Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NOMOFOMO NYC: Dead or Alive

By guest blogger Caitlin

Confession: I am a Halloween glutton. I don't mean I binge on candy- I binge on Halloween activities. This year's include: macabre walking tour of the village, steampunk haunted house, steampunk fashion expo, Edward Gorey brunch, parties Friday and Saturday night, all the Halloween episodes Netflix and Hulu have to offer (recommended: Pushing Daisies' season 1 episode, "Girth"), reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and some Poe, and the Tompkins Square Park annual dog parade.

But best of all these was the NYC Museum of Arts and Design's exhibit Dead or Alive. I don't think I've ever before grinned so much at a museum. WARNING: This exhibit has closed. Read on at peril of feeling you missed out.

Dead or Alive consisted of art made out of dead things or their byproducts: plants, bones, feathers, and insect and bird carcasses. There were plant pieces of astonishing, ethereal beauty, particularly the dried-kelp lamp, a construct made by painstakingly gluing white dandelion fibers onto a series of little lights, and what looked like a Japanese parchment painting but, when viewed from the back, was revealed to be shadows of organic matter cast against a screen. Then there was the bone stuff. With the exception of a baroque frame spilling over with bone and antler imitating floral patterns, the bone stuff, while eye-catching, didn't really speak to me. It wasn't transformed; the bones stood for bones, just in strange configurations.

It was the bug stuff that really spoke to me: delicate backlit sepia pictures of a skull, heart, hand and foot made out of cockroach wings, a brilliant green and gold metallic skull, made out of what turned out to be scarabs, chomping down on a stuffed pigeon. These got at what Halloween is all about for me. Dark whimsy. The invitation to "come as you aren't," transformed into something frightening or gorgeous or whatever you choose. And best of all, wonder. For the cynical, the world can feel drained of magic. What remains buried deep in our brains, however, is reptilian fear, which can override rational thinking and make us dread ghosts and ghouls, the dark, or bugs. The dead bug art churned up my instinctual fear and disgust and, by transforming uncanny dead-alive elements into beauty, transformed that fear and disgust into enchantment.


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