then she says, “I can see it in your work”, the movie to then give us this close-up

z 47

a LOL moment, followed by more of his tortured Sentient outpourings

z 48

and then kind of Michelangelish Latin American surreal sweeps of suffering people

z 49

surreal ghosts, of the 40s figurative expressionist generation

z 50

but then, now and then a commissioned portrait

z 51

and a picture of his ex

z 52

over which they then discuss the weird coincidence that she looks just like her, and here again she brings up the supportive twinfire theory of the movie, two flames in one, one soul living in two bodies apart from one another, which he entirely agrees with. Altogether, it is a strange studio visit. But the main problem in the movie is that within that circle of painting, we find out two ugly plot developments. One, he is also mad with a second condition of twinfire, and that is that he worships, and even barbers himself to be a new Van Gogh, he wants to copy him and be him,

z 46

and, then, by conversation, by being there, by validating his fantasy, she acknowledges that she looks like Christine, and that it is strange, and, in the romance of the moment, even repeats her romantic twinfire theory to support the situation, and maybe flirt with him, so she has walked right into it. The issue is that the twinfire formation having previously been addressed in a loose way, now has descended into hypnagogy, or hypnosis, if in waking life, and in the castle it settles down at the level of the lattice, his absolute obsessive attempt to be the twin of Van Gogh, on his side; and then her conviction that maybe she is the reincarnation of Christine on her side, and both are lattice-fixated obsessions of a much deeper, heavier and graver quality, which is even more dangerous

z 54


very soon afterward, invited to stay, she is made to feel quite uncomfortable by the fact that he lays out on her bed one of his wife’s old dresses, for her to wear to dinner, and he also has secret access to her bedroom so he can watch her get all dolled up, and even do her hair up like his wife did it, but Sybil is, this scene shows, at first, uncomfortable with this

z 55

but then caught in the grip of an even more extreme, heavier, intenser form of acted out twinfire, more active than her just looking at a work of art, the power balance shifts to his obsession taking over hers, to be Christine

z 56

then, even worse, so again he is making the same mistake all over again, and we can bring down the vigilogogic breakdown of his former art culture, to superimpose it on his mad attempt to recreate it without the same means,

z 57

he puts her right to work the next morning, posing in the studio

z 58

but it does not inspire him, which is about the worst thing you can say to a prefeminist woman in an artistic context, so she takes it in hand by then going to the piano to literally impersonate his dead wife, to become her, at the piano

z 60

but it, too, does not work. It does not inspire him, he says he can’t get into and penetrate the canvas, he is stuck on the surface. The failure of this attempt to recreate his modus operandi again in a dream state is what sparks the crisis of the movie, the descent to pure nightmare. This is when a movie about an artist becomes a horror movie about a mad artist. See Part 2.