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)

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

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.

Book Review: Horror in Architecture

HorrorI had been eagerly awaiting the publication of Singapore-based architects Joshua Comaroff & Ong Ker-Shing’s new book Horror in Architecture for months as it specifically addresses the two very things I’m currently researching: horror and architecture. The book’s introduction nails a correlation between “horror” and the sublime, an idea that I usually discard because of its cathartic and religious implications but presenting the two as being both unknowable, spectral and inexplicable but extremely palpable is quite convincing. “Horror is the truth about abstraction” is another provocative statement that also rings true when considering how horror “weirds” what is familiar. From there, their discussions of the double, disjunction, repetition, deformation, interior/exterior are certainly of interest if perhaps all too brief.

Horror in Architecture seems particularly interested in relating architecture to the monstrous, a valid correlation that loses its poignancy when the authors continuously refer to Mary Shelley’s monster as “Frankenstein” when, in fact, “Frankenstein” is the young mad doctor. Along with the green face, bolts to the neck, and flat head, it’s a pop-culture adaptational norm to call the monster “Frankenstein” but it’s still glaringly incorrect. While I would argue that Dr. Frankenstein is perhaps even more monstrous that the monster he created, it’s hard to overlook this error and to trust further concepts they put forth that I’m unfamiliar with.

Aside from other general editorial issues (wrong words, doubling of words, incorrect spacing), the book really omits the real source of architecture’s horror by offer only a cursory address of economics and capitalism in relation to buildings, culture, and society. Horror very pointedly tackles socio-political issues of its time and, with the immediacy of architecture to the population and the economic context in which houses, businesses, and skyscrapers are built, it would seem fundamental in a discussion about how architecture embraces the horrific. For instance, what could be more horrifying than neglected public housing complexes ala Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992)? Politics, economics, society – these are all fundamental elements to why horror and architecture exist and, most importantly, what they represent.

What we must take-away from Architectural Horrors is an idea proposed towards the beginning: ”…all present the possibilities of deviant architecture as an opening into new worlds of form, composition, space-making, program and hierarchy.” As scholars, filmmakers, authors, and artists use horror to establish an understanding of the world around us, it therefore seems crucial to consider the relationship between our built environment and horror as a productive site of contemplation and of future possibilities.

Psycho Buildings

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“Here, we find architecture not in its functional guise but as a site of desire, memory and doubt, home to personal contingencies and collective histories, the clashing of cultures and coalescing of subjectivities. Refusing to address us in the spaces they generate, engaging us in ways that are at once visceral and conceptual, and that call attention to what must be experienced rather than merely seen.” – Ralph Rugoff, Psycho Buildings from the exhibition Psycho Buildings: Artists Take On Architecture.

Image: Mike Nelson, To the Memory of H.P. Lovecraft (1999), 2008.