originally published: February 6, 2017
Leia: But why must you confront him?
Luke: Because there is good in him. I've felt it... I can save him… I have to try.
- Return of the Jedi
Is Luke not expressing himself fully or does the dialogue for Return of the Jedi exercise restraint and assume the audience understands the subtext? Luke wants there to be good left in Vader- for Vader to have a shot at redemption. Is that all? No. Yoda wants Luke to confront his own fear that he is capable of evil and has the potential to misuse his gifts. Luke wants Vader to be good so he himself can be good. Can Luke own his fear and conquer it?
Reading Alex Lockwood’s statement for the Awful Things exhibition at Zeitgeist Gallery suggests that similar issues are at work. Can Lockwood confront his past, control it and speak beyond it?
Awful Things is dark, pathetic, comical collection of larger-than-life sculptures where no figure is left undisturbed, unmolested or intact. Each figure (aside from the killer and the next, terrified victim) is gutted, bisected, impaled or strung up with fishhooks. It is reminiscent of Goya’s Disasters of War but Lockwood is not a painter or a printmaker and is not reflecting on observed events. There is no war, no Napoleonic invasion. His chosen sculptural mediums are everyday consumer objects. Figures are constructed from colorful trashcans, containers, cups, bowls and a larger, less immediately recognizable palette of mass-produced plastics. Fecal matter, urine, tears, blood and entrails are made from thousands of strung together plastic caps and circular bits. It is not messy or gory. It is rhythmic, playful and somewhat craft-like in its construction. The material and bright colors disarm the viewer.
From a distance, the installation appears to be whimsical. The first figure that greets visitors is a relaxed, reclining large red figure. He appears cheerful and inviting. It is not immediately apparent that his satisfaction is based on the actions that lie behind him and that you potentially are the next victim. Instead the work, at first, could read like something from a children’s museum or an ambitious Christmas installation for a department store window. It is too late for the viewer when the subjects and action come into focus. The audience is already seduced by the material and has no choice but to confront the content. The smile slowly retreats.
Each figure is subject to a unique style of torture and there seems to be no escape from a painful death. We are aware that this has all happened and continues to this day. We know of modern torture from the news - depictions of Abu Ghraib being most Westerners frame of reference. ISIS/ISIL, Boko Haram and C.A.R. militias go beyond that on a monthly basis. We know of ancient torture from illustration and historical documentation. There are museums dedicated to feeding our hobbyist curiosity for how real people were torn limb from limb centuries ago. History shows that this behavior is our inescapable nature. Humans are capable of awful things no matter the level of morality that our civilizations project.
Not only are we capable of these actions in our darkest moments but we also enjoy these things as entertainment in our most peaceful hours. Why? Spy movies usually build up to a scene of torture. In Spectre, Bond has a miniature drill driven into his neck and temple. The Passion of the Christ turns the one verse of the Gospel (pick either Matthew or Mark) of Christ’s beating and bathes in that flogging almost to the point that the viewer cannot bear it anymore. It is a joke among Coen Brothers fans that Steve Buscemi’s characters are progressively more destroyed with each movie. In Miller’s Crossing, Buscemi is shot and his eyes and face are destroyed. In Barton Fink, he dies in a hotel fire. In Fargo, he is fed into a wood chipper. In The Big Lebowski, he is cremated, reduced to small coffee can of ash.
"I'm not surprised to learn that some anxious individuals find horror films therapeutic," he said. "The genre allows us to voluntarily—and under controlled circumstances—get experience with negative emotion." - Dr. Mathias Clasen
Abby Moss’s Vice article “Why Some Anxious People Find Comfort in Horror Movies” touches on the studies of Dr. Mathias Clasen’s that might explain our attraction. Long story short: fictional horror is safe horror. It is a controlled environment to deal with our real fears and emotional damage. At any point, you can walk out of the theater or turn off the television or device. In essence, this is what Lockwood is doing for himself and for us. Lockwood indicates that his interest in horror is connected to deep emotional wounds suffered from painful life experience for which there is no real quick fix. Lockwood benefits from an isolated, safe space in which to confront this damage. At any point, he can leave the studio, lock the door and none of it will follow him. It is sculpture as both containment and release but it is not a selfish pursuit. The final product is not solely beneficial to him. His address is not direct, nor personal. It is larger than one person and his scars. By dancing around personal specificity, Lockwood taps into a subject that invites us into a tableau ripe for the soul-searching that we all need. We can all come to this exhibition, laugh uncomfortably, inspect our fears and leave a little less burdened. It is a generous and even entertaining creation- setting aside the basic desire to be understood to, instead, carve out a space for others to understand themselves.