I am fascinated and intrigued by the work of Kevin Gallagher at Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam. Rarely am I confronted with art that is incomparable with anything I've seen before. But here I had to sit down, absorb the scenery and think hard. And I was reminded of my two favorite authors: Thomas Ligotti and Mark Samuels.
The exhibition, Doblar Sluuk Ustics, is divided across two floors of the museum. On the ground floor, the heating has been turned off and replaced by two air conditioners which keep the temperature regulated to 16 degrees Celsius. The floor upstairs functions as an elaborate exhaust chamber. In order to cool the lower space the air conditioners must exhaust hot air, this hot air is syphoned into the upstairs space via flexible white tubing.
Downstairs something lies on the floor that I'm forced to read as "creatures". Maybe living, maybe dead, blown ashore from the sea or from another dimension. Vaguely biological, but also clearly artificial with a body made from plastic waste, even including power cords. Do the "creatures" need power? Should I plug them in?
"Just look at them," he urged passersby, "bleeding their colors like that. They should be bled dry, but now they're ... making pictures. Something inside trying to show itself. They're as dead as rags now, look at them all limp and flapping. But something's still in there. Those pictures, do you see them?"
Their gelatinous heads reminiscent of the root structures of coral or sea anemones. But also reminiscent of the inhuman heads of tapeworms. Again it's undecided whether they're biological or artificial. From where have they broken loose? Are they new Anthropocene life-forms evolved from human debris?
He felt an instinctive revulsion at the thing, a desire to blot out its unnatural existence, and it was this sense, rather than any noble motive, that drove him on. Something dead had no right to walk amongst the living. It was an abomination, a rupture in the sane universe that had to be sealed.
One creature is supported in the middle by a Dali-like crutch. Is this an exhibition after all and not the site of a spontaneous cetacean stranding?
The upstairs space functions as an exhaust chamber. The hot air from downstairs is syphoned into the upstairs space via flexible white tubing. The ends of the exhaust tubing have been accessorized with soft silicon and fake fur - an anthropomorphic shape that vibrates when warm air is exhausted. Two white upholstered metal benches accompany each exhaust pipe.
I was beginning to feel a sense of emptiness creep over me, deadening my spirits, replacing the tension I’d previously felt. And then I realised what should have been obvious: this was the installation! The sense of isolation and dislocation was complete. I felt utterly alone as I walked through the confines of the artificial void.
Sit down on the bench, look into the mouth of the lamprey and become one with the hot breath of the leech.
Through his installations and performances, Kevin Gallagher aims to show qualities and characteristics of objects that go beyond their commonly attributed, day-to-day functions. Notions of transmutation, connection, communication and coincidence form important markers within his so called “gestures towards use”.
And in the first room the visitor could sit down of his own free will. In the second room he can be strapped to the bench and he'll be forced to undergo the alien procedure against his initial will. But afterward he'll be a new entity.
When Dr Haxhausen turned a dial on the remote control unit resting in his palm, the dark metallic beast reared back its head and, with a sinister grinding sound, directed its gaze up toward a grimy skylight. For years this window on the heavens had remained sealed. But that night, through the efforts of the inexhaustible scientist, it was opened. And the spectral light of a full moon shone down into the old factory, pouring its beams into the opalescent eye of Dr Haxhausen's machine.
Grimscribe (Thomas Ligotti)
The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
Noctuary (Thomas Ligotti)