On the Desperate Edge of Now

Auschwitz. Hiroshima. Vietnam. These are names associated with specific places and occurrences [of historical trauma] but they are also wounds in the fabric of culture and history that bleed through conventional confines of time and space. – Adam Lowenstein ‘Shocking Representation’

One of my research strands on the influence of horror cinema and contemporary artists is looking at how artists manifest historical trauma within their work. By using the structure of the horror film as a guide and in considering Deleuze and Bergson’s notion of the now as an “ever shifting amalgam of past, present, and future”, I’m exploring the idea of a haunted present and possible recuperation seen in the representation of trauma in contemporary artworks.

This particular project (which I plan on realizing in exhibition form) is being called On the Desperate Edge of Now, titled after the first episode of British filmmaker Adam Curtis’ documentary series The Living Dead. In a visual mash up of archival footage, interviews, and appropriated images Curtis describes the relationship between history and memory in the context of World War II as both an individual and political construct that is never fully resolved – a ghost always haunting the present or an omniscient zombie walking the earth. This collision of the past and the present that Curtis outlines makes for an explosively charged ever-present “now” particularly as it manifests itself into representational forms such as film and visual art.

Horror films are subversive and often entertaining social commentary reflecting the cultural and political issues relevant to the time period in which they are produced. Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974) are all
reactions to the traumatic experiences, personally and culturally, of the Vietnam War. Many horror academics also view newer films like Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) as a reflection of America’s torturing of political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. On the Desperate Edge of Now looks at how artists tackle similar histories through a knowing employment of strategies and signifiers found in horror cinema: humor, the family, death in life, societal repression, spatiality, allegory, and the corporeal.

Like their filmmaking counterparts, the artists I will be writing about attempt to confront history more than compensate for it. They are: Folkert de Jong, Heather Cantrell, Sue de Beer, and Gert & Uwe Tobias.