Horror on display
Exhibit gives movies’ terrors physical presence
09/26/2012 10:00 PM
The horror movies that we watch as kids monkey with our minds as adults.
Childhood viewings of cinema’s best spook and slasher fests have left psychic scars on generations. They’re mild demons that live in forgotten recesses in our brains, but they’re definitely there. And they rear their heads in unexpected places.
Projecting horror cinema onto innocuous, everyday life situations gets the blood pumping, palms sweating, and heart-rate accelerating, but it’s mostly a harmless exercise — the brain playing a game of “what if” with itself. When these projections work their way into creative pursuits, however, interesting things happen.
As Halloween approaches, such work is popping throughout Chicago. A couple of miles from artist Brittany Pyle’s creepy, cinema-inspired Mission Gallery installation, Night Witch (which was recently profiled by Metropolis), another exhibition pulls cues from horror, but in a grander, funnier and ultimately more disturbing fashion.
The Last Catholic, a collection on display at Ebersmoore Gallery, finds artist Michael Rea mining memories of William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s subsequent 1973 film adaptation of the book and his own Catholic upbringing. The source material is dark, grim, and rigid, but Rea’s work is the exact opposite — which makes it all the more unsettling.
Ebersmoore is a small gallery, probably 400 square feet, tops. It’s little. Mr. Hands, a massive wooden sculpture that serves as the centerpiece to The Last Catholic, dominates the space.
The piece depicts a giant, headless robot resting on its knees, one hand planted on the ground and the other grasping at the covers of a bed that has its head posts covered with padding — much like the bed of the young girl Regan in The Exorcist. Mr. Hands is an obvious surrogate for The Exorcist’s possessing demon. It’s an unseeing, unyielding force of evil determined to have the young girl beneath the bedcovers. But it’s much more.
Close inspection reveals a crucifix hanging obscured inside the robot’s torso. Ceremonial-looking, rod-like ornaments hang from its crotch-like genitalia. The robot is on his knees. Could he be praying? Rea’s particular religious imagery gives Mr. Hands a darker dimension, one that moves beyond literary and cinematic exorcisms to confront real-life pederasty in the Catholic Church.
The remaining three pieces in The Last Catholic ride similar lines.
Pentagram displays a young girl’s nightgown crusted with layers of goop in various shades of green. It’s the clothing worn by Regan during the infamous projectile vomiting scene in The Exorcist. Framed on a wall, the pukey garb is both comic and sad — a lowbrow celebration of a child’s agony.
The piece titled It’s a Wonderful Life displays those exact words in wood and spray paint on the gallery wall. In the film The Exorcist III, the line was written in blood on the wall at a murder scene. In similar fashion, the piece uses humor and sarcasm to comment on its surroundings.
The Last Catholic’s final piece is its most disturbing.
Pazuzu is a small, blue sculpture of a head. It’s gargoyle in form with a sinister sneer that reveals pointed teeth. In The Exorcist, Pazuzu is one of the demons that possess young Regan. Here he sits alone on the floor in a corner. One could trip over him if not paying attention. Though small and isolated, Pazuzu’s presence is strong. His eyes seem to follow gallery visitors, watching them as he watches the fruits of his evil labors unfold before him.