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Art Exhibit Focuses on Horror, Reflects on Fear

December 26, 2007 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Getting people to reflect on fear in a post-9/11 world is no easy business, according to Northwestern University Professors David and Debra Tolchinsky. But the two have worked hard to do just that in an exhibit of art opening with a free reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

A husband and wife who teach courses in horror writing and horror film production in Northwestern's School of Communication and whose collaborative artwork leans toward the macabre, the Tolchinskys are curators of "The Horror Show" at Chicago City Arts Gallery, 410 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, running through Feb. 23. Among other works, it features art by Northwestern faculty and recent master's of fine arts graduates.

The exhibit of oil paintings, sound pieces, video installations, interactive sculpture, photography, new media and film is, like much work in the horror genre, about crossing boundaries and uncovering that which is amiss, deliberately hidden, obfuscated or unthinkable.

"Horror has been a staple in art and literature for centuries, and, as indicated by opening weekend box office receipts of zombie flick 'I Am Legend,' it remains a staple today," says Debra Tolchinsky. "Our exhibit - which is not meant for children -- is designed to raise questions about why the horror genre remains popular in a world in which media violence and public numbness are the norm."

"The Horror Show," say its curators, is less about eliciting a scream than about inducing anxiety "by presenting horror from the inside out." It has less in common with the blood and guts horror of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movies than with the more psychological but still visceral horror of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense."

An elegant photograph by Northwestern University artist and professor Jeanne Dunning titled "In Bed," explores the fragmented body - a frequently repeated theme in the horror genre and "The Horror Show." A depiction of a disembodied hand in a pile of bed clothes, its horror is compounded when viewed with Jean Marie Casbarian's photograph of what looks like a headless spirit or with digital prints of a young girl who, according to artist Christopher Schneberger, developed the ability to levitate after losing her legs.

"As curators, we chose works that not only have their own disturbing power but that dialogue with one another," says Debra Tolchinsky. To chilling effect, "The Genius of Coolwhip," an installation by Northwestern media critic Jeffrey Sconce, embeds the words of a would-be sexual predator from NBC's popular "To Catch a Predator" in upbeat dance music. Not far away is Josh Faught's work in coffee, pen and ink, "The First Person I Ever Came Out to Was a Convicted Sexual Predator."

Perhaps it is Debra Tolchinsky's own work that best illustrates the ideas of perception, deception and the difficulty of self-truth that "The Horror Show" explores. In "Smoke and Mirrors," the curator/artist presents a mirror that provides a glimpse of a viewer's reflection before engulfing it in smoke and snuffing it out entirely.

A catalogue, also called "The Horror Show," accompanies the exhibit. In addition to writings by Northwestern Professors Dunning and Sconce are essays by cultural critic Laura Kipnis, Northwestern professor of radio/television film and author of "Against Love: A Polemic;" Pam Thurschwell, a British academic who explores the intersection of psychoanalysis, the supernatural and emerging technologies; and Timothy Murray, professor of English at Cornell University.

For exhibit information, call (847) 373-6198. For gallery hours or directions, call (773) 816-2336.