Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Horror, Vacui and Otherwise
It's a sly choice of name for an exhibition at Midway, where white walls and blank space are as much a part of the viewing experience as the art itself: "horror vacui" describes the fear of empty spaces that leads some artist to fill the entire surface of their artworks with detail. For those so inflicted, the modern art gallery is undoubtedly a place to be feared--and indeed, the bulk of the exhibition produces a subtle, disorienting sense of unease.
In addition to the video, which with its feast of noise and color may be the antidote to horror vacui, the exhibition features three spooky, close-cropped photographs of a cedar tree as well as a large ceramic sculpture depicting a dead Architeuthis, a genus of giant squid that has long been the subject of myth, legend, and primordial fear.
The squid lies thick and limply in the center of the gallery floor, a mass of flesh and tentacles rendered in grotesque detail. It's a strange and beautiful sight: the creature's ceramic skin, dull and pockmarked, glitters in spots where the artist has coated it with copper and lead. The squid, it seems, has only just washed up on shore and is drying up before our very eyes, crusting over like a worm caught off guard on a sunny stretch of pavement. An ice-like pool of dried corn syrup surrounding the squid contributes to the illusion of wetness and recent death. It's an artwork that makes the viewer feel like a gawker, staring at something fragile and terrible that should perhaps not be stared at. But, still, we stare: in the end, whatever fear the creature inspires is far less frightening than the fear--the horror--of staring at nothing at all.