Is there something inherently more haunted about women than men? Images of ladies possessed, trapped and blood-spattered are all over the walls of Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery as part of its annual “The Art of Horror” show. And what a show it is.
Katherine Taylor-McBroom’s life-size self-portrait, curiously titled “and they found mother… (death by dental floss),” is a claustrophobic collage of photocopies. In it, the artist appears to have floss wrapped around her neck. The effect of the copier makes her look suffocated, as if she’s pressed up against a glass tank, her auburn hair matted across her face, her red shoes slipping off.
Next to this trapped woman is a vanishing woman. Lorraine Reynolds’ “Whisper” features an image of a black-haired lady printed on a long strip of white cotton — but only the top quarter of her; the rest seems to have evaporated. Her arms are wrapped protectively across her chest and waist, and a meandering, crack-like marking, a result of the printing process, appears like a vein cutting through her face and neck.
Tattoo artist Kyle Sauter’s “Emily’s Bridge” has a more graphic look, but the glow-in-the-dark screen-print is no less full of doom. Emily, the legendary jilted bride from Stowe, appears twice: once in silhouette dangling from a noose inside a covered bridge; and once close up, her eye sockets hollow, her mouth open, as she prepares the rope around her neck.
Then there’s Beth Robinson’s “Zombie Girl,” a dastardly doll wearing a tattered yet fashionable dress. This isn’t the kind of doll you’d want to curl up with — our girl zombie has bloodshot eyes, wiry hair and a gaping mouth dripping with dark-red blood.
Robinson, who co-curated the show with photographer Sarah Vogelsang-Card, says the goal this year was to pare down a little. In the past, the popular exhibit has been a kind of free-for-all of bloody, creepy art. This year, “we went more quality over quantity,” says Robinson. Still, the show is huge, with 50 artists represented.
Another new angle: This year’s “Art of Horror” isn’t all blood and gore. The curators included work that helps create a spooky atmosphere. For example, Denise Letendre Bach’s eerily beautiful photographs — of an old, chipped red door over snowy steps and a muddy farm field shrouded in mist — could in another context be read as dreamy, enchanted Vermont scenes. Here at S.P.A.C.E., they turn sinister.
These images set the scene for works such as Vogelsang-Card’s gruesome photographic triptych, “The Divine Comedy.” The left panel features a man in a dark suit, his face obscured either with makeup or a fleshy mask; in the right panel, a woman in a slinky nightgown is drenched head to toe in blood. They both point, expressionless, toward the middle panel, which is empty but for a pair of kids’ Crocs and a floating red balloon.
It’s disturbing, but even more so is Jenn LeBlanc’s twisted “Attachment Disorder.” The drawing depicts a pair of babies in the midst of what appears to be some kind of soul-sucking procedure. One baby has a tangled rat’s nest where its mouth should be — it’s spiky, hairy and equipped with what looks like a pincer at the center. This baby has its creepy nonmouth pressed against the neck of the other baby, whose head is tilted back, its mouth open, its tongue slack.
Michael Ridge’s “Concept Art for Jenny” also induces chills. (See related story about Ridge this issue, page 37.) The small urethane sculpture of a decaying female zombie is all taut tendons, shriveled boobs and swirls of sinuous flesh.
But this show isn’t just about the gross-out factor. There’s a cheeky sense of humor on display, too. Richard Evans’ “Leave the Hall Light On,” for example, is a cartoonlike illustration of a no-nonsense teddy-bear villain. The fluffy fiend has just emerged from a dark room, blood trailing from his furry feet and dripping from the long, sharp blades that take the place of his hands. And Lisa Eldred’s print “Zombie Boy Tribute” looks like a promotional poster for the next teen-heartthrob blockbuster — think sexy undead Zac Efron.
The show continues in the adjacent Backspace Gallery. The highlight there is “It’s Electric,” Jason Pappas’ huge wooden chair with leather arm and foot straps and a menacing metal lamp dangling from above. It seems to say, “Take a seat! You’ll be fine, I swear.”
The showstopper, however, is by Connecticut artist Akino Fukawa. The young Japanese American creates large-scale charcoal drawings of what she calls “hair monsters.” “What began as a childhood obsession to escape reality through drawings of alter egos became an honest confrontation with myself,” writes Fukawa in an artist statement.
Fukawa’s monsters are made up of thick, braided bands of ropey, dark hair, the characteristic the artist most closely associates with her Japanese heritage. Five of her hair monsters are currently at S.P.A.C.E., each bound up in its own hair, each with a single eye gazing outward.
And these hairy creatures are huge — as big as the gallerygoers checking them out — so approaching them feels like making contact with real, live monsters. Kind of makes you nervous to turn your back.
“The Art of Horror,” at S.P.A.C.E. Gallery in Burlington through October 26.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Blood Lines"