In the Land of Thieves and Ghosts
In the land of thieves and ghosts
Historically, the proto-science of alchemy signified an effort to sublimate base metals into gold, distill life-extending elixirs, and divine universal solvents out of common, household items. Alchemy is a “sciencey” practice that deals in paradox, wonder, and the transmutation of the mundane into the miraculous. Similarly, artists are in the business of creating works that transcend their material origins, pose nebulous questions, and embrace the improbable.
The alchemists of the old world shrouded their work in mystery and mysticism. Alchemical texts, like some artworks, are notoriously inscrutable, often written in a language of symbols only decipherable to their authors. Alchemical artists are not explicitly invested in the practice of being obscure or secretive, but they do encourage speculation concerning the overall meaning of a particular work. Alchemical artists conjure more than they create, summoning unfamiliar apparitions from familiar materials.
Not unlike the specters in one of Etienne Gaspard Robertson’s 19th century phantasmagoria, F.W. Murnau conjured demons and magic for the screen in his 1922 film, Nosferatu. (The phrase, “In the land of thieves and ghosts,” is taken from a title card in the film and refers to the homeland of Nosferatu’s vampiric antagonist, Count Orlok). The flickering of light and shadow in Murnau’s film transports viewers from the black cube of the cinema to a land that is both wondrous and alien. IN THE LAND OF THIEVES AND GHOSTS has similar goals in mind.
Like Murnau, artists Buki Bodunrin, Bea Fremderman, Christopher Ottinger, and Matthew Schlagbaum create works that are at once familiar and strange and that elicit something ethereal from the materials they use in their artistic concoctions. Fremderman and Schlagbaum, for example, frequently make use of construction materials and kitsch artifacts, creating ghostly forms out of readymade objects and images. Bodunrin and Ottinger, conversely, deal more with the interplay of light and shadow, optics and illusion. The spirits they summon function as non-corporeal foils to Fremderman and Schlagbaum’s concretized ghosts.
A contemporary notion of alchemy—mandala-wielding metaphysicians and mystics aside—signifies an impulse towards experimentation and discovery unencumbered by the restrictions of institutionalized thinking. Likewise, the images and objects here are not designed to satisfy a particular hypothesis or prove a theory. Rather, these works represent the unexpected results that can emerge from free-form experimentation and play. Though varied in form, the mark of the alchemist is present throughout the exhibition, lurking in the shadows like the iconic and haunting silhouette of Count Orlok himself.
IN THE LAND OF THIEVES AND GHOSTS [press blurb, if needed]
Drawing its title from a line in FW Murnau’s, Nosferatu, IN THE LAND OF THIEVES AND GHOSTS brings together four artists whose artistic output could be described as “alchemical” in nature. Historically, the proto-science of alchemy‘s primary goal was to sublimate base metals into gold. Alchemy can also be described as a “sciencey” practice that deals in paradox, wonder, and the transmutation of the mundane into the miraculous. Similarly, artists Buki Bodunrin, Bea Fremderman, Christopher Ottinger, and Matthew Schlagbaum are in the business of conjuring objects and images that transcend their material origins, resulting in works that range from the uncanny to the supernatural.