Thursday, December 1, 2011
Christmastime is upon us once again, the season of peace on earth and good will toward men. A season of smiles. A season of giving, of open, generous, happy hearts.
But some hearts are not giving.
They are not generous.
They are not happy.
There are hearts that are closed—sealed shut—frozen.
Those are the hearts that are longed for by the Snow Queen.
Who is the Snow Queen, you ask?
She is the bitterly cold ruler of the polar regions, living amongst the shifting dunes of snow and floes of ice, with her hives of snow bees.
Yes, every snowflake created by the Snow Queen is a bee, and just like all bees, they have a queen…
That’s why snowflakes swarm and fly in the winter, and where the snowflakes cluster most, there is their sovereign.
In her great, white sleigh, the Snow Queen traverses the globe in search of those hearts frozen against good and beauty and love.
And she found such a heart in a little boy named Kai.
Kai lived with his grandmother and his best playmate, Gerda, in a garret in the big city. Kai and Gerda loved each other very much—they were happy and joyful. Then, one morning, Kai changed. He became cold and angry, he could only see ugliness and bad in all people—for Kai had a splinter of the Snow Queen’s mirror lodged in his eye, and it soured him against the world.
What is the Snow Queen’s mirror?
It was created by the Devil; a massive silvered looking glass, and anyone that peered into it would only see the worst of things. But the Devil had a plan, he wanted to carry the mirror all the way to Heaven to torment the angels. Thus, he and his minions flew higher and higher toward the pearly gates, but on their way aloft the mirror slipped from their grasp and plummeted to the ground. There it shattered, the splinters flying off in all directions, carried on the wind, and those splinters got into people’s eyes and hearts and all of them would be cursed to Kai’s fate.
Hence the Snow Queen came, in her great, white sleigh, in the midst of a blizzard to take Kai away. And the Snow Queen kissed Kai, twice—once to numb him against the cold, and once again to make him forget all about his grandmother and Gerda and his warm home; to make him forget about happiness; to make him forget about love.
But Gerda did not forget about Kai, she did not forget about love. Gerda went off in search of him—all the way to the Snow Queen’s palace in the faraway frozen north.
There she found Kai a prisoner, alone and still, in the middle of a vast arctic lake, where sat the Snow Queen’s throne. She found him playing with shards of ice, moving them this way and that, as if at work at a giant jigsaw puzzle, for the Snow Queen promised him release, but only if he was able to spell the word “eternity”—a word Kai no longer remembered.
Gerda made her way across the treacherous ice, embracing her beloved Kai. But Kai was so cold, so still, so unmoved that Gerda’s joy became sorrow, and she began to cry. Her warm tears flowed down, dripping onto Kai’s blue, numbed skin, they dripped into his eyes, burning away the cursed splinter of mirror.
Kai’s heart melted.
He was happy, warm and rosy-cheeked again.
He remembered Gerda.
He remembered happiness.
He remembered love.
He and Gerda danced, the ice crystal puzzle pieces being swept up in their delight, and when those ice crystals fell back to the surface of the frozen lake, they spelled out…
So, this Christmas remember that word—eternity.
For only love is eternal.
Only love opens your eyes.
Only love melts your heart.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Typhoid Mary’s Tasting Spoon (inspired by the life and legend of “Typhoid Mary” Mallon) – Antiqued and stained wooden frame, with cracked glass; antique silver spoon; black thread; cobwebs; hand-stained newspaper clippings; hand-stained typhoid fever warning; hand-stained potato soup recipe; paper flies; black and white print of a photograph of a New York tenement kitchen, ca. 1909
Thanksgiving time is here again!
What was that, groaning I heard amongst the groaning boards?
Not that traditional menu again?!
Your grandma’s time-honored roast turkey—so dry the oven must have been set to “cremation”.
Your wife’s cherished stuffing recipe—so gummy it could be used to repair the mortar on the chimney.
Your sister-in-law’s famous pumpkin pie—so heavy the Mafia’s threatened to use it instead of cement to weigh down bodies in the river.
And we won’t mention that string bean casserole, swimming in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup; the one with French’s canned french-fried onions sprinkled on top?
You should be thankful.
Thankful?! you scoff, eyebrows raised.
Thankful that your annual holiday repast is not being prepared by history’s most notorious cook, Mary Mallon…
…better known as “Typhoid Mary”.
Typhoid—a disease that once spread horror—is described thusly by a modern day medical journal (in laymen’s terms):
Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection characterized by diarrhea, systemic disease, and a rash – most commonly caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi. S. typhi are spread by contaminated food, drink, or water. Following ingestion, the bacteria spread from the intestine via the bloodstream to the intestinal lymph nodes, liver, and spleen via the blood where they multiply and…
Okay, that’s enough of that—I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details. Basically, it’s a really, really, REALLY bad case of food poisoning, really, really, REALLY bad, as in, you-could-be-pushing-up-daisies-soon bad.
But that same medical journal provides an interesting footnote to its typhoid definition:
A few people can become carriers of S. typhi and continue to shed the bacteria for years, spreading the disease while being asymptomatic themselves, as in the case of "Typhoid Mary" in New York over 100 years ago.
There she is!
Mary Mallon was from good Irish stock, emigrating at age fifteen to the Land of Opportunity where she soon found employment in the upper-middle class New York suburb of Mamaroneck. Mary was a strong, willing worker, and a mighty fine cook it was said. Regrettably, all of her recipes came with an extra added ingredient—a heapin’ helpin’ of ‘em nasty S.typhi germs. That’s why, two weeks after being added to the servant roster at her very first job, those in the household came down with typhoid.
Mary jumped ship, and began quickly stirring up trouble in the heart of New York City. There her new family was, by and by, suffering from fevers and other ills of the Pepto-Bismol television commercial kind, if you know what I mean, and the laundress died, and they were out a cook, since their old one had just skedaddled.
Mary’s next position was behind the stove of an attorney, until seven out of eight of his relatives were rapidly indisposed, and a big “Quarantined for Typhoid” notice was plastered on his front door. It must be said here that tender-hearted Mary stayed on for a while, nursing those she made ill—those she had made unintentionally ill, continued to make unintentionally ill.
That’s the macabre joke of it all—Mary herself was perfectly healthy. Not a symptom of anything to be seen, to give fair warning—not a rumble of the tummy, not a twist of the bowel.
And so, with her current employers not much in need of a cook any longer—since most of them were unable to eat—Mary and her culinary expertise moved on to a post in the wealthy quarter of Oyster Bay, Long Island. Lo and behold, you guessed it, all there got sick, too! Six out of eleven hospitalized. Mary handed in her walking papers, and strolled into three more households, serving up bacteria by the spoonful.
By then, the New York Health Department realized it had a “carrier” on its hands; one redoubtable investigating agent finally tracing the breakouts straight to Mary Mallon’s kitchen door.
Under the law of the day, she was taken away to a clinic on North Brother Island located in the middle of Manhattan’s East River. There she languished for three years, until she promised she was “prepared to change her occupation (that of a cook), and would give assurance by affidavit that she would upon her release take such hygienic precautions as would protect those with whom she came in contact, from infection”.
Mary was soon back in the midst of the human throng, and cooking up a storm. In early 1915 alone she was alleged to have sickened over two dozen unfortunates—and causing one death—at, of all places, New York’s Sloan Hospital for Women.
Hey, you gotta do what you do best, right?
And damn, her fresh peach ice cream was first-class…
Be that as it may, the officials had had enough. Mary was carted off, kicking and screaming, back to her quarantine in the East River; this time confined there for life and becoming something of a minor celebrity with journalists always on the hunt for a good bad story.
In the end, it’s calculated that Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary”, was responsible for infecting fifty-three, and causing three deaths.
Mary’s own death came in 1938, when she was sixty-nine.
She was cremated (you can insert your own jokes here).
Since then, Mary’s name has gone down in infamy… well, at least her nickname. “Typhoid Mary” has been for nearly a century the medical world’s label for someone who passes along an ailment without being sick themselves. It’s also a term for anybody out there in cyberspace who deliberately and maliciously infects innocent computers with viruses. There’s even a hip-hop group named after her, and a comic book supervillian.
Oops! There goes the dinner bell!
See…there are worse things than that dry turkey, that gummy stuffing, that leaden pumpkin pie, so stop complaining…
…and go wash your hands.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
The Opprobrium of Mother Leeds—or The Umbilical Cord of the Jersey Devil (inspired by the legend of the Jersey Devil) – Vintage Depression glass candy jar; antique hand-forged fish hook; tissue paper; black thread; theatrical blood; red paint; white glue; floral wire; rotted burlap; hemp twine; dried leaf; dried pine branches and pine cones; sand
Come closer round the fire, kiddies—have I got a Halloween tale for you…
A long, long time ago—near on three-hundred years past—in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey – a lonely, desolate sweep of coarse sand and dense forest – there lived a woman known as Mother Leeds. She and her husband (a drunken lout if ever there was one) and their twelve children (guess there wasn’t much else to do in-between brewin’ up ‘em batches of moonshine) called a single, ramshackle cabin home. Life was hard enough scrounging up food sufficient to feed her current brood, then Mother Leeds once again discovered herself “with child”. Maddened at the forthcoming so-called blessed event, Mother Leeds railed at the heavens, shouting, “Let this one be a devil!”
And thus the child was cursed, even before its birth.
Fast-forward nine months.
It was a dark and stormy night when the babe arrived. Lightning crackled, illuminating Mother Leeds’ bed. A midwife scurried about in the candlelight, while the Leeds’ children huddled in the shadows near the fire anxiously awaiting their sibling’s delivery, while Father Leeds snored off the last of the alcohol. Thunder rolled, combining with Mother Leeds’ cries, a deafening din that continued until…
…there came another cry—the cry of the newborn.
The midwife cut the umbilical cord and held the infant up proudly, all smiles. “A boy, Mrs. Leeds—a beautiful boy!”
But no sooner had those words been said then the smiles withered. The midwife frowned, it seemed that the babe was all of sudden heavier, bigger—that the babe was growing! She dropped the little one to the filthy floorboards and backed away, hand to mouth, aghast. Mother Leeds, sweaty and exhausted, drew herself up on her elbows, trying to see, while her other offspring stared, whimpering.
Then those whimpers turned to screams.
Mother Leeds’ thirteenth child was changing, metamorphosing, mutating, right before their very eyes! A devil she’d wished for; a devil she’d received.
The babe uncurled. Pink skin turned dark and leathery. Wings, like those of a great bat, sprouted. Gnarled horns budded from either side of a lengthening skull. Little fingers elongated, lethal claws pushing their way from each tip. Feet became hoofs. Sharp teeth grew from bloody gums, filling in the animal-like muzzle the creature now possessed. Its eyes blinked, its irises glowing hellfire red, its pupils thin, black slits.
It took in its family, one by one, until those infernal eyes caught its mother in their sights.
There came an inhuman howl—and it leapt!
Those bestial talons tore through flesh, snapped bones, decapitated, dismembered, and disemboweled.
Its work of familicide finished, the creature went to the fireplace. It spread its wings, and with a leap and a bound it flapped its way straight up the chimney and into the storm.
And ever since then, it’s called the Pine Barrens home.
Sightings are still reported.
For three centuries there are those unfortunate few who claim to have encountered it. For three centuries strange sounds have be heard in the Barrens at night—unnatural sounds—eerie wailings, uncanny cries. For three centuries weird hoof prints have been found, in mud, in snow. For three centuries dogs, horses, and cows in its territory, have vanished, or been found slaughtered, half-eaten. For three centuries it has never been caught, never been captured.
Mother Leeds’ thirteenth child.
The Jersey Devil.
Yup, it’s still out there…
And if you listen real hard, maybe you’ll hear…
What was that?
An inhuman howl?
A guttural growl?
A stomp of hoofs?
A flap of wings?
Guess it was nothing.
But… then again…
So, be careful when you’re trick-or-treating this Halloween, kiddies…
…’cause the devil just might get you if you don’t watch out!
Thursday, September 1, 2011
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Carnivals stop coming before Labor Day, everybody knows that. They’re summertime revels—merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels and cotton candy and hot dogs and lemonade, balloons and games of chance with gimcrack plastic prizes on the midway—the perfect way to celebrate the longest days of the year, the liberation from the schoolroom, the clear, wide, sultry afternoons that melt into cooling twilights as the sun descends, then into breezy nights of glaring lights, loud tinny music, and booming fireworks.
Yes, all of that ends as soon as there’s a hint of autumn in the air. That season brings with it crisp evenings, the smell of freshly picked apples, the scents of dying leaves and chimney smoke; the days grow shorter, darkness begins its reign, and Halloween is fast approaching.
But some years, in some places, Halloween comes early.
The ear heeds it first, the rhythmic click-clack of the train as it draws near, a black serpentine silhouette in the night. Then the nose takes in the bittersweet black clouds of coal smoke. Next the eyes catch the engine’s lamp, round and white and as bright as the moon; a moon those billowing black clouds of coal smoke are obscuring. A strange, unexplainable frisson of fear runs up the spine as the plaintive wail of a calliope—a siren’s song—sounds.
The carnival is coming.
Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival.
A fair like no other.
Whereas other carnivals are sources of merriment, of jollity, of laughter and screams of delight, feeding its gluttonous attendants with the thrills and chills and spills of a more innocuous, ingenuous type, this one feeds off of you, your friends, family and neighbors until there’s nothing left but dry husks, like corn stalks left to rot in the farmer’s field.
Mr. Dark and his entourage—the Dust Witch, the Illustrated Man, Mademoiselle Tarot, even the Most Beautiful Woman in the World—know your deepest, darkest secrets.
What would you trade for the fulfillment of your fondest wish?
You there, portly matron—what would you give to be a fine-looking, svelte filly again, a feast for any man’s eye?
And what about you, the faded football hero—wouldn’t you like one last chance to prove yourself, to make that winning touchdown? All hail the conquering hero!
And you, old man—what would you offer in return for another taste of youth, of strength in those limbs, of a restoration of your masculine virility?
And you, son—wouldn’t you like to be older? Wouldn’t you like to be a man, to know what men and women do behind locked doors while the children sleep?
They can smell your yearnings, they salivate at the thought of your unrequited desires.
After all, most men jump at the chance to give up everything for nothing, and there’s nothing we’re so careless with as our own immortal souls.
So, step right up…
Visit the Egyptian Mirror Maze, constructed to trick the eye, boggle the mind, as you see yourself, your faults and shortcomings reflected back ten thousand times!
Ascend high in the Monster Montgolfier Balloon! Catch a glimpse of your town from God’s perspective; so quaint, so orderly from above—so ripe, so fetid, so foul from within!
Take a ride on the carousel! Choose your steed! How many years do you want to gain by going forward? How many years do you want to lose by going in reverse?
A flash of early-autumn lightning reveals Mr. Dark for who—and what—he is, as a bleached skull materializes from beneath the skin.
His minions scuttle in the dust, in the must, and fallen leaves, seeking out any morsel of your soul you’ve left behind, gorging themselves on your pangs of regret and remorse.
And when they’re finished here, like any good carnival, they’ll pull up stakes, pack up and move on—so, beware of the train that arrives in the night; beware of the carnival that sets up tent after summer’s end…
But most of all…
…beware of what you wish for…
…you might just get it.
Happy autumn to you all.
Monday, August 1, 2011
“My son, Sebastian and I constructed our days. We would carve each day like a piece of sculpture, leaving behind us a trail of days like a gallery of sculpture until suddenly, last summer…”
So said Mrs. Violet Venable.
A time of scorching heat and oppressive humidity, of somnolent, sun-drenched days and sultry, sleepless nights. A season when the crime rate, the murder rate, the suicide rate skyrocket from coast to coast. Tempers flare. Rage seethes. A madness bubbles neath the skin, like hot asphalt; everybody seeking an escape.
The wealthy, widowed, aged Southern Belle, Mrs. Violet Venable sought hers in the mammoth glass-framed conservatory her late, lamented son, Sebastian, created as a sanctuary, modeled after Michelangelo’s “Dawn of Creation,” a temple to a miasma of lurid, fetid, carnivorous flora—his favorite, his prized Venus flytrap, a work of nature that requires the flesh, the blood, the very essence of the living to survive—much like Mrs. Venable herself.
It’s summer, 1937.
The setting, Lions View State Asylum in New Orleans, Louisiana—a grand, forbidding madhouse, currently host to an irritating summertime pest that Mrs. Venable would just love to swat, a bothersome, buzzing mosquito, the ant at her picnic, the stinging horsefly in her ointment—her niece, Catherine, a desperate, unstable girl Mrs. Venable wants silenced, at any cost. You see, Catherine has been spreading stories, sordid, scandalous untruths, completely obscene lies, about the venerated Venable, Sebastian, the way he lived, the way he died. And what better way to silence an obvious lunatic than with the generous offer of a full frontal lobotomy—a knife to the brain that brings peace and quiet to all.
And just what are those lies poor Catherine is spreading?
Seems Sebastian died under awfully mysterious, awfully bizarre, awfully awful circumstances while vacationing on Cabeza de Lobo, in the Encantadas, and nobody knows exactly how Sebastian met his end—except Catherine, who was there…
Who saw it all.
And soon the festering truth oozes forth, bursting in the overheated, almost incestuous air Mrs. Venable breathes, each breath taken in idolization of her adored offspring, as she recalls them as being, not a mother and a son, but a famous couple, saying:
“People didn’t speak of Sebastian and his mother or Mrs. Venable and her son, they said ‘Sebastian and Violet, Violet and Sebastian are staying at the Lido, they're staying at the Ritz in Madrid. Sebastian and Violet, Violet and Sebastian have taken a house at Biarritz for the season’, and every appearance, every time we appeared, attention was centered on us! - everyone else! Eclipsed!"
The exalted image of gilded, virile youth shot through with arrows.
But Catherine's image of her cousin Sebastian differs significantly from that of his mother’s. To Catherine he was certainly a martyr but hardly a saint, he was someone who used people. Appears Sebastian was shy—just a tiny bit closeted—and he needed first his mother and then the younger, more seductive Catherine, “as bait” to meet people and to make contacts—to procure, to satisfy his cravings for young male flesh. To Sebastian, his victims existed only for his gratification, his nature much like the life-sucking greenery of his garden. “Blondes were next on the menu,” Catherine confessed. “He was fed up with the dark ones and was famished for blondes....that’s how he talked about people, as if they were - items on a menu. – ‘That one’s delicious looking, that one is appetizing’...”
And, a fate would have it, that’s precisely how Sebastian got his just desserts – by being devoured, literally, by the very boys that he had fed upon, himself.
The truth told, Catherine was spared her brain butchering, and Aunt Violet?
Well, she was left with the one thing that mattered the most to her—her son.
Or, at least his memory, as her brain devoured itself.
“Oh, Sebastian, what a lovely summer it’s been. Just the two of us. Sebastian and Violet. Violet and Sebastian. Just the way it’s always going to be. Oh, we are lucky, my darling, to have one another and need no one else ever.”
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
You'll wish that summer could always be here
You'll wish that summer could always be here
You'll wish that summer could always be here
You’ll wish that summer…
Friday, July 1, 2011
Scot D. Ryersson (left), Joanna Tower (centre), and Daragh O'Connor (right)
There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. For the next few minutes we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits…
Arcanifacts on TV.
Beginning Sunday, July 10th, and continuing until the end of the month, Cablevision’s Neighborhood Journal program will feature a segment on artist Scot D. Ryersson and his infamous Arcanifacts. The show will air in northern New Jersey on channel 78, at 6:30 pm and 10:30 pm on that Sunday. Check local listings for encore airings.
Neighborhood Journal ’s host and producer Joanna Tower and her crew were at the River Edge Public Library in mid-June to interview Ryersson and the library’s director, Daragh O’Connor. The library’s Arcanifacts exhibition of twenty-two pieces of the arcane and phantasmagorical, now on view there until the first week of August, was filmed in detail. Highlighted were Ryersson’s first of over one-hundred Arcanifacts, "Shards of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cup", and his latest, "A Snippet of Peter Pan’s Shadow", thus taking the viewer from the depths of Wonderland to the heights of Neverland.
So, remember that date, time and channel!
We now return you to your regularly scheduled program…
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
In 1913, the eminent English author, E. M. Forster, who had penned such literary classics as A Room with a View, A Passage to India, and Howard’s End, began writing his most personal, most controversial book—Maurice. The story is a deceptively simple one; Maurice Hall, a young Britisher, is born into a privileged life. He grows up confident in status, precise in social ritual. Yet although priggish and conforming, Maurice finds himself increasingly attracted to his own sex. Through Clive, whom he encounters at Cambridge, and through Alec, the gamekeeper on Clive’s country estate, Maurice gradually experiences a profound emotional and sexual awakening.
Completed in 1914 (although in the subsequent decades the book was continually revised), Maurice is a powerful condemnation of the then repressive attitudes of British society and a continuing plea for emotional and sexual honesty. Aware that its publication would cause a furor, Forster—he himself a closeted gay man—ensured that the novel did not appear until after his death in 1970. Even then the manuscript was found to have taped to it a note in Forster’s hand, saying “Publishable, but worth it?”
Almost a century after its completion, Maurice celebrates its fortieth anniversary in print this year. And what has happened along the way in reference to its subject matter, its cause—the right for someone to love whom they want regardless of gender? The intervening decades have seen the repeal of England’s harsh laws banning such acts; in the United States, the Supreme Court has also abolished the same. Celebrations of gay pride are seen annually internationally—from New York City to Toronto, from London to Paris, from Rio to Sydney. In some countries, in some U.S. states, same sex couples are now able to legally marry, to adopt children. Yes, great strides have been made, ones that probably would have astounded E. M. Forster—including the fact that, in 1987, Maurice, the book whose merit he questioned, was made into a much acclaimed motion picture, with most movie goers hardly batting an eyelid at the male/male love scenes.
Today, we live in an age when mass media inundates with homoerotic imagery—fashion magazines, television screens, gym advertisements, and even your local mall’s Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags exult the nude male form, explicitly enticing gay audiences, gay clientele. We have gay vampires and gay werewolves; we have gay congressmen and gay celebrities. We have gay dating shows and gay game shows. We have pop diva Lady Gaga rejoicing in her affirming mantra, “Baby, I was born this way!”
None of this would have been thinkable, let alone possible, when Forster wrote Maurice.
I was born in 1960, coming of age in the garish years of pounding disco beats, the flashing floors of Studio 54, the gender-bending of Boy George, Annie Lennox, and Pete Burns, the clichéd stereotypes of the Village People, as well as the introduction of Playgirl magazine with its blatant, though groundbreaking, masculine frontal nudity and the first publication of The Joy of Gay Sex—years of excess that not only unlocked closet doors, but virtually smashed them to smithereens. I was nine when the Stonewall riots occurred in Greenwich Village, the aftermath of that and many other protests, making my coming out something easier, not that earthshaking, not that terrible. I’m fifty now. I’ve seen the changes. I’ve lived in more tolerant times, in more tolerant places, surrounded by more tolerant people. Yes, I’ve been harassed; yes, I’ve been ridiculed. I’ve been called names, have endured disgusted stares. But I’ve also had the chance to openly love—and be loved by—two extraordinary men, both of whom changed me, my life, my heart, my soul, for the better.
And for all of that, I am grateful.
On the first page of Maurice, Forster wrote:
Dedicated to a Happier Year
Words that must continue to inspire.
...they're still waiting.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Beginning May 4th and running through to June 2nd, the River Edge Public Library is once again hosting an exhibition of the arcane and the phantasmagorical—
Twenty-two all new pieces will be on display—from Snow White’s poisoned apple core to a chunk of Narnia’s White Witch’s frozen heart; from Miss Muffet’s spidery cereal spoon to chips of Humpty Dumpty’s shattered shell; from briny crocodile tears to Dorian Gray’s last teardrop, from fallen angel feathers to harpy claws, and so much more. Each a bit of unreality preserved and submitted for your consideration.The River Edge Public Library is located at 685 Elm Avenue, River Edge, NJ.
So, stop by if you dare…
Read an article on the exhibition below:
ARCANIFACTS EXHIBIT RETURNS TO THE RIVER EDGE LIBRARY
Thursday, May 5, 2011
BY MEGAN BURROW
Just six months after his first exhibit at the River Edge Public Library, artist Scot Ryersson is back at the library with 22 new pieces. The River Edge resident will be displaying his work from May 4 through the end of the month.
The pieces are part of Ryersson’s "Arcanifacts" collection, a project he began in 2007. Each piece on display is an assemblage of found objects and pictures inspired by short stories, novels and folklore.
Ryersson said he coined the term by combining the Latin words arcanus (secret) and factum (thing made) to describe an artifact containing both mystery and truth.
Among the pieces currently on display are works inspired by "Mother Goose" nursery rhymes, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," by Oscar Wilde and John Milton’s epic poem, "Paradise Lost."
Like the first Arcanifacts exhibit, a bibliography will be provided to visitors so they may read the original works that inspired the pieces.
Ryersson said he was pleasantly surprised by the first exhibit’s reception and is excited to once again display his work in what he called a "summer sequel."
"The library had contacted me and said the first exhibit was popular and had garnered a lot of attention," he said. "I guess after no one showed up with pitchforks and torches after the first time they were ready to have me back."
Before creating Arcanifacts, Ryersson designed movie posters for about 15 years, including ones for "The Silence of the Lambs," "Ghost," and "The Hunt for Red October." His work on "Evil Under the Sun" and "Another Country" each garnered him an Art Directors of London Award.
In 1999, Ryersson co-authored a biography of the Marchesa Casati, an eccentric Italian celebrity in the early 20th century, with Michael Orlando Yaccarino. The book, "Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati," has been adapted into a play and the fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano have each based collections on Casati. Most recently, an illustrated version of the biography was released by the art book publisher Abrams.
To learn more about Ryersson and his work, visit arcanifacts.blogspot.com. He accepts private commissions and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, April 1, 2011
April sweet is coming in, let the feast of fools begin!
What is that, you question?
Let me tell you.
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: an extreme fear of clowns
Was that a scoffing laugh I heard? How ridiculous! How absurd! I hear you say. How could anyone be afraid of a clown?
Ask the people of Gotham City.
For that major metropolis quakes in terror of one.
The Clown Prince of Crime himself—the Joker.
He’s suave, he’s debonair.
He’s a homicidal lunatic.
A sociopathic psychopath with a sick and sadistic sense of slapstick.
Whether by make-up (war paint some have called it), by accidental immersion in a bath of toxic chemicals, or by true physical deformity, the Joker’s skin is pasty pancake white, his hair brilliant green, his lips vivid red—lips that surround, delineate, define and outline a hideous rictus, an appalling twisted smile, which leaves him grinning from ear to ear.
All this the jolly jester enhances, embellishes, with his distinctive, dandified attire. An elegantly-tailored suit—striped pants, double-breasted waistcoat, long-tail coat—that is of a dazzling purple hue. The color of his shirt, sometimes a vibrant orange, sometimes a garish green. A large and floppy bowtie, purple gloves, polished black shoes and spats, and even an ebony wood walking stick with a sterling handle, complete the ensemble.
Along with an unique boutonniere.
And what a strange flower it is.
Is it a lily?
Is it an orchid?
While its genus might be debatable, one thing about it is not.
Remember those harmless prankster flowers, the rubber ones you knew as a child that squirted water in the face of those invited to closely inspect? Well, kiddies, the Joker’s done you one better.
His squirts sulfuric acid.
Now ain’t that a laugh?!
But that’s the Joker’s specialty, you see, his forte, his talent, his raison d’être, taking seemingly innocent practical jokes, and turning them inside-out. That exploding cigar contains enough nitroglycerin to take your head off. That fluffy cream pie is spiked with cyanide. That joy buzzer sizzles with 10,000 volts, and those playing cards are razor-edged.
Then there’s his favorite gag—a lethal form of laughing gas; giggle your way to the grave.
Whatever the trick, whatever the stunt, it is heralded—and followed—by hysterical fits of hilarity.
He’s the Harlequin of Hate.
He’s the Ace of Knaves.
Mad as a hatter.
He’s not playing with a full deck.
So, if you ever plan a trip to the big city, to Gotham City, to see the sights, beware.
Because in the Joker’s world, the joke is always on you…
“You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!”
—The Joker, quoted from the film, The Dark Knight (2008)
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The comely, innocent maid hummed a simple tune as she promenaded through the vernal splendor. The surrounding flowerbeds bloomed with a plethora of multi-colored blossoms, whose enchanting fragrance perfumed the balmy breezes with each brush of the hem of her dress. The sky was a blue, cloudless expanse, from east to west, north to south. The sun was warm, its beams creating dappled pools of light on the grassy carpet beneath the maid’s bare feet. Trees bent their branches so that their leaves might caress her rosy cheek; birds trilled, bees buzzed, alighting from petal to petal—the whole world gloried in the maid’s beauty, her virginal purity.
But there must forever be a worm in the bud.
All at once the ground began its tremors, shaking, shuddering, then splitting, and from that fissure was manifested hell on earth.
Hades, dark lord of the Underworld, ascended. His great steel-wheeled and ebony wood chariot emerging in plumes of sulphurous yellow, drawn on by a pair of inky steeds. His vast shadow blocked out the sun, his armor black as pitch, his eyes a conflagration of hellfire and lustful desire.
As one of the dark lord’s large, rough hands gripped the black leather reins of his team, the other shot out, seizing hold, snatching and capturing his targeted prey…
Our comely, innocent maid—
Overpowered, overwhelmed, Persephone was dragged down into the crater, clods of dirt and blades of grass suturing up the gaping wound in the earth’s crust, obliterating the scene of the crime from men’s eyes.
Once entrenched in his subterranean lair, Hades embarked on wooing his adored, she a heavenly radiance in the perpetual gloom of the land of the dead; his words of love falling upon not entirely deaf ears. But such a sorrowful, blackened, desolate kingdom was not for Persephone, and so she spurned the dark lord’s advances, and vowed a hunger strike until she was once again allowed to bask in the sun.
Hades fumed and raged.
He wheedled and cajoled.
He enticed his intended with the finest foods, finally leaving nothing more to excite her appetite than a dozen pomegranate seeds.
Throughout all, Persephone remained adamant, steadfast, unmoved…
…but she was so very hungry, and those glistening red seeds looked so very tasty.
Meanwhile, high above on the plane of the living, Persephone’s progenitrix, Demeter, Mother Nature herself, was in frantic search of her missing offspring. Getting nowhere, finding nothing, she decimated the earth, laying waste crops, fertile farmlands withering into nothing but barren dustbowls. A loud cry went up from the people, straight to Zeus’ ear. And the King of the Gods delivered Hades an ultimatum—release Persephone or face divine wrath.
Of course the girl could go back home, as long as she hadn’t eaten anything while below ground, because, you see, it was one of those inexplicable regulations created by the fickle Fates that asserted whoever partook of any food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there.
When questioned about her eating habits during her time as the dark lord’s guest, Persephone had to confess that she had indeed failed in controlling her cravings and had succumbed to the temptation of eating six of those offered twelve pomegranate seeds.
That slip of the tongue, so to speak, sealed her destiny.
It was ordered that as a penalty, our comely, innocent maid must spend six months—one for each pomegranate seed consumed—with Hades in the lower regions. But mere mortals paid the price, too, for Demeter decreed that as long as her daughter resided beneath, the fruitful bounty of tree and field would cease, to flourish again only upon her return.
Thus the seasons were created.
Spring—the season of rebirth.
Summer—the season of plenty.
Autumn—the season of harvest.
Winter—the season of want.
Fickle as were those Fates, whose injudicious law caused her plight, Persephone herself was a tad capricious for she soon grew quite fond of her dark lord and accepted his hand in marriage, thus becoming Queen of Shades, ruler of shadows, whose very name it was forbidden to utter. Her love for her hellish husband eventually ran so deep that when learning that his roving eye had fallen in turn upon two most appealing young nymphs, Leuce and Minthe, Persephone cursed the rivals, changing the first into a white poplar tree and the second into the small, bittersweet, green-leafed plant that bears her name to this day—mint.
Hades and Persephone.
Their life was, well, a living hell—everyday he went off to work in the pits, she ran the house, one with superb views of the River Styx, and they even adopted a puppy, a bouncing ball of black fur with three heads.
So, in the end, they were really like any other happily married couple just keeping the home fires burning.
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee;
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874
(Tate Gallery, London)
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Disillusionment of Miss Havisham
(inspired by Charles Dickens’ 1861 novel, Great Expectations) – Antiqued and stained wooden frame; vintage velvet; vintage tapestry fabric; rotted tulle and lace; dried flowers and leaves; desiccated moth; antique pearl hatpins; antique diamante hatpin; antique wedding ring; vintage silver shoe buckle; theatrical cobwebs; cracked and broken porcelain cherub head; vintage French satin ribbon; Fuller’s Earth; LED flickering candle; altered art pieces—wedding invitation, antique clock face, (box is heavily scented inside with Penhaligon’s “Bluebell” perfume)
Cupid has a lot to answer for.
Yup, that rosy-cheeked chubby cherub with the kewpie wings—the one with the quiver of poisoned darts, the tips of which have been dipped in a potent l’elisir d’amore. A single strike and passion infects the bloodstream, enflaming, enraging, intoxicating.
Sometimes to disastrous results.
Case in point—one nineteenth-century damsel from merry ol’ England; prim, proper, pretty, not to mention prosperous, she was, the heir to a brewer’s fortune. A good catch, therefore, for any suitable young fellow. But our little miss…well, like they say, a bad beginning oftentimes makes for a bad end.
Our little miss’s mother shuffled off this mortal coil while her issue was just a babe, leaving daddy to spoil his offspring—excessively—catering to her every whim, her every tantrum, crowning her queen of the house…
…a massive manse of old brick called Satis House.
“Satis” being the Latin for “enough”…
Enough House, then.
However our little miss never had enough.
And she got even more when daddy died.
Ensconced in her ivory tower, our little miss was unfamiliar with the ways of the world, the dangers therein, the wolves waiting right outside her door, and she lost her heart to a most unsuitable suitor, a silver-tongued swain by the name of Compeyson. He wooed her straight to the altar…
…and then left her there.
Absconding with most of her considerable dowry while they skipped down the pathway toward hymeneal bliss.
The bitter news reached our little miss on the very morning of her intended nuptials—at twenty minutes to nine, to be exact.
And that’s exactly when time stood still in Satis House.
The clocks were ordered stopped; windows were barred or boarded up; the servants were dismissed, and our little miss—now damned to be a “Miss” forever—entombed herself in that great mausoleum of a mansion, a mansion festooned for the marriage ceremony that never was.
There she remained isolated, wandering the house’s halls, the corridors of her own mind—one shoe on, one shoe off—still clad in her bridal dress and veil, the dining table still set, the wedding cake still holding pride of place as its centerpiece. Although his hands were fixed at Satis House, Father Time marched on, the years multiplied and within those prison walls decay overwhelmed, dust choked, the petals of the bouquets went brittle, the garlands withered, the wedding cake petrified, feeding only mice. Our little miss’s bridal dress became a shroud of rotting silk and stained satin clothing a living corpse, something described as a cross between a waxwork and a skeleton, with moving eyes—she, like her house, decomposing from the inside out.
You might think that that was the end of our little miss, bearing Cupid’s tragic curse alone to the grave, but not so. In her solitude, madness picked away at her in the same way vermin picked away at the moldering wedding repast and bit by bit, morsel by morsel, our little miss planned a pitiless revenge.
One man betrayed her, so all men must pay.
She adopted a daughter, a bright, shimmering shining star she named Estella. She groomed her, taught her, and when primed, she then used her as Nemesis’s weapon of retribution.
Every male heart Estella captivated, she would break.
Until, sure enough, the arrival of another Prince Charming, whose youth, whose innocence, simplicity and virtue began to untangle the knotted skein of the old spider’s web.
And the old spider saw at last what she was, what she’d done.
Sadly for our little miss, Fate had one last lesson to teach. Upon her redemption the tatters of her bridal dress caught light from the coals on the grate, and…
The flames of love finally consumed Miss Havisham.
So, what have we learned from this Dickensian tale of romantic woe?
That Cupid can be a really bad shot.
Oh, yes…and a very happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.
Oh, innocent victims of Cupid,
Remember this terse little verse;
To let a fool kiss you is stupid,
To let a kiss fool you is worse.
—E. Y. Harburg
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Click "play" arrow to watch the video above/Music by John Morris (c) 1980
Joseph Merrick: A Three Act Tragedy (inspired by the legend of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man) – Handmade, antiqued cardboard & paper vellum Victorian toy theatre, based upon an original design in the collection of the Theatre Museum, London; battery-operated miniature white lights; LED flickering candle; pewter figurine“Ladies and gentlemen ... I would like to introduce Mr. Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. Before doing so I ask you please to prepare yourselves—Brace yourselves up to witness one who is probably the most remarkable human being ever to draw the breath of life.”
The barker inclined toward his suitably cowed and curious audience, his greasepaint running, staining the brim of his battered showman’s topper. His eyes glinted in the gaslight, his lips curled in salacious glee, the listeners were hanging on his every word. Anticipation heightened, the room suffused with the pong of sweat and soot.
The curtain was drawn back with a flourish.
A woman screamed.
One gentleman covered his eyes with a kidskin-gloved hand and turned aside, shuddering, while another raged that the barker was a charlatan, a swindler, that what stood before them was nothing but a fake, a fraud, trickery constructed of theatrical putty and makeup, of deliberate shadow and subterfuge. That was until the gaslights flared, and what was revealed was painfully all too real.
The Victorian era was one rife with grotesqueries. Circuses, seedy spectacles located in less than salubrious alleyways, even grand exhibition venues like London’s Egyptian Hall, all catered and pandered, offering artifacts and oddities, historical and religious relics, wax figures and clever automatons, menageries of strange and exotic animals. Most who bought tickets, who paid their tuppence, did not care much about such things as sanitation and safety; they only cared about the marvels and the magic promised. As public taste for the macabre escalated, perversity took the place of propriety, and sideshows proliferated, presenting human prodigies and human anomalies. At first, the unpleasantness was kept at a safe distance, in glass cases containing photographs, effigies, or plaster life-casts. But the public quickly put it all down to some type of deception, claiming that it was all make-believe. Photographs could be altered, effigies enhanced, even life-casts could be manipulated. Next came a glut of preserved remains, multi-headed calves and sheep, kittens with six legs, conjoined infants, all pickled in formaldehyde. These, too, could be dismissed as nothing but mere rubber. So, at last, came the parade of the genuine—the living. Fat ladies, dwarves, bearded women, armless men, living skeletons, pallid albinos, the tallest and the smallest were shoved before the footlights, made to dance, sing, or recite for their meager wages.
The worse, the better.
Ugliness was paramount.
Throngs gathered to gawk and gape, to ride and ridicule, to point at and mock; the milk of human kindness curdled and went sour.
Joseph Carey Merrick was born on 5 August 1862, to a Leicester carriage driver and his wife. The babe seemed perfectly normal during his nascent years, chubby, vivacious, with all ten fingers, all ten toes. But fate held a nasty trick up its sleeve for the poor lad, and at the age of five, Joseph began to warp, to mutate, right before his parents’ horrified gaze. His right arm and hand, his right leg and foot grew to outrageous proportions; huge growths began to appear on his head, his face, his back; his fair skin transforming into thick, gray flesh, bulbous, coarse and lumped.
His affliction, known today as neurofibromatosis, an excessive continual growing of both skin and bone, was explained away in the most exaggerated and melodramatic of terms—that his mother had been knocked down and nearly crushed by a rampaging elephant at a fairground while pregnant with the unfortunate child, thus the pachydermatous deformities.
And so, Joseph Carey Merrick became thereafter, the Elephant Man.
Shunned by his family, his pitiable early existence was endured in a workhouse, his schooling abandoned when his misshapenness overwhelmed. To hide from prying eyes, he cloaked himself inside the folds of an oversized trench coat, his massive skull, his travesty of a face masked by a burlap hood, into which one large eyehole had been cut. Living in darkness, his workhouse days of rolling cigars came to an end when his right hand was rendered useless by his disease. His time as a hawker, selling trifles from door to door, was a dismal, humiliating failure; housewives bolted their locks against the monstrosity on the threshold; packs of children followed him in the streets, leering and taunting, pelting him with garbage.
With no other option to be had, Joseph entered into the lurid underworld of the Victorian freak show. Advertised as “Half-a-man, Half-an-elephant,” Joseph toured London and its environs, his appearance oftentimes considered too dreadful even for such novelty acts. Complaints came thick and fast, the show was shuttered, and Joseph discovered himself a freak amongst freaks. Spurned by the legitimate circuit, he was soon on display—a lone performer—in a hovel in London’s squalid Whitechapel district, saving his pennies, his dream to someday have a home of his own.
Cruel fate now turned a kind eye on Joseph. The little space in which he was on view happened to be directly opposite the London Hospital, and one day the eminent surgeon, Dr. Frederick Treves, visited him. Treves at first saw nothing more than a prime specimen of dire defect, one that could provide an hour or so of interest in his next lecture. He believed the Elephant Man to be an idiot, an imbecile, someone of insufficient mental capacities…
…he was wrong.
Joseph was clever; Joseph was cultured; he could read and write. He wanted to learn, to better himself. He wanted to be like other people.
Something no less than an impossibility.
Even the comforts of sleep were denied him. Because of the immensity of his skull, he could not lie down, the weight of bone too much for his neck, making it difficult for him to breathe. So, Joseph was forced to doze, seated on a bed, knees drawn up, his great head resting forward upon them.
All this Treves was to find out and sympathize with, and with the benevolence and generosity of its chairman and staff, Joseph finally found his home—two small rooms at the back of the London Hospital. His plight was publicized, bringing with it an amazing outpouring of donations, of the compassion he was so sorely lacking prior. Even Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, took an interest in Joseph’s well-being, sending her daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, to call upon him.
And where princesses went, so went the world.
Joseph was a sudden celebrity, playing host to such notables as actress Dame Madge Kendal and her circle. His guests brought him books, walking sticks and sartorial accoutrements he would never use, as well as signed sepia-toned cabinet cards of themselves in chased silver frames; so many came that Joseph’s chambers became a picture gallery of England’s aristocratic who’s who. Each and every gift Joseph acknowledge with always a note of gratitude, and sometimes a small, well-detailed building, a church or cathedral, constructed of cardboard. He attended the theatre, he was taken on holiday to the English countryside, where he spent the languid days, untroubled by prying eyes, wandering the wooded glens, collecting wild flowers.
And if the delight found in his last years could be criticized by saying that he was yet on display, this time for a higher echelon of spectator, so be it. He was happy. But still his dream of being like others eluded. Why couldn’t he walk the city proudly? Why couldn’t he take tea in the High Street? Why couldn’t he lay his head upon a pillow to sleep?
It was in pursuit of his dream that Joseph died.
He was only twenty-seven when he was found stretched out on his back on his bed, serene, asphyxiated by the size of his head.
But it was the size of Joseph Merrick’s heart that really mattered—one filled with joy, with wonder, with dignity, with simple human kindness.
Joseph Carey Merrick’s quest was to be like other people…
…other people should have been like him.
'Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man.
—poem used by Joseph Merrick to close his letters, adapted from “False Greatness” by Isaac Watts