Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jordan Wolfson's (Female Figure), 2014

The Female Figure itself is scantily clad in a white bustier and diaphanous miniskirt, tilted onto its tip-toes by knee-high "stripper boots", its robotic arms painted white to mimic elbow-length gloves.  A cascade of beautiful blonde hair rains down its back and rocks rhythmically as the figure gyrates its luscious hips.  But the purity of the figure is smudged with dark dirt.  It dances sexily to slowed, distorted pop tunes in front of a large mirror in the middle of a great blank room.  If you bother to look up into the figure's face, meet its eyes in the reflection of the mirror, you'll be confronted by a hideous green witch-mask over too-human eyes.  Eyes that gaze back at you as it whispers in the deep, masculine voice of the artist: Jordan Wolfson.

Widely publicized as "The Lady Gaga Robot" or "The Creepiest Robot Ever" in click-bait articles from websites like Buzzfeed to iO9, Jordan Wolfson's installation at the David Zwirner Gallery seemed destined to captivate the internet's attention from the get-go.  Designed in collaboration with Spectral Motion, a special-effects studio in Los Angeles, (Female Figure), 2014 is the perfect cocktail of sexuality, ugliness, uncanny valley weirdness, and social confrontation.

The art installation was not merely an unbelievably life-like animatronic doll in a blank white room, it also included a film about the figure, and a performance aspect: the robot's dance.  A metal pole extended out from the mirror, attaching to the center of the figure, just below the breasts.  This held the life-sized figure up and allowed it to dance and whisper for hours on end.  It also connected the robot to the machinery that controlled its seven-minute, variable choreography, and the facial-recognition software that allowed it to make eye contact with gallery-goers.

If you had the fortune to experience (Female Figure), 2014, you were likely led into the room by yourself, or with two to five other individuals.  The small size of the viewing party combined with the narrow, dim passage that they had to pass through to get to the room, created a sense of formality as well as foreboding.  Once inside the room, viewers would come upon the robot standing at attention on its platform heels, or perhaps dancing gracefully.

The robot included several features designed to confront and discomfort the viewer.  A motion sensor allowed it to detect when other people entered or left the room.  Finding itself no longer alone, the robot would quietly watch any new visitors until they left.  If a viewer stood too closely to the robot, its facial-recognition software would seek out their face, and stare deeply into the viewer's eyes.

The figure was also programmed to murmur phrases recorded in Wolfson's deep voice, its animatronic jaw wagging with weird accuracy.  In fact, the movement of the figure was so life-like that it succeeded in its attempts at sexual titillation (if you avoided the face, of course).  As Lady Gaga's "Applause", Paul Simon's "Graceland", and a slowed version of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" played, the figure would wiggle and squat with Bob Fosse lascivity.  Its expensive plastic fingers would flutter at the end of graceful dancer's wrists.

Altogether, the installation was designed to examine the effect of gaze in our society (among other themes such as humanity, technology, and mirrors qua examining identity).  Specifically, the installation confronts the male gaze, of which so much social theory and commentary has been written.  The male gaze that objectifies women into sexual objects, reducing them to their attractiveness: into commodities carefully calculated to be consumed through the eyes of anonymous people who have the liberty to be actual people, and not plastic things.

But in (Female Figure), 2014 the sexualized object gazes back.  The figure isn't human, but it manages to strike at the discomfort of breaking social conventions.  Don't make eye contact.  Don't stare, robot.  Certainly don't stare at strangers, robot!  And ABSOLUTELY don't stare at the people staring at you, especially with such an ugly face and such lively eyes.

In less pretentious words: (Female Figure), 2014 is awesome because it tempts you to oogle it, and then makes you feel super-weird for doing so.  In fact, it doesn't just stop at trying to embarrass you- it tries to terrify you.

Below I've linked two videos: one that gives you a broader view of the figure, and a second that Wolfson produced himself, full of uncomfortable close-ups.


However, the scariest thing about (Female Figure), 2014 is not its uncanniness, and not the juxtaposition between its pop-sexuality and its foulness.  The scariest thing about the female figure is that it they didn't turn it off.  The figure isn't just oriented to dance in the mirror for artistic reasons about viewership.  It also faced the mirror so that when left alone, it could gaze at itself.  The program running it wouldn't shut down when visitors left the room.  If left by itself, the robot would find the only face left in the room: its own.

And so it would gaze deep into its own eyes, dancing and whispering to itself in the empty, blank room.    

Read more here:

-J. J. Roye

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kelly Denato

Release Me by Kelly Denato

I'm so excited to finally write about Kelly Denato's art!  Her work is soft, delicate, ethereal, even cute, but always with an undercurrent of foreboding, if not downright grotesquerie.  But, I don't just love her art, I also love her art blog.  At No Punch Backs: The Art of Kelly Denato you can learn about how she creates her art.  I love reading about where she draws her inspiration and her thoughts on things like art shows, color-blocking and composition.  Getting to follow along with how her lovely noodle-armed beasties are made makes me appreciate everything she does all the more.  Please, please, be sure to check out both her blog linked above, and her artist's website where you can peruse practically all of her work.  And then throw money at her.

Over the Lake by Kelly Denato

Denato's art is amazing in multiple ways.  Immediately, one can see that it is dream-like, ethereal, and soft.  Her subjects are composed of curved lines, noodle-arms, and flowing sheets of hair.  There's rarely a harsh, jagged shape to be found among these pillow-y landscapes of curved backs, calves, and knees.  The gentle feminine nature of the work is not just in the form, either, but also the lush colorscapes that Denato layers with her acrylics on wood.  Smears of pink, red, grey, and blue amid shifting fields of light and shadow give her work a delicacy, a fragility that plays into the second point of brilliance in her art.

Sweet Nothings by Kelly Denato
There is another facet that is equally as immediate as the sweetness in Denato's art, and that is the horror of it.  From body-horror blisters like those seen in Sweet Nothings to the eldritch unspeakableness of Winter Coat to the straight brutality of I'll Eat You Up, Denato doesn't rest in a bubbly, cartoonish Wonderland.  Her work is more like the ratcheted-up nightmares you'd have after binge-watching Adventure Time and reading some particularly diesel Lemongrab fanfic.

Winter Coat by Kelly Denato
The overall effect of this juxtaposition between soft cuteness and revulsion is the stricken kind of horror of tortured puppies and broken children.  It reminds me of the night my cat Malcolm brought in a dead baby bunny he'd caught and proceeded to devour it in front of me, its tiny stomach still full of curdled mother's milk, leaving only the tip of one velvety ear.  There's something about the gentle, pretty femininity of Denato's work that disarms the viewer in preparation for the darkness of her content.  Made vulnerable in this way, the viewer is then more powerfully disturbed by the sadness and loathing in Denato's creations.

I'll Eat You Up by Kelly Denato
Gold Leaf by Kelly Denato
On a final note: some of Denato's work is just excellently surreal.  The kind of vivid strangeness that makes me pleased with the history of art.  It makes Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase go down easier knowing it left a legacy where Denato can make something as lovely as Wolf Life Me.

Wolf Like Me by Kelly Denato
Hopefully, I've given you a taste for Denato's incredible paintings.  Please do check out her sites linked near the top of the article.  Sweet Dreams!

She's So Phi Above Me by Kelly Denato


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Paregoricon: Ep. 7 - Reptilians!

Remember that the Paregoricon podcast releases a new episode every Tuesday!  You can listen and download by clicking on the link below:

Paregoricon: Ep. 7 - Reptilians!

You can also follow us directly on Soundcloud, as well as subscribe on iTunes.  Just search for Paregoricon.  If you like what you hear, be sure to rate and review!

-Joanna a.k.a. J. J. Roye

Monday, August 24, 2015

Christopher Wilder: "The Beauty-Queen Killer" Pt. 2

Welcome back!  Today we explore the first half of Christopher Wilder's rampage of across the country and his first three murders.

There's plenty of dispute over exactly how many people Wilder killed.  After his capture and subsequent incarceration, a variety of murders, rapes, and missing persons cases were attributed to Wilder, though he was not convicted for them.  I will not be discussing these cases here today, but rather the first four victims of his cross-country spree.  In total, Wilder was ultimately tried for his attacks against ten women, two escaping with their lives.  We'll explore the harrowing story of one of the survivors today.

The following is divided into sections for each of Wilder's victims.  Remember to take your time, as part of my job is trying to humanize Wilder's victims, and thus these articles may be emotionally exhausting.  Each story, whether detailed or vague, is heavy enough in its own right.

Murders in Miami:  Rosario Gonzalez and Elizabeth Kenyon

Rosario Gonzalez
It all began on February 26, 1984 with the disappearance of Rosario Gonzalez.  At the time Gonzalez had been employed at the Miami Grand Prix as a model, handing out free samples of aspirin, and was acquainted with Wilder.  The 20-year-old had actually been present at a previous race when Wilder had placed 17th, winning $400.  On the day of her disappearance, Wilder was a contestant at the track.  Later, around noon, she was seen leaving with a man who matched Wilder's description.  She was never seen again.  Her body was never found.

What connection existed between Wilder and Gonzalez previous to her disappearance varies between accounts.  In the book Human Monsters, David Everitt claims that Gonzalez had posed for a book cover during a photography session with Wilder.  With aspirations of a modelling career, and a previous run in the Miss Florida contest, it seems reasonable that Gonzalez might have taken Wilder up on such an offer.  In other accounts, the relationship between Gonzalez and Wilder is that of extremely casual acquaintance: Wilder raced at Gonzalez' place of work, they had run into each other a few times.

Considering that Wilder matched the description of the 'older man' Gonzalez was last seen leaving the race-track with, he was considered one of the first suspects in her disappearance.

Elizabeth Kenyon
Next came Elizabeth (Beth) Kenyon.  At 23, she taught 'emotionally disturbed' children at the Coral Gables High School, south of Miami.  But, like Gonzalez, she had aspirations of a career in fashion modelling.  In fact, Kenyon had been a finalist in the Miss Florida contest of 1982, and won the title of Orange Bowl Princess.

On Monday, March 5th, Elizabeth Kenyon disappeared.  The day previous, she had visited her parents in Pompano Beach, a weekly ritual, and her father had noticed bruises on her arms and legs (according to Bruce Gibney in his book The Beauty Queen Killer).  Kenyon had brushed off her father's questions, explaining the marks as the result of breaking up a schoolyard fight.  She went to work on Monday, and then was never seen again.  On Tuesday, the school called Kenyon's roommate to check on her whereabouts, and her roommate informed them that Elizabeth had not come home on Monday.

Parents and colleagues called around, trying friends and hospitals, desperately attempting to find anyone who had seen Kenyon since Monday afternoon when she left her job.  Eventually they filed a missing person's report.  After several days with no response, Bill Kenyon, Elizabeth's father, hired a private investigator to try and track down his missing daughter.  The investigator uncovered the fact that among several other casual dating relationships, Kenyon sometimes had dinner with a former boyfriend, a photographer, by the name of Christopher Wilder.

Kenyon had said that Wilder had been a gentleman on their first date.  Unlike other photographers, he hadn't asked her if she would pose nude for him.  After a few more dates, though, Wilder had made a more intense proposal: that of marriage, which Kenyon had turned down.  Two years hence, they had remained friends.  When the investigator asked Kenyon's parents about the various boyfriends, it turns out that Elizabeth had mentioned Wilder the Sunday just before she vanished.  It seems Wilder had offered her a modelling job, making good money.

However, when Wilder was contacted, he claimed not to have heard from Kenyon in a month.

As the other two men dating Kenyon were ruled out, it seemed that the case was coming to a dead end.  That is until another one of Kenyon's former boyfriends stopped at a local gas-station to show Elizabeth's photo around.  Surprisingly, two of the gas-station attendants said they had seen Kenyon on Monday afternoon, the day of her disappearance.  According to the witnesses, Kenyon had stopped by for gas and was seen leaving with a man easily identified as Christopher Wilder - saying they were heading toward the airport.  Kenyon had given no indication that she planned to take a trip, but when authorities searched for her: they found Kenyon's car in the airport parking lot with no trace of Elizabeth in sight.

On March 16, the Miami Herald ran a story how a Boynton Beach racecar driver was wanted for questioning in the disappearance of two local women.  On March 17, Wilder went on the run.  He tearfully told his partner in the construction firm that he "not going to jail", dropped his three dogs off at a kennel, and drove north out of town in his '73 Chrysler.

Indian Harbor, FL:  Terry Ferguson

Terry Ferguson
Two hours north of Boynton Beach, Terry Ferguson, 21, disappeared from a shopping mall in Indian Harbor, Florida.  This sandy coastal area, a series of beaches developed along Florida's barrier islands guarding against the Atlantic, is south of Cape Canaveral.  

On March 19th, Ferguson had been seen at several stores in the Merritt Square shopping mall.  Her stepfather found her car in the parking lot.

An hour after Ferguson was last seen at the mall, Christopher Wilder called a tow-truck.  He had gotten his Chrysler stuck along a state road near Canaveral Groves.  It was a lovers-lane on the mainland near where I-94 meets Rt. 528, a deserted stretch of sandy road.  Wilder was alone; claimed he had gotten lost.  He paid for the tow with his partner's stolen credit card and continued on his way.

On March 23rd, Terry Ferguson's body was pulled out of a snake-infested canal in Polk County, FL.  She was identified by her dental records.

 Indulge the following geographical speculation: It seems that after abducting Terry from the mall in Indian Harbor, Wilder had driven north up the coast to Cape Canaveral, then taken a left on 528.  His first attempt at finding a secluded location on the state road near Canaveral Groves was thwarted by nature.  It is unclear whether Terry Ferguson was dead or alive in his trunk at this point, but it certainly was not where her body was dumped.  After getting his car removed from the sand, Wilder continued along 528, west, until it turned into I-4, eventually entering Polk County where he dumped Ferguson's body.

Tallahassee, FL to Bainbridge, GA: The Co-Ed Who Escaped

*Warning: The following contains a particularly brutal account of torture and some sexually explicit content.

Florida State mascot: The Seminole
On March 20, a 19-year-old Florida State student was lured away from a Tallahassee mall.  When a man approached her, saying he was a photographer looking for a model, saying she had a fresh face, saying that he'd pay her $25 dollars for less than an hour's work, she had no idea of the hellish ordeal she was in for.

Saying that she only had to accompany him to a nearby park, Wilder lured the woman to his car.  At the last minute, her instincts told her to get out of there, and she declined the job.  Wilder punched her hard in the stomach, hit her in the face, and pushed her into his car.  With the wind knocked out of her, she didn't have a chance to recover before Wilder had the car on the road, driving fast.

Soon, Wilder stopped in a wooded area.  He bound her hands and covered her mouth with duct tape.  A little further down the road, Wilder stopped again and moved the woman to the trunk.  She laid there for hours.  Eventually the car stopped, Wilder removed her from the trunk, wrapped her in a blanket, and carried her into a motel room.  They had arrived in Bainbridge, Georgia.

In the motel room, Wilder ordered the woman to strip naked.  He said that if she did not remain quiet that he would kill her.  He shaved her pubic hair.  He put a knife to her groin to see how she would react.  He masturbated next to her.  He made her perform sex acts and then raped her twice.  The whole time, the woman said, Wilder was also watching television.

She hoped this would be the end of it.  Sadly, this was only the beginning of Wilder's entertainment.  At this time, he produced an electrical cord that had been cut in the middle and fashioned with an on/off switch.  He attached the ends of two copper wires to the girl's feet, and proceeded to shock her.

After this was over, he attempted to superglue her eyes shut.  He forced them closed and with an applicator applied the glue.  He used a hairdryer to try and harden the glue faster, but did a poor job.  The woman was still able to see through small slits in her eyelids.

Wilder then turned the TV to an aerobics show and ordered the woman to get up and dance like the women on screen.  Mostly blinded, still hooked to the electrical cord, she complied.  When she didn't perform to Wilder's standards, he would shock her into obedience.

Eventually, Wilder seemed to loose interest with his victim, becoming mesmerized by the television.  At this time, the woman made a move toward the bathroom.  Wilder came at her, using the hairdryer to hit her in the head, screaming that he would kill her if she tried to escape.  But she fought him.  Struggling, she made it to the bathroom and locked him out.  One of her eyes gouged and bleeding, she turned to the wall that separated her room from the neighbor's and began to pound and scream at the top of her lungs for rescue.

In the bedroom, she heard fumbling and then the slamming of the door.  She hoped Wilder was gone.  She waited a half hour before venturing out, wrapping a bed sheet around herself, and making it to the motel's office in search of help.

The sheriff sent out an APB for all patrol cars to be on the look-out for a cream-colored Chrysler, and alerted the FBI.  Unfortunately, nobody spotted Wilder's car.

He made it all the way to Texas.

In our next installment (I'm having to space these out, woof), we'll get to the psychological foulness of what Wilder did to Tina Marie Risico, his other kills, and how he met his end at the hands of the police.


Friday, August 21, 2015

They Live - Movie Review

They Live
Written and Directed by John Carpenter

Surely, living in this internet age, you've heard the classic line:  "I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum... and I'm all out of bubblegum."  A line so goofy and loveable it's been recycled and reworked for years; to the point that its origins are beginning to fade into the mists of time.  Well, lemme remind you: that line was penned by John Carpenter, and delivered by a shades-wearing, denim-clad Roddy Piper just prior to shooting up a bank with a shotgun.  In the movie They Live, not real life, of course.

Except.... there are many, many people who find the premise and delivery of They Live so compelling that they kinda believe it's true.  Or at the very least reference it as a pop-culture interpretation of (what they believe to be) the TRUTH.  Whether it's Reptilians or the Illuminati, They Live hits all the right buttons for individuals who believe the world is ruled by a shady, secret organization intent on keeping the masses sedate and obedient.

Why is this so?  Well, I've got a theory!

Not only do I have a good theory for why They Live is so compelling to conspiracists, but my theory also makes sense of how John Carpenter could create such an odd movie.  How on earth was this made by the same individual that gave us two of the finest horror movies of all time: The Thing and Halloween?  Don't worry, all knowledge will be revealed in time.

To catch you up, in case you haven't had the distinct pleasure of viewing They Live: it's the story of a drifter who stumbles onto the TRUTH of how the world is being run by an alien race intent on the permanent dominion of humanity.  These gross aliens are in charge of every level of government, the media, the military, and even circulate in society as wealthy and affluent citizens.  They hide in plain sight because they have a transmitter which reprograms humanity's brains to keep humans deluded into mindless obedience and a life-style of thoughtless consumption.  Our protagonist discovers this when he puts on a special pair of sunglasses that allows him to see life as it REALLY IS.

Our hero then proceeds to go on a shooting rampage, runs from the law, joins a resistance movement, and ultimately blows up a news station that is also a hub for the alien brain-wave transmitter.  There are lots of explosions, my favorite fist-fight in all of film, and Roddy Piper delivering some of the most insane and wonderous lines in cinema, making this a super-fun cult movie if nothing else.

The movie as a whole is an odd-duck.  Its script is very sparse.  Carpenter spends large amounts of time filming Piper wandering around and looking at things.  And while this sounds boring, it isn't really.  The movie is shot competently, and despite its lack of conventional dialogue, conveys information effectively (allowing the audience to be drawn in to the mystery along with the protagonist).  But when the script does come into play, often the lines are incredibly strange, almost surreal.

And mind you, this is not to be blamed on Piper's acting ability.  This strangeness is spread across the whole script.  From the utterly suburban and mundane lines uttered in the background by aliens, to the ranting of a blind priest, it seems to me that Carpenter was working hard at making the whole movie kind of uncanny.  This is how you get things like the bubble-gum line.

Apart from the script, the movie oscillates between a slow-burn anticipation/reveal of mysteries, and all-out popcorn-munching action.  The scenes where Piper is coping with the TRUTH, a greyscale world where billboards shout CONSUME and all signage is bent on subconsciously reprogramming humans, are particularly heavy-handed.  But then Carpenter will treat us to high-paced scenes where Piper runs from the alien cops, then carjacks and kidnaps a woman at gunpoint.

Altogether, this makes They Live seem like a misfire.  A movie that wants to be ambitious in saying something about society (or whatever), but also wants to be a mindless shoot-em-up flick.  This mismatching in tone, the weird script, the looniness of the content, all contribute to this being seen as a 'bad' movie.  Mind you, a bad movie to be enjoyed for all its badness; to revel in its 'cult' status.  But certainly not something to be brought up in serious conversation.  In this way I think it shares a lot in common with Carpenter's other movies like Big Trouble in Little China or John Carpenter's Vampires starring James Woods.  Movies so hokey they can't help but be loved.

To be honest, this is how I considered They Live for a long time.  It's incredibly fun to laugh at the ridiculousness of this movie, and move on to more respectable fare.

However, I got a theory.  And like Piper putting on the sunglasses for the first time, it's CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR ME.

I have a hard time believing that John Carpenter just entirely forgot how to make a good movie in the six years between making The Thing and They Live.  Even if we count the other four movies he made in the interim (Christine, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, and Prince of Darkness) to be complete floppy failures (which they are not, merely different beasts to be judged on their own merits), it's still hard for me to say that They Live is the same kind of thing.  Big Trouble is clearly not meant to be taken seriously.  They Live is not so clear.  But if you try to take it seriously, it's far too wacky by the end to cope with.  How do I cope?

Then it hit me: They Live is not a movie about an alien conspiracy.  They Live is a depiction of a deeply disturbed individual's paranoid fever dream.  That the character Roddy Piper plays is in fact mentally ill, and that the whole movie is a wish-fulfilling fantasy for a deranged mind.  If you take the movie in this context, a lot of things about it start making a lot of sense.

For example, how is the audience supposed to believe that a man can walk into a bank, deliver the bubble-gum line straight-faced, shoot multiple people in the chest, and then run away into an alley with ZERO CONSEQUENCES?  Because it's not actually happening.  It's just one vignette in a paranoid schizophrenic's power-fantasy*.  That's why the line is so bad, but is so delicious to say.  That's why there's no consequences.

If you watch They Live from this perspective, the perspective of a mad drifter overlaid on reality, the movie suddenly becomes chilling.  All the "aliens" he murders are just normal people, his erratic behavior makes a lot more sense, his cryptic speech patterns fit.  He fantasizes about being powerful, being in-the-know, fighting a massive conspiracy for the good of mankind, becoming the ultimate hero.

If They Live is a delusion in the protagonist's head this explains the abominable writing that afflicts the other characters in the movie, such as the woman that he kidnaps.  This same woman who throws him out a third-story window, the same woman who inexplicably becomes his love-interest by the end of the movie.  Of course he projects imagined relationships onto the people around him, based on even the most minor or toxic contact.  Of course he wins his friend over to his side immediately and completely after a fist-fight and one glance through the 'magic sunglasses'.  Because none of this is actually happening.  Or, at least it isn't happening in the way it's presented.

I think that looking at the movie this way makes sense of a lots of its perceived weaknesses.  The action is schlocky because the protagonist has poor taste, and his delusion follows suit.  The pace and script are uneven and weird because his perception is warped by his slow descent towards a complete break with reality.  The way the world looks through the glasses is informed by the pulp alien movies of the drifter's childhood from the 1950s and 60s, even unto the Ed Wood-sy flying saucers and vacuum tubes.  Characters from the drifter camp in the beginning of the movie recur in unbelievably unlikely spaces (a bum ends up wearing a tuxedo and showing them around at an Illuminati party).

If my theory is true, this means two things.

One, that this movie instantly becomes more interesting.  It becomes downright creepy, in fact, because it tethers the wackiness of the film down into the real world, down to that guy raving incoherencies on the street-corner.  It also provides plenty of entertainment for those who want to unravel what is happening in reality in the movie, and what is delusion.

Two, it explains the movie's popularity in conspiracy-circles.  Not that everyone in conspiracy circles is mad and dangerous, but rather it shows that Carpenter got something very right.  That something about They Live taps into the drives of people who are attracted to conspiracies in a way that's greater than just the p's and q's of its content.  There are no magic sunglasses, but there are lots of people who believe they can see THE TRUTH.

And, when you think about the more violent scenes in They Live under the context of recent mass shootings, it suddenly becomes a very plausible and very frightening movie indeed.


*Note: I understand that not all paranoid schzophrenics, or the mentally ill at large, are violent or have fantasies of this sort.  They need love and I hope the reader will not take this theory as someone casting yet more shade upon an already stigmatized group as a whole.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vania Zouravliov

(As always, you may click the photos to view them at a larger size.  I highly recommend doing so for this artist review.)

By the age of thirteen, Vania Zouravliov had gained international acclaim as an illustrator.  His work was exhibited in Canterbury and Paris.  Championed in his homeland, Russia, he was introduced to famous musicians and artists.  Old communist social realists told him his work was of the Devil.  Upon seeing Zouravliov's work, one can see why.

His vividly detailed and masterful works mingle the innocent fragility of youth with macabre brutality and eroticism.  Pale waifs cavort with devils, specters, zombies, or lascivious foxes.  Drawing inspiration from Russian romantic folklore, Japanese illustrations, vampy silent film stills, and Disney, Zouravliov has created an astounding body of work.  My favorite pieces remind me of a lush edition of Victorian fairy tales, with each illustration bringing the dark, sexual undertones of the stories into nightmarish definition.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Much of Zouravliov's work does fall into the category of Erotica.  As such, I've made this blog post as SafeForWork as I can, but if you go looking for more, you will quickly be in NSFW-land.  There are lots of nipples.  LOTS.  And plenty of full female nudity.  Fair warning.

Even when his drawings are diffuse, almost seeming to dissolve into a dreamy netherworld, they are rendered with gorgeous texture and reality.  This complexity gives his otherwise fantastical subjects a realism that makes them even more compelling.  Portraits may indicate brutal violence, but are softened through enigmatic expressions and shading.  Tension swings back and forth between the photographic realism of the pieces and their uncanny eeriness.

Fortunately, Zouravliov has found success with the creative agency Big Active, who has helped promote his work and provided him with access to commercial opportunities.  It's always good to hear that an artist is making a living.  To learn more about Vania Zouravliov's work, check out the following link:

P.S. He also has produced some SWEET Game of Thrones art.  It's almost enough to make me care about Bran...


Monday, August 17, 2015

Christopher Wilder: "The Beauty-Queen Killer" Pt. 1

Wilder at a Las Vegas fashion show.

You know what we haven't covered here yet?  Serial Killers!

Now, we've certainly written about murders, death, and mysterious goings-on, but we haven't actually broached the subject of serial killing directly.  Mostly, this has been because there are so many, many amazing and creepy true-life things to discuss and we just haven't gotten around to serial killers.  

Before we begin, I would like to offer a few words about serial killer content and how I plan to cover it.  

#1: You know, sometimes you just don't want to read about human beings being raped and murdered.  I totally get that.  Please feel free to continue on and read something that makes your life happy.  I, personally, like to look at pictures of opossums if I'm having a bad day.

A magical-looking all-white 'possum named Snoopy.  You're welcome.

#2:  If you're fascinated by serial killers, good!  Here's where I'm going to explain what I'm up to.  If you fall into this category, you're probably an odd duck like myself and have spent A LOT of time reading or watching content about serial killers.  After a while, all the stories start to sound the same.  An endless litany of young women with forgettable names, kidnapped, brutalized, and left in shallow graves.  Killers that lack a particular flair or gimmick quickly begin to sound like lesser-known baseball players having their batting averages recited.

And that bothers me.  Serial killers are scary because of their reality.  The statistics-based numbing of their stories feels wrong.  It seems to make the deaths of their victims meaningless.  I want to find a way to reverse the trading-card feel of serial killer discussion.  And, mind you, there are several talented true crime writers out in the world who do a great job at this.  But, there's only so many books one can research and write.

Therefore, I plan to cover serial killers that haven't broken into the collective consciousness.  Perhaps, like Joe Metheny, their crimes verge on the strange and comical in a way that people don't believe at first, and thus are laid by the wayside.  Or, perhaps their kill-counts aren't very high, or their methodology mundane.  I want to revisit the stats of their crimes and find what is chilling, interesting, and ultimately humanizing about their stories.  This may make these blog posts emotionally exhausting, but I feel like there's value to doing this.

One of the main ways that I intend to do this is by focusing heavily on the killer's lives BEFORE they began murdering.  I believe that a comprehensive understanding of the background that led up to the killer's crimes is extremely useful.  It gives context to their kills, and perhaps might help us come to terms with the horrors they wrought.  And, just maybe, by showing that these killers are human, we can also remember that their victims were human too, not merely the names, dates, and school photos they are reduced to by the endless litany.

To start, I've picked Christopher Wilder.  (Who isn't particularly obscure in serial-killer circles, I know, but bear with me: I'm easing into this.)


Christopher Wilder

Christopher Wilder was born in 1945 in Australia to an American naval officer and an Aussie.  He almost died at birth, and later almost drowned to death at the age of two.  At the age of three, he went into convulsions in the back of his parents car and had to be resuscitated.  

In 1962 (or 1963, I'm not sure why records aren't clearer on this date), he plead guilty to participating in a gang-rape at a Sydney beach.  Despite the violent and sexual nature of the crime, the seventeen-year-old Wilder received one year of probation with a provision for mandatory counseling.  At this time, he underwent a course of electroshock therapy.

A few years later, in 1968, Wilder married.  His wife left him after one week.  She complained of sexual abuse and left Wilder after finding someone else's panties and photos of nude women in a briefcase in Wilder's car.  

In November of 1969, Wilder used nude photographs of a nursing student to extort sex from her.  The student complained to the police, but the charges were dropped when she refused to testify in court.

In 1970, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Boynton Beach, Florida (just south of West Palm Beach).  There, Wilder found success in the construction and real estate business, collecting a small fortune.  He lived in a mansion.  He was described as being handsome and well-tailored, taking ski-trips in Vail and driving race-cars for fun.  Living the playboy dream, Wilder was quoted in a 1981 dating-service video (think OKCupid for an earlier age) as saying that he "want[ed] to date and enjoy the company of women, women with depth.  I'm looking for a long-term relationship, but not marriage."  

It was during this time that Wilder took up his fascination with photography.  Moving from the possession and use of nude photographs, Wilder now began to take them himself as a means of exploiting women.  Along with a jacuzzi, his house featured a private photo studio.

In 1971, Wilder was picked up in Pompano Beach for soliciting women to pose nude for him.  He bargained down to a plea of disturbing the peace, and was let off with a small fine.  

In 1977, Wilder coerced a female high-schooler into performing fellatio on him, threatening to beat her if she refused.  He was jailed, and confessed the crime to his therapist.  But, such a confession was inadmissible in court, and Wilder was later acquitted.

In June of 1980, Wilder escalated further, his modus operandi developing.  On the 21st, he lured a teenage girl into his car.  He claimed to be a photographer and promised her a modelling contract.  He then drove her to a rural area where he raped her.  He plead guilty to attempted sexual battery and got five years probation with court-ordered therapy.  

In December of 1982, while visiting his parents in Australia, Wilder was charged with another photography-based crime.  He kidnapped two 15-year-old girls from a beach in New South Wales, and forced them to pose for him.  His parents paid his bail of $350,000, allowing Wilder to return to America, and court delays prevented the case from being heard until after Wilder's death two years hence.

After his death, two girls from Boynton Beach (aged 10 and 12) identified Wilder's mugshot as the man who had kidnapped them.  In June of 1983, Wilder had abducted the girls from a park, taken them to some nearby woods, and forced them to fellate him.   

Throughout the year of 1983 there are numerous kidnappings, disappearances, and murders that have been connected to Wilder posthumously.  

At the age of thirty-eight, Chris Wilder greeted 1984: the year of his cross-country killing spree.


Before Christopher Wilder ever killed anyone, he was clearly a serial rapist.  As we'll see in Part II, Wilder's killing spree is the stuff of nightmares, especially his treatment of Tina Marie Risico.  But prior to ever picking up a knife, Wilder left a string of ruined lives in his wake.  I think it's important to note the background that led up to Wilder's spree in early 1984.  Instead of throwing around the facts of Wilder's early life in a vague and dismissive way, looking at them closely allows us to understand his spree in context.

For example, we can already see that Wilder has a thing for young girls and the power that comes from photographing them.  We see his penchant for kidnapping as a means of exerting control over his victims.  And with the incident in 1980, it's clear that Wilder was already working out his story for how to lure women into his web (with lies about modelling contracts).  The groundwork was laid long before Wilder transitioned from kidnapper/rapist into murderer.  His spree was not just the dark consequence of a man suddenly snapping, but the logical progression of a life of sexual violence.  

One can't help but look on in despair at the number of times Wilder was caught and allowed to get away with his crimes before 1984.  I wonder what effect this might have had on his thoughts in preparation for his murders.   I also wonder at how many other individuals have slipped and slid through the legal system, never developing into killers, but nonetheless wreaking a trail of destruction.  Or, if not for his murderous rampage, would Wilder ever have been brought to justice?

And since I'm on the topic of hypotheticals, a look at Wilder's life before his last year also gives us plenty to chew on in terms of brain damage.  It's very common for serial killers to have experienced some manner of brain damage or head injury early in life.  While this is obviously not the only predictor for becoming a murderous psychopath, it certainly crops up in a lot of case studies.  In Wilder's case, it seems his brain underwent plenty of stress in his early years.  From the possible oxygen deprivation due to his drowning, and the under-reported incident of his seizure in his parents car, it seems something dire was going on with Wilder's brain.  Others have theorized about what kind of heinous effects his course of electroshock therapy might have had on his mental development, but I squint at this.  Firstly, he participated in a gang-rape BEFORE undergoing the treatment.  Secondly, electroshock therapy has enough of an undeserved bad reputation that I don't feel content piling on.  At any rate, it is interesting to note these incidents and faff about the unknowable condition of Wilder's brain, and whether it caused him to do what he did.

Further, we can speculate about what Wilder's fascination with photography indicated.  It seems pretty plain to me that Wilder got off on having power and control over women.  What kind of power did he feel when looking at his photographs?  What was it in the activity of photographing women that fulfilled him so?  And how was this psychological relationship different from other famous photographers like BTK?  Much to ponder...

In Part II, I'll tell you all about Wilder's murders and the girl that got away.  Stay tuned next Monday!


Friday, August 14, 2015

Playtime's Over

Hello, we are back!

It's been a busy summer, so we took several weeks off from posting to develop other projects (and give ourselves a break).

I, Joanna, am very excited to announce my latest venture: Paregoricon!

Paregoricon is a weekly podcast that covers all manner of strange and macabre topics from rare diseases to lesser-known cryptids.  We aim to bring you a wealth of well-researched information, mixed with segments designed to scare and a healthy dose of jokes.

To follow the podcast, which releases new episodes every Tuesday, you can subscribe in a variety of ways.  Subscribe directly via Soundcloud, or search for us on iTunes.  You could also follow our blog where we list our substantive show notes.

If you'd like a taste, check out our episode on Skin-wearing below.

In other news, we'll be returning to our regularly scheduled posting (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) on August 17th.  New episodes of Paregoricon will also be promoted on Tuesdays.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stranger Visions

Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg wins my award of the year for simultaneously being a classy, poised, creative genius and a weird, invasive, street creeper.  You see, D-H has found a way to create realistic 3D renderings of people all around the state of New York by simply gathering cigarette butts and chewed gum off the streets and sidewalks.

How, you might ask?  Or better yet, WHY?  Well, let's go back to the beginning.

D-H's creepy foray into scavenging for discarded items began in a public bathroom in Penn Station where she collected hairs from the sink of a bathroom. [Gagging already.] Her collection expanded shortly thereafter to fingernails, cigg butts, and best of all, already chewed and spit out bubble gum.  D-H is a PhD student studying electronic arts at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute.  She is able to extract DNA from the items she collects and sequences their genomic regions into a computer program, creating a model of the person who the discarded item once belonged to.  But D-H takes it one step further.  Instead of just being creepy on her computer in her own time, she creates actual sculptures of these people's faces using a 3D printer.

And thus was born "Stranger Visions."  Each creepy floating head is hung on a gallery wall, often accompanied with a wooden box holding the original sample that was collected and a photograph of the street or alley in which it was discovered.  If you are truly interested in the specific scientific process that D-H uses to analyze the DNA, I will link below an article from which has a few paragraphs detailing it.  If you're like me, however, you want to see the creepy pictures.  So, let's get to it.

D-H has even created a DNA derived self-portrait.  Judge for yourself its accuracy.  I think it's not too shabby.  D-H is quoted as saying, "It came from this place of noticing that we are leaving genetic material everywhere.  That, combined with the increasing accessibility to molecular biology and these techniques means that this kind of science fiction future is here now.  It is available to us today.  The question really is what are we going to do with that?"

The overarching problem I have with this is, um, this whole concept of, you know, CONSENT.  I mean, really, I am guilty of launching a piece of chewed gum in the air to see how far it can go.  I'm damn sure every smoker doesn't religiously deposit his/her butt into the designated ashtray.  And if every time your fingernail breaks off, you run to the nearest trashcan to properly dispose of it rather than letting it fall to the earth, I am going to sit here and silently judge you.  That being said, the gift D-H leaves with us all is now we have to be super paranoid that someone out there is collecting these items and, for all we know, a 3D model of our head could be plastered on the wall of an art gallery somewhere.  WTF.  Could you imagine if you happened to be in New York and wanted to check out some cool new art shows and, BOOM, there's your face looking back at you, soulless, unblinking, staring.  I mean, really, I'm sure there would be a way for her to identify these people based on their DNA to go ask their permission and this could even have a great forensic link for solving criminal cases if she were to hone her craft, but D-H isn't in this for the science.  She's in it for the art which makes her both cool as hell but (Disregard the terrible art pun.)


Reference Article #1

Monday, June 22, 2015

Emily Davison's Gruesome Death

When I first drafted this post, I began with "in today's internet age..."  I wanted to talk about the prevalence and availability of gruesome, hideous death footage.  Not just life-scarring videos available on youtube, but the worst kind of images only a Google-search away.  The Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video, the Station House Fire - the internet has made watching the moment of death easier than ever.

But then I realized this isn't a symptom of the darker corners of internet:  The Walter Scott video played on every major news station for days.  Sure, Mr. Scott wasn't tortured to death up close with a hammer, but his violent death was shown over and over and over and over again, every hour for countless hours as news anchors gave stern-faced warnings about "graphic content."  

This set me to thinking: when did this phenomenon begin?  When did this habit we have of turning snuff into news start?  The Vietnam Conflict saw it being leveraged for a good cause, revolutionizing how war-time reporting was conducted.  But it had to be earlier than that...

Then, one night as I was watching the updated documentary series Time to Remember on Netflix (a BBC production filled with earliest newreels), I witnessed the sudden, brutal injury of Emily Davison.  

In 1913, the British Suffragette movement was in full swing.  And, mind you, this wasn't just some Girl-Scout-cookie, chanting-with-signs affair.  Suffragettes were routinely beaten, imprisoned, and, when they went on hunger strikes, were force-fed gruel to ensure they didn't 'become martyrs'.  Physical brawls weren't uncommon between the police and the women, leading some to take up martial arts for self-defense.  And, not all suffragettes were angels: there was definite militant sect to the movement, responsible for things like arson and bombings.

Emily Davison, for example, was of the militant variety.  She was jailed 9 times, and force-fed an astounding 49 TIMES.  While I can't attest to how many fires she set in her time, she's better known for her last act of protest: stepping onto the track at the Epsom Derby on June 4th, 1913.  

As a clump of horses barreled past, Miss Davison stepped out, reaching for King George V's horse, Anmer.  As she grabbed at the reins, the horse struck her, then trampled her.  The horse tripped, sending its jockey flying as Miss Davison tumbled, crushed under the flying hooves of the massive animal.  She was immediately knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital.  She never regained consciousness. 

She died four days later.

The race was being filmed that day for posterity, and captured the moment.  If you'd like, you can watch below.  

At the time there was some confusion as to why Miss Davison stepped out onto the track.  Some believed it was a suicide, others a martyrdom.  What we do know is that Miss Davison had purchased a return ticket from the race, as well as a ticket to a suffragette event later that evening.  It appears death was not on her mind.  Close inspection of the footage corroborates the narrative that Davison was merely attempting to attach a suffragette ribbon to the King's Horse: a risky and high-profile act of protest.

What can't be disputed is that as long as humanity has been filming itself, it's been capturing all aspects of life.  Even unto death.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Art of Edvard Munch

This is Edvard Munch.

This is the painting you all have seen and know him best for.

HOWEVER, there are so many more paintings by Munch that are creepy, intriguing, unsettling, beautiful, sad, and downright chilling.  Munch was born in December of 1863 in Norway.  His mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five years old.  Edvard was often sick and kept out of school for much of the winters, during which he developed his drawing skills to keep himself occupied.  His father was obsessively religious to the point of psychoneurosis and often sternly reprimanded his children saying their mother was watching them from heaven and grieving over their misbehavior.  Munch's persistent illness combined with his father's temper helped inspire many of his nightmarish and melancholy paintings.  He felt that death was constantly advancing on him.

Later in life, Munch left college to become a painter, much to the chagrin of his father.  He experimented with naturalism and impressionism but didn't feel a true connection with these art styles.  Munch began a period of reflection and self-examination and recorded his thoughts in his "soul's diary."  His most famous work The Scream, first painted in 1893, exists in four versions, two pastels and two paintings.  The Scream has been widely interpreted as representing the anxiety of modern man.  Here is Munch's description of how The Scream originated: "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."  So...that's creepy.

Inheritance (1897-1899)
Munch witnessed an event in Paris that led to the creation of this painting.  A mother in a hospital waiting room held her dying child on her lap as she cried.  The child had contracted syphilis and is depicted with an abnormal-sized head, gaunt limbs, and rashes.  The falling leaves on the mother's skirt represent death.  This picture provoked much backlash in Munch's day.  Sexuality and venereal diseases were seen as taboo subjects and many felt Munch had crossed the line with his depiction of a harsh reality in this painting.

Self Portrait in Hell (1903)
Munch's peculiar self-portrait depicts himself naked in the garden of his summer home.  This unnerving painting indicates how troubled Munch was and how he perceived his position as a man and an artist, figuratively in hell.  The large black mass to the left forms a threatening shadow believed to be either the grave or a giant black wing.  However, Munch has not painted himself succumbing to his demons.  He poses strongly, confidently, as though he is the dark ruler of his own private hell.

Death of Marat (1907)
Based off of the painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murdered French revolutionary leader, Jean-Paul Marat.  Munch's style is erratic, agitated, and heavy.  This was said to reflect his disturbed mental state at the time, as this was painted shortly before his mental breakdown and resulting therapeutic treatment.  Munch stated with this painting, he had an urge to "break the areas and lines."

Workers On Their Way Home (1913-1915)
"Under a cloudy, winter evening sky, a gaunt column of workers, an unstoppable human tide, flows ‘through the cold blue shadows’ of a sunless, treeless, Nordic street. The central figures challenge us with their dark, hollowed-out eyes, their upright posture and clenched fists conveying a sense of determination, solidarity and defiance. They sport beards, soft hats and blue jackets with brown trousers and dark vests. One has a distinctive white face—from dust or disease?"

Shown below are more works from Munch I find to be particularly unnerving and sad, though beautifully executed.

Golgotha (1900)

Jealousy (1895)

Agony (1895)

Throughout the course of his career and life, Munch suffered from crippling anxiety coupled with excessive drinking and brawling.  Munch entered therapy in 1908 and was treated with "electrification."  Interestingly, in the 1930s and 1940s, Nazis labeled Munch's art as "degenerate art" and removed 82 of his pieces from German museums.  Munch died at the age of 80 in his home near Oslo but not without having left his mark on the world in both pop culture and to us creepy aficionados who always like to dig a little deeper.


Source #1
Source #2
Source #3

Monday, June 15, 2015

La Mancha Negra - The Black Blob of Venezuela

In 1992, a news article originally published in the Chicago Tribune by Gary Marx swept across America.  It described the strange case of a mysterious black blob oozing from the roads in Venezuela.  Multiple theories have been put forward to explain the substance, but let us begin with the facts of La Mancha Negra, The Black Stain.

La Mancha Negra first appeared in 1987.  A mere smudge 50 yards long, it was noticed by work crews as they patched the 30-year-old asphalt on a highway between Caracas and its airport.  They didn't think much of it at the time, but soon the blob spread.  100 meters, a mile, soon 8 miles of highway were covered with an unknown material that contracted and expanded with the weather.  It grew when conditions were hot and wet, yet shrunk when cold and dry.  It seemed to prefer tunnels and the uphill slopes outside the airport.

Venezuelans described driving on La Mancha Negra as "a grand prix" that required extreme caution, turning the roads "slick as ice".  It seems that despite its gummy texture, the blob rendered the roadway extraordinarily unsafe, causing vehicles to crash into one another or run off the road.  But, come on, we've never heard of this!  It seems like just a big, out-dated nuisance, right?  Wrong.

By the time the article came out in 1992, there were 1,800 DEATHS attributed to La Mancha Negra over the past five years.

Obviously, somebody had to do something.  So, the government stepped in, claiming that it devoted "millions of dollars" to investigating the problem, even consulting experts in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  They tried spraying the stain away with pressurized water, but this didn't work.  They tried scrubbing it away with detergents to no avail.  They even repeatedly scraped away the top layer of the roads, resurfacing it, only to watch La Mancha Negra reappear.

Finally, the government poured tons of pulverized limestone over the stain to 'dry it up'.  This seemed to work for a while, but created a different problem.  The roads then became so dusty that drivers and local residents complained that the air was unbreathable.

And, as far as I can dig on the internet, that is where the story ends...

There are various theories as to what the blob is and who created it.  The most common theory was that La Mancha Negra is oil that's seeping from sub-standard asphalt.  Somebody in Venezuela got rich, in other words, by providing poor quality materials to the road company.  Par for the course for a government many thought to be hopelessly corrupt.  Others believe that La Mancha Negra was the result of countless leaky, old cars spraying their fluids over the roadway.  Still others believe that the blob was a concerted effort on the part of President Carlos Andres Perez's enemies to ruin his cabinet's reputation.  Finally, some believed that raw sewage from nearby slums was running downhill, under the asphalt, and causing a chemical reaction that broke the roads down.

And then, of course, there are people who believe it's aliens.

"Note to self: Never visit Caracas in the summer..."  -Tasha Yar
From some cursory internet-investigation into asphalt, it was difficult to find any industry sources that could comment on exactly what La Mancha Negra might have been.  At best, asphalt providers remind the public to properly seal their surfaces, and that oil and brake fluid can cause the binders in asphalt to deteriorate.  So, it does seem like the "leaky cars" theory might hold a bit of water.

However, I think the most disturbing things about La Mancha Negra are all the other problems it indicates, but bypasses.  Firstly, it's incredibly difficult to get any recent information about La Mancha Negra.  There is a short blog post by a tourist in 2008 who noted how a taxi driver refused to take a particular route, citing fears of La Mancha Negra.  And then there's an article in Mundo Esoterico y Paranormal which mostly rephrases the original Chicago Tribune article, even going so far as to cite the events of La Mancha Negra as beginning "five years ago", which cashes out to mean 2007 instead of 1987.  The comments on the MEP article are very interesting though, with some Venezuelans exclaiming that they'd never heard of La Mancha Negra.

The point being: for a phenomenon that has killed 1,800 people (and that's only in 1992, God only knows what the count is today), why do we know so little about it?  Is this just something that the people of Venezuela have gotten used to?  Has it been solved?  If the Venezuelan government spent millions of bucks on it, then why didn't they issue a press release letting anybody know they figured out the cause?!  Even worse: how horrible are the slums that they melt the roads?!

I wish I had a means of learning more about this strange phenomenon, but short of visiting Caracas myself, I'm not sure whether that'll ever happen.  Suffice to say, the world is a strange place.