The exhibition A Strange Affinity to the Beautiful and the Dreadful, borrowing its title from Marilyn Manson’s The Visions of Lewis Carroll, presents a range of work by artists who interpret and critically examine the dual forces of fairytales - fear and fantasy - that dominate our personal, political, and media driven world. In an age as uncertain as this, we could use some tales of magic and wonderment to lift our spirits. But fairy tales, à la The Brothers Grimm were full of misery, sacrifice, and terror. Like damsels in distress, there’s a yearning to be magically rescued from our demons, our desires, our memories, and the responsibility to realize our dreams. Do we need to be coddled by the modern happily-ever-after rewrites or pay heed to the warnings in the allegories told through time?
The forest, so prevalent as the site of terror, discovery, and unsavory forces in fairytales, is the setting for Bjørn Melhus’ video The Meadow that incorporates dialogue from Bambi, as well as Sue de Beer’s Untitled sculptural light projections and the photographs from her demonic film The Quickening. Leor Grady’s Wall of pillows simultaneously references The Princess and Pea’s bed as a place of dreams and fantasy as well as the vulnerability and terror of a bunker. Marilyn Manson's paintings focus on the media-created fairytales and trials of sensational murders like JonBenet Ramsey and The Black Dahlia, as well as his self-portrait The Man Who Eats His Fingers.
Jen DeNike’s Happy Endings video takes place on the edge of a cliff where one would expect to see a Hollywood film’s romantic finale. But instead, a lone woman, blasted out by the rays of the sun, flips “there-are-no-happy-endings” cards referring to the never ending Swedish summer days, the vulnerability of standing at the edge of the earth, or perhaps vanished love. Trong’s work furthers the idea of romantic disillusionment with his neon text mirror Adieu Grande Illusions, and Ruby Slippers that are connected by a magnet making their clicking and magical powers to transport home impossible. The trope of women longing for rescue are portrayed in Galia Offri’s watercolor A Need to Worry in which an elderly woman still dressed for the ball endlessly waits on her suburban lawn for her prince to return. The artist duo Ghost of a Dream present Blazing Bucks, a chandelier collaged from contemporary tools of escape - lottery tickets and romance novels. Ichiro Irie spins a giant web of deceit from gold paperclips in a reference to the entrapment in fables and Rumpelstiltskin’s industry, and Meghan Boody’s Katherine Howard, captures the desire for revenge when seduction leads to betrayal.
Spells and tools of entrapment are explored in Julia Chiang’s minimalist sculptural installations Never Enough and Til Death Do Us Part accompanied by her obsessive text piece Promised, Promises. Center for Tactical Magic’s spell book, Tabula Magica, is a 333-page tome consisting of the “table of contents” from 100 books on magic that challenges our comfortable notions of reality. Visitors are invited to look into the and cast their own spell in Alexa Gerrity’s True Potential bathroom installation. Ugo Rondinone’s grinning primitive Moonrise sculpture pays tribute to the allegorical lunar power, and the monstrous is humorously explored in videos by Ragnar Kjartansson, Satan is real video, and Gilad Ratman, Che Che the Gorgeous featuring a piano nightclub version of “Forever Young.” Lorna Simpson’s wall piece If you got what you wished for, you know you’d end up wanting another wish speaks to our endless cycles of greed and insatiable longing. Finally, in a room under the stairs, visitors can listen to Damien Echols’ Nostalgia and Marlow, an audio recording of a fairytale he wrote and recorded in prison, where he has been on death row since 1994 and is awaiting a new hearing in 2011 for exoneration.
We’re drawn to the dark yet yearn for rescue. Television, movies, and media reflect and fuel these obsessions of escape, horror and attraction to the otherworld (American Idol, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, America’s Top Model and lottery numbers read on the evening news play side by side with the darkest television we’ve ever witnessed - gruesome autopsy and serial killer shows like Dexter, law shows focused on sexual abuse of children, numerous vampire renditions, and non- stop news atrocities around the world). As dreams of everlasting love and perfect jobs seem less attainable, the wish to be magically whisked away to a happier, richer life grows strong. As Francisco de Goya warned: "Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters."