And then they will burn you too,
as edification for man,
as sweet scent for God.
Häxan is a fascinating and visually gorgeous Swedish-Danish film from 1922, directed by Benjamin Christensen. It is part history lesson, part dramatization and horror story lush with imaginative imagery and elaborate production. Presented in a documentary style which alternates slideshow images of medieval woodcut illustrations with historical reenactments, this piquant silent film explores views of witchcraft and Satanism during the Middle Ages, comparing them with contemporary perceptions of hysteria and mental illness among women. Häxan draws from Christensen’s study of the 15th-century German manual for inquisitors, the Malleus Maleficarum, and from other treatises on witches and witch-hunting from the era. Christensen amusingly plays the role of the tongue-waggling Devil himself.
These breathtakingly gorgeous, splendid, and elaborate costumes by Polish designer Agnieszka Osipa seem to breathe the aura of a hallucinatory world, a dreamland, a mysterious and ethereal kingdom of myths, witches, queens, and fantastical creatures, shrouded in mists, deliriously beautiful and occult.
Evolution (2015) is an enigmatic, beautiful, subtly disturbing film from director Lucile Hadžihalilović, her first feature-length title since Innocence in 2004. It belongs in both the horror and science fiction categories, but it isn’t confined within those genres and I wouldn’t classify it under either of those. Visually striking without being ostentatious, it has a lot of impressive atmosphere. It is not at all lavish, but everything about its visual design is so memorable, from the stark, simple, whitewashed, cube-like buildings, to the slightly decayed, peeling green walls of the hospital. It is very minimalist, managing to feel austere and dreamy at the same time – everything about it is elegant, purposeful, and careful. It has a certain purity. I feel like there is nothing superfluous in it, not a single scene, gesture, or facial expression wasted.
Scorn is a first-person sci-fi horror adventure game, set to be released in 2018. It seems incredibly atmospheric, beautiful, and intriguing; the environments are reminiscent of Giger but with a warmer palette, very alien and intricate yet dreamlike and enchanting at the same time. The weapons and devices appear curiously biological in nature, like the technology of the Engineers in the Prometheus universe. The aesthetic is minutely visceral, but also gives the impression of being enveloped in an aura or mist, a lovely ethereal haze. Scorn is to be released in two parts, with no sequels or expansions, and is currently in development by Ebb Software. According to Ebb, there will be no conventional plot, the narrative is nonlinear, the gameplay open-ended, and “The story and themes we are trying to convey get their desired effect through experience rather than exposition.” The visually stunning, nightmarish world is also inspired by the works of Zdzisław Beksiński, one of my first favorite surrealist artists. There is currently a Kickstarter campaign for Part 1.
Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland Book is an enormous volume containing over 600 photographs, featuring the seventy-four pieces in her Wonderland series. It is a labor of love created in memory of her mother, who died from cancer in 2008, and took over five years to complete. These otherworldly images, lush, extravagant, super saturated with color, feature Mitchell’s lavish, wildly imaginative costumes and embody a fantastical, whimsical, and unrestrainedly vibrant fairytale aesthetic, inspired by the storybooks her mother read to her as a child and by her personal journey of grief and transfiguration.
Witch-Ikon: Witchcraft in Art and Artifact is an upcoming publication from Three Hands Press, examining the iconography of witches and their magic through the centuries, to be released on October 28. There will also be an exhibition of contemporary artwork which is featured in the book, running from October 5 to 31 at Mortlake & Company in Seattle. I have long been fascinated by the witch as a powerful image and symbol, and by the history and aesthetics of witchcraft and diabolism, so this promises to be delightfully edifying to me.
“The figure of the Witch has haunted the margins of religion and spirituality for thousands of years, as a figure of transgressive spiritual power, outlaw magic, and alluring sexuality. Equally pervasive is her presence in art, from ancient depictions in the Near East, through the European Middle Ages, down to her present representations in occult subculture….Equal in potency to the figure of legend and romance are the magical artifacts which emerged from the varied traditions of malefic magic… The mask, the idol, the knife, the cauldron, the spirit-bottle, and a thousand other magical objects also serve, like the image of the witch herself, to embody a transgressive and beguiling aesthetic.
The exhibition WITCH-IKON brings together an international consortium of artists with varied esoteric and artistic backgrounds, infusing the witch-mythos with new imaginal vitality.”
Darla Jackson creates intriguing sculptures of animals such as rabbits, birds, snakes, and mice, using them to explore human emotions. I am struck by the contrast of black and white in her pieces, the enigmatic nature of the surreal depictions of the animals, and also by the poignant sadness of some of them, the impression they convey of being victimized, abused, and harrowed.
Laura Makabresku’s photography reminds me of stills from some lovely film, the type of utterly modern movie that’s in love with the past and seeks, with minimalism and airy grace, to elucidate a series of enigmatic, symbolic scenes in an atmosphere of restrained horror, an exquisite nightmare slow to unfold and penetratingly beautiful. The milky, delicate, startlingly clear palette feels both nostalgic and almost clinical, combining a severe elegance with a soft, ethereal fairytale quality. The imagery is enchanting and sinister, quietly eerie and lambent. It is like a tale of supernatural horror, of witchcraft, of woods, of murder, of treachery, of spellbound sleep, of ritual sacrifice – all watched and attended by the harbingers, animals of ill omen, foxes and crows and goats.
Lost Souls is a beautiful collection of black-and-white images by photographer Lena Herzog (the wife of Werner Herzog). Radiant, velvety, and both crisp and dreamlike, these photographs depict specimens in the cabinets of wonder and curiosities and early medical museums that were established beginning in the early 18th century. The subjects are mostly infants with genetic defects and abnormalities that prevented them from surviving, either stillbirths or ill-starred newborns. Declared by the Church to be “lost souls” because of their uncertain status as to heaven, hell, or limbo, having existed as both scientific specimens and as objects of mere curiosity and shock value over the ages, Herzog captures them with a sense of wonder and tenderness, focusing on them a kind gaze which translates them into a transcendent and mysterious realm of intense light and shadow.