The House is Bad

I haven’t updated this blog in forever but that will soon change. And what better way to start than by sharing with you all the new issue of OneplusOne Journal, Occult, Magick, Evil and the Powers of Horror. Vol II, that includes my essay The House is Bad. I wrote this essay ages ago and it explores houses in the films The HauntingHouse of Usher, and Burnt Offerings that aren’t haunted but are, instead, evil by birth. Touching upon subjects I’m very interested in (space, place, and horror), I’m thrilled to have the first concretized bit of writing from me on the subject is finally published. 

An excerpt is included below but I encourage you to read read the entire issue (downloadable here) because it includes an interview with Graham Harman on H.P. Lovecraft and the horror of politeness in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, amongst other stellar reads. Good stuff.

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Cinema was born with a house that was bad. In the late 19th century, George Méliès not only laid the foundation for moviemaking but he also established the association of horror and the home with his fantastical short, The Devil’s Castle (1896). Over one hundred years later, the idea of the “old dark house” remains unshakable; the recent phenomenal critical and commercial success of James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) is but one example of audiences desiring classic ghostly interventions within the familial space. But while the ubiquity of the house as a site from which spirits, psychotic murderers, and demonic forces come forth is genre commonplace, there are a select few films that expound upon the house itself as being evil.

So, what is an evil house? The evil house is considered here as Deleuzian/Bergsonian durational space, one that exists in a temporal status where there is a collapse of pasts and presents, interior and exterior, memories and events. The beginnings for a bad house lay in its construction; the time in which all of the above became embedded into its foundation or, as Roderick Usher says, the house contains, “every evil rooted within its stones.” In the bad house, the horror is unseen. It is not a portal for ghosts nor is it the manifestation of awful historical events. It is a vibrant living being born and transformed from wicked environments that systematically lure, destroy, and, occasionally, protect its inhabitants. Read the rest…

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I’m pretty excited about this. I’ve been asked to put together a film program in conjunction with Mike Nelson’s exhibition Amnesiac Hide at Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. It’ll take place on April 2nd and I’ll be there for a chat about film, the apocalypse, and architecture. Description is below…

Keep Moving: Objects and Architecture in the Apocalypse

Inspired by Mike Nelson’s concurrent exhibition at the Power Plant, Keep Moving: Objects and Architecture in the Apocalypse is a film program of works that use objects and architectural environments as tools to give voice and visibility to the unimaginable. Keep Moving is sculptural cinema featuring Richard Lester’s 1969 surrealist post-apocalyptic farce The Bed Sitting Room preceded with artist films by Aïda Ruilova, Aldo Tambellini, and Elizabeth Price. The program provides a reflection of how objects and space define the void-like world that is in relation to the end of all things. Similar to the “semblance of atmospheres” generated in Mike Nelson’s immersive installations, these films are a pivotal way to address the past, access the present and consider a possible future world.

(Full essay coming soon)

The Trumpets of the Apocalypse – Luis Bunuel

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“The trumpets of the apocalypse have been sounding at our gates for years now, but we still stop up our ears. We do, however, have four new horsemen: overpopulation (the leader, the one waiving the flag), science, technology, and the media. All the other evils in the world are merely consequences of these. I’m not afraid to put the press in the front rank, either. The last screenplays I worked on, for a film I’ll never make, deal with a triple threat: science, terrorism, and the free press. The last, which is usually seen as a victory, a blessing, a ‘right,’ is perhaps the most pernicious of all, because it feeds on what the three other horsemen leave behind.’ – Luis Bunuel from My Last Sigh (page 251-252)

Familial History (Sculpture, Film and Horror): a Q&A with Darren Banks

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Darren Banks explores familial and technological histories through the integration of a filmic and sculptural language. Incorporating all the things we love here at The Girl Who Knew Too Much – cinema, horror, science fiction, darkness – Banks’ installations, videos, and drawings cull from an interest to seek out the possibility of what imagery can contain and produce. I’ve done interviews with Banks before and have worked with him on projects such as The Palace Collection, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, Empty Distances, and his recent Palace ProjectsOur latest discussion stems from his recent work stemming from his relative (horror actor, sculpture) Churton Fairman/Mike Raven. 

Untitled_NVprojectsCC: Your previous works have concentrated on reading film through a sculptural language whereas the Evermore installation focuses more on sculpture being presented in cinema. I’m thinking of both the references to Churton Fairman/Mike Raven’s horror film history and the animation of his sculptures through manipulated film techniques. Can you discuss your interest in the image of the sculptural object in this project?

DB: My intention was to explore the relationship between Churton Fairman’s work as a horror film actor and sculptor, within the context of my own practice.  So this new body of work started with a formal idea to apply cinematic editing techniques to a series of short films of sculptures by Fairman. The original footage was shot in the 1990s, and shows the wooden carvings slowly revolving in black space. The plan was to use editing techniques commonly found in horror film as a set of rules that would change the character of each sculpture. I started experimenting with a dolly zoom (Jaws, 1975), jump cut (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1962), double exposure (Vampyr, 1932).

However, once I began making the work, I started to think not only about the way editing could affect the object, but also how elements from Churton’s past life could effect or haunt his sculptures.

I used Aftereffects to create more elaborate work: Radio Vibrations is a sculpture that’s physically affected by radio waves/sound/music; the sculptural vignette Talkie depicts two figures in conversation taking on the roles of Churton and his interviewer discussing the history of pirate radio; Beta Blob is a metamorphosis into itself referencing the transformation of Fredric March in Dr. Jeckyl / Mr. Hyde (1931), or Landis’s werewolf. 

For me, probably the most effective and poignant sculptures were the simplest, such as Pirouette a two-sided spinning sculpture that I sped up until both sides merged into each other. Through this very simple technique a new image/object is created, where Churton’s and my sculptures both exist at the same time, each with their own individual meaning, simultaneously moving and static. In Match-cut two seemingly unconnected images flicker from one to the other creating an uncanny optical illusion of a looping whole. 

By simplifying the effects I could start to understand how movement affects an object, and how movement enables you to perceive a three dimensional object within space. The loop, spin and repetition are all integral to understanding the form of an object. Essentially movement gives the illusion that a 2D image is a 3D object, and this is how film can become sculpture. I think it’s helped me to get closer to my intention to try and make sculpture out of film.

DiscipleofdeathCC: There’s a displacement of the original sculptural image in this work. I’m particularly interested in how implementing movement onto static images evokes an uncanny image, one that makes an inanimate “dead” object come alive. This, of course, implies a strong connection to the horror genre. Can you comment on this and on your/Raven’s relationship to horror film?

As a sculptor I have always been interested in this idea, essentially my move into filmmaking was an extension of the need to create movement within the inanimate object. This is the point where I come back to my early film Interiors (2005); I’ve always be fascinated by how horror films can create an emotional charge by their use of lighting, sound, camera work and architecture, giving objects life through atmosphere and tension. For me the way that horror film layers these effects is very sculptural – where a slow tracking shot moves around architecture, mapping the space to create suspense.

I recently went to see Dario Argento at the BFI where he used a scene from Tenebre (see clip) which, for me, is the prefect example of this layering of effect.

Churton Fairman AKA Mike Raven was always Dracula, never Frankenstein, so I’m not sure what he would have thought about bringing inanimate objects back to life; although I’m told back in the day he did have a signed Aleister Crowley book so maybe he would have liked my tin pot alchemy! There are even rumors of Churton practicing the black arts but I think that was just hearsay (or part of a PR campaign when he was trying to make it as a British horror film actor). On a side note I was very impressed to find out that one of Mike’s favourite films was the Witch Finder General. It’s a brilliant film and I’m also big fan of Michael Reeves, a very talented director whose early death cut short his promising career.

To my knowledge Mike only starred in four horror films (Lust for a Vampire, 1971; I, Monster, 1971; Crucible of Terror, 1971; and Disciple of Death, 1972) but I really like that, there is something intimate and focused about his small cannon of horrors. The film that really stands out, and I think is relevant to your question, is Crucible of Terror, a film that I know you have already written about on you website. It’s a kind of 1970s English Bucket of Blood, where Mike plays an obsessed artist (looking for perfection) who killed a woman by casting her in bronze whilst she was still alive. Unfortunately the film seems to fade into a weird revenge ‘who done it’ movie as each of the characters start to get bumped off! – but that doesn’t matter, there are some great scenes of people being killed by art and for art, as well as the sculptor at work, a gallery private view and so on. Apart from the literal references to art and horror the film really resonated with me because of how it seems to fit into narrative of Mike’s life, in that he became an artist many years after playing the character, so the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, not made up but just part of the serendipity of life.

CC: Back to objects, similar to your previous works the monitors in Evermore and The Object Echo are a visible component to the installation. Is it important to you to reveal the relationship between technology and the image? Between what is producing the image and the image being produced?

DB: I think these two shows serve well in answering that question. For me there has always been a close connection between the image and how its displayed, and the technology usually becomes an integral part of the assemblage of the sculpture; but my recent works using projectors have made me think about the how the object/ film can exist without the cube, and within different architectural structures.

I really enjoy getting my hand on loads of old clapped out CRT monitors from Baltic39 for The Object Echo to recreate the sculpture’s storage shelving at the Fairman’s house in Cornwall. In that sense it felt more about the physicality of how the work was displayed and what the film was displayed on. The use of Cathode Ray Television monitors was very important, not just as an aesthetic choice, but to display the film in its correct format as it was originally shot for TV. In fact here is a link to Curator William Copper blogging about CRT monitors in relation to my show. 

In contrast Evermore at Workplace felt more focused on the sculpture and the effects that I placed upon them, it was good to take the films away from the TV and scale them up to look at the objects relationship to the gallery architecture. It felt like the monitors took second stage, as these small spinning objects became more like weird monumental totemic signs. There was less emphasis on Mike Raven and more on my process of making. 

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CC: Considering your interest in horror, it’s incredible that you’re related to someone associated with classic British b-movie horror films. How did you become aware that Mike Raven was a part of your family and how the documentary footage wound up in your possession? What do Raven’s and your family think about this project?

It all started with my Mum, she was working on her family tree with her second cousin; after along conversation about our extended family it turned out I was related to a radio DJ, Horror film actor and sculptor named Churton Fairman (aka Mike Raven) who died in 1997. My Mum knew about my interests in sculpture and horror and thought I’d be interested in Churton. I’d never heard of him before, but after spending a bit of time researching online, it was easy to see that he was quite a character who led a very complex and rich life: here was a guy who loved blues and RB music who left his life as a Radio DJ to become a Horror film actor (going on to work with the likes of Lee & Cushing) then leaving all that and moving to Cornwall to become a sheep farmer and sculptor. His obituary in the Independent reads like a fairytale. 

After my initial research I started to think about his life and our similar interests, but I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I started collecting his memorabilia, and from that point I’ve been a kind of fan collecting programs, records, dvds and posters from all the different parts of his life. It wasn’t till a bit later on that my Mum mentioned the documentary and that for the later part of his life he was very active carving wood and stone. It turns out that in the early 1990s with help of a friend, he made a documentary about his life as a sheep farmer and sculptor and its been sitting in a box unedited on beta tape at the family home in Cornwall for about 10 years. So I decided to visit and have a chat with my cousin, which led to her giving me the documentary to work with in anyway I saw fit, so with the help of LUX who digitized all the footage for free (thanks LUX), I was able to make a new body of work and also finish the documentary.

Mike RavenCC: What are you working on next? Do you plan to continue exploring the Mike Raven’s history in further works?

DB: At the moment I’m attempting to finish editing the documentary about Churton’s later life as a sculptor, which I hope to finish by early next year. I’m also working with Ele Carpenter to get one of the sculptures placed within a museum collection. It would be my homage to Churton to ensure his work is preserved for the future.

I’ve started to think about my work outside of the confines of horror and horror film, revisiting ideas about collecting and archives something which has been apparent through a number of different projects and working process’s which have involved collecting large amounts of film footage/images and objects, appropriating them into sculptural assemblages and film montage. From working with Churton’s documented life to the reassembling of museum objects for the Backwater exhibition in Northampton and of course my ongoing work with Palace Video Label.

But yes – I do see myself working with more footage from the documentary and I intend to look at different aspects of his career in more depth. I think if you bring together all the different elements of Churton’s life you start to see a contemporary figure and that is what I find most fascinating. I’d also like to revisit his horror film and present a film screening of his back catalogue, and favourite films.  

I’m currently finishing an online curated project called the Annotated Palace Poster Project where I’ve invited 15 artists to produce a poster for one the 15 films that make up the Palace Collection (a small library of horror films on the Palace video label). The posters are by the likes of, Jamie Shovlin, Michelle Hannah, John Russell, Flora Whiteley plus many more. The images will eventually sit alongside 15 short texts by artists and writers in response to the original films in a Palace Projects publication. The texts are all really different by people like Gilda Williams, Ben Fallon, Lorena Muñoz-Alonso etc. It’s been great to work with such interesting people, and the next step is to bring everything together in a publication.  

Exhibition Image Credit:
Untitled, NV projects, London
Wooden Sculpture Courtesy of Mandy Fairman
Photo Credit: Peter White

Five Questions on Horror & Architecture: AIDA RUILOVA

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Artist and filmmaker Aida Ruilova provides the first set of answers to a series of questions about horror and architecture The Girl Who Knew Too Much is asking artists, filmmakers, curator, and writers.

Five Questions on Horror & Architecture: AIDA RUILOVA


Do you think architecture has the power to be horrific? If so, how?

Architecture manipulates our perception of space. Its effect can be subliminal which makes it very powerful. It can be mesmerizing as much as it can be oppressive.

How has architecture and/or horror impacted, influenced, or been represented in your work?

My works have dealt with the interior and exterior, the body: the human condition.

Why do you think horror narrative continuously returns to the home?

The home is considered a safe space, it gives us the illusion of security and safety. We need the mundane, the everyday to reflect on what we don’t understand.

How do architecture and horror similarly (or dissimilarly) pinpoint/reflect the historical (cultural, socio-political, etc)?

There’s a permanence to architecture because it’s bound as an object. Horror’s ability to reflect the current psyche is shaped by the conflict in our times.

What would be your favorite representation of architecture in a horror film or vice-versa?

‘Rope’ is as chilling in its storytelling as it is in the calculated lengths a director will go to shape a film. Hitchcock wanted the single set film to appear to be one continuous long take. Through set design and some creative panning he was able to create the allusion. It’s technical prowess reveals what it takes to support continuity of mood and narrative in the architecture of a film.

Horror Vacui – Installation

about_image_2Horror vacui: fear of an empty space

Horror vacui is a project for the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale Close, Closer that fills the dreaded emptiness, the void, via a participatory architectural exchange. 

The term horror vacui describes a Moorish visual practice adopted by Portuguese builders in the 15th century, which involved covering building facades with azulejos, blue and white tiles commemorating scenes from historic events, in order to overcome the unbearable emptiness of the wall. Today’s architects are faced with a different kind of void that takes the form of a widening abyss between designers, fabricators, and users, all searching for common ground. 

Curators: Jaffer Kolb, Ang Li, Phoebe Springstubb

Gallery Goings: from Pettibon to Collins

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Brief recap of gallery exhibitions from October 2, 2013.

Aldo Tambellini We Are the Primitives of a New Era at James Cohan Gallery
Blows everything away. Read review here.

Raymond Pettibon To Wit at David Zwirner
Pettibon’s ongoing original narrative on America culture with his interest in language, humor, film noir, baseball, and surfing now includes personal expositions on his family (wife, son, dog). 

David Noonan at Foxy Productions
Theatrical in content, David Noonan’s de-sconstructed works usually hold a mythologized quality to them that’s sooky and enchanted. The interest in his new works that appropriate images of Butoh (Japanese experimental theater) lies less in the abstracted imagery and more in the politicized content the group embodies. 

Michael Raedecker at Andrea Rosen Gallery
While it may be tempting to discuss this work solely in terms of its formal qualities, it seems far more interesting to discuss the embodiment of suburbian norms through seriality and literal inversion in a nearly post-apocalyptic landscape.

Damian Ortega at Gladstone Gallery
Twenty-five suspended steel objects, each lit by overhead lights, cast shadows of the alphabet. Considered this a spatial call for a new language. STUNNING. (see image)

Phil Collins at Tanya Bodakar Gallery
Installations where the viewer must participate in order to fully comprehend the work aren’t really where my interests lie but Collin’s video The Meaning of Style is a mesmerizing commentary on the appropriation of subcultures (in this case, UK Skinhead culture). 

Aldo Tambellini – Making the Void Visible

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REVIEW: Aldo Tambellini – We Are The Primitives of a New Era: Paintings and Projections 1961-1989 at James Cohan Gallery

For Void is, like Darkness and Silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every this and here, in order that the wholly other may become actual. – Rudolph Otto

Aldo Tambillini’s We Are The Primitives of a New Era is nothing short of a sensory revelation. An immersive, disorienting, and transformative installation of projections (a configuration of older works in a new arrangement by Tambellini), it feels like entering The Twilight Zone by way of A Clockwork Orange. Six projections of blackness, spheres, and phrases surround on three walls while one overhead projector swirls phrases from Tambellini’s Manifesto Series onto the floor. A static hum permeates the room while bursts of a space-shuttle launch countdown punctuates the space. Formally succinct, the collection of his accompanying paintings depicting the time/space sphere are ridiculously powerful in their simplicity. There is much to process here, none of which is an easy contemplation: origins and future of the universe, the infinity of time. It’s a simultaneously terrifying and promising proposition. In short, the void here offers the thrilling possibility of accessing what we cannot know.

Profound blackness is the beginning of new visions. – Aldo Tambellini

Featuring works from 1961-1989, We Are The Primitives of a New Era is thoroughly of the moment. At the forefront of new media and video in the 1960s, Tambellini thrives in a contemporary environment where the ever-changing advancements in technology dictate how we live our lives. Positioned at a perpetual tech evolvement along with new modes of thinking that contemplate how this technology and blackness shape our socio-political and spiritual lives, his work imbues a universal relevancy. What we’re left with is wondering: what do we do after the void is made visible? Scientists grapple with a simple dilemma in the hypothesis that Dark Matter (a virtually undetectable matter that neither emits nor absorbs light) constitutes a significant portion of the universe and this dark matter is responsible for the formation of the universe. Thus, in this theory, we are all born from an unseeable darkness. It’s the possibilities that emerge from the presence of such blackness that are so terribly exciting.

Black is the beginning. It is birth, the oneness of all, the expansion of consciousness in all directions. – Aldo Tambellini

Blackness has taken over contemporary philosophy, artistic practice, and filmmaking as a way to understand the world around us. Embodying horror, the post-apocalypse, origins and endings, the void has become a crucial signifier in processing a new way of being. Simply, the void is a possibility. And while black metal and cultural theorists dominate contemporary provocations for darkness, artist Aldo Tambellini has been exploring “Black” for over fifty years with his videos, paintings, and installations. The title of his exhibition at James Cohan Gallery, We Are The Primitives of a New Era, is perpetual. We are, as we were over a half century ago, in the process of becoming.

Aldo Tambellini’s We Are The Primitives of a New Era continues through October 19, 2013 at James Cohan Gallery in New York. Please visit the exhibition page for more installation images and a fantastic video of the piece. A screening of his Black Film Series screens at the Museum of Modern Art on October 18.

Josh Azzarella at Moving Image Art Fair London 2013

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Josh Azzarella is screening his Untitled #160 (Balcome) at the Moving Image Art Fair 2013 London edition this month. Read what I recently wrote about the piece below and, if you’re in London, be sure to not miss it. 

…Appropriately, this exhibition coincides with the presentation of a new video work by Josh Azzarella, Untitled #160 (Balcombe), in which he has reconstructed F.W. Murnau’s seminal silent film Nosferatu (1922) by eliminating all (un)human figures. Architecture looms more prominently than before, doors mysteriously function on their own, the gloomy atmosphere spreads more ominously, blank spaces replace title cards. Here, through this mining of culture and our collective reference to it, Azzarella establishes a precise example of what a rendering of a “world without us” or an empty distance can look like. Our relation to the memory of what was there (Meena and Jonathan Harker, Renfield, the Vampire) is entirely dependent upon a successful reading of the new and very different environment. It’s a reconfiguration of a continuously self-reflexive undying narrative of the vampire, specifically the transformative character of Dracula, repeated and recycled and transformed in its literary and cinematic forms. Untitled #160 (Balcombe) constructs a new language of absence through its ghostly presence. Through that we are able to position ourselves in a very strange, yet familiar, landscape; one that does not include us.

Untitled #160 (Balcombe) – Preview from Josh Azzarella on Vimeo.