Signe Pierce: Glamorous over-saturated hyperreality

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New York-based contemporary multimedia artist Signe Pierce self-identifies as a reality artist, exploring the blurred lines between art and technology, between art and life, and the concept of heightened reality through her neon urban signature photographic style characterised by a glamorous, saccharine aesthetic. The vibrant colour palette she uses is dominated by bright pink and purple hues, adding a different dimension to mundane urban landscapes. The chromatic excess emphasises artificiality, as the artist provides a visual commentary on the nature of reality in the digital world.
Signe Pierce embraces the idea of ‘unreality’ and takes it to the extreme in her lurid, holographic paradise. The viewer entering her world is mesmerised, distracted, trapped in hyperreality. Beautifully influenced by her environment and the chaos of New York, her work provides a glimpse into an augmented version of the famous city for the outsider to be virtually immersed into. Since her art is of a meta-referential nature, it shouldn’t be surprising that it self-consciously depicts the ubiquity of commercial ads and photography, phone screens, screens in general, which, instead of piercing into her world, are rather being harmoniously incorporated in it.

The almost aggressive, consistent use of pink and light purple tones reveals a feminist preoccupation with what is considered stereotypically girly- being subverted by the themes depicted, such as consumerism, surveillance, hyper-reality, and assertive hyper-femininity. The artist not only plays with visual perceptions by depicting fluid forms and using distorted liquefied shapes in some of her pictures, she also challenges perceptions of femininity, by blurring the line between the objectifier and the objectified and portraying the female figure as provocative and strong.
The slick fashion commercial aesthetic of the photographs is reminiscent of surreal fashion horror films such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon and the urban vividness of cyberpunk cinematography. At the same time, her frequently updated Instagram feed includes cinematic photographs depicting a constantly wired, overstimulated world. Some elements often featured in her universe are mirrors, eyes, technological devices, shiny, holographic pieces of clothing, reflecting lights, rainy cityscapes, strip malls, and a lush, stunningly illuminated mise-en-scene. In addition to emphasising the inherent ‘simulacrum’ nature of the urban experience in New York, Signe Pierce’s hyperreal sensory spectacle merges perceptions of reality and simulation to make the viewer question the nature of truth and reality in contemporary society.

Short reviews: Lurid Cult Horror films – Fascination, The Beyond, and Videodrome

Fascination (1979) is an artful aesthetically-pleasing erotic Gothic horror film situated between arthouse and grindhouse, directed by Jean Rollin. Rollin tends to be associated with the sexploitation genre, yet he is recognised for the surreal dark fantasy style of his lyrical, tantalising, elegant, and atmospheric films, combining sensuality and visual poetry. Fascination’s opening scene takes place in 1905 in an abattoir where seemingly ordinary French women drink ox blood, considered a cure for anaemia at the time. Despite this bizarre moment and the fact that, as one of the ethereal vampire girls picks up a scythe, the film appears to progress into the slasher realm, Fascination is soft compared to other gore films, and not as surreal or bewildering as other Rollin films. The little gore that appears in the film is almost elegantly depicted.
Fascination is shot in a ghostly sinister castle surrounded by mist and emptiness. A thief ends up hiding in the chateau, where he finds two enigmatic nymph-like angelic-looking young women all alone, Eva and Elizabeth. They initially seem to be easy prey, but there is something unsettling about them, and it turns out they are actually part of a cult of aristocratic vampires.

The Beyond (1981) is a surreal cult horror film with Southern Gothic echoes, directed by Lucio Fulci, who is known as “The Godfather of Gore”. When Liza decides to renovate her newly-inherited dilapidated hotel, the activity triggers a series of mysterious deaths. It is revealed that the hotel is built over one of the seven portals to Hell, which was activated by the renovation. The violent darkness of the film unfolds in an unsettling combination of supernatural events, visceral graphic scenes featuring tarantulas and ghastly rotten zombie flesh, and uncanny silhouettes haunting empty houses. Towards the end, the afterlife is painted as an eerie wasteland filled with corpses. The film exhibits a chaotic dreamlike atmosphere mixed with gruesome visuals and otherworldly sounds.

The Uncanny appears in many shapes and forms. Lurid, erotic, provocative, disturbing, hallucinatory, and grotesque are a few words you can use to describe David Cronenberg’s famous body horror film, Videodrome (1983), a sinister commentary on the sadomasochistic consumerist nature of our society & the pervasiveness and intrusiveness of technology. Cronenberg approached this theme in the 80s, yet it becomes increasingly relevant in time. Videodrome is a TV show featuring violent acts of punishment with sexual undertones tailored to an audience belonging to the age of over-stimulation. Marked by his girlfriend’s disappearance after auditioning for the show, Max explores the Videodrome phenomenon, finding out that the line between reality and simulation is blurred. The film ends on a tragic note, including the famous cult line “Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!” uttered repetitively throughout the film like an incantation.

Costume design symbolism in Crimson Peak (2015): Lucille’s breathtaking blue velvet dress

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Crimson Peak (2015), directed by Guillermo del Toro, is a visually stunning, gloomy cinematic horror spectacle, noted for its incredible and haunting aesthetic. A particularly remarkable and alluring feature of the intricate production design is Lucille’s breathtaking blue velvet dress. The bewitching symbolically-charged Victorian design of the dress includes a black garland resembling a vine with withered leaves, claustrophobically climbing towards her pale neck. The owner, played by the mesmerising Jessica Chastain, is a beautiful, tense, frigidly graceful corset-wearing ice queen filled with dark repressed emotions, whose attire reflects her inner state. Her blue, heavy rigid dress seems to blend with her eerie funereal surroundings, the underwater feeling given by the aquatic colours and the flickering interplay of light and darkness, the dark curtains, and the grandiose blue walls of the Gothic mansion. She is tragically connected to the ominous house and the dead vines tangled up around her body further anchor her in it, symbolising her psychological confinement. She is often shown in contrast to pure, innocent, and lively Edith, played by Mia Wasikowska, who wears light and loose gowns.

Review: Gregory Crewdson’s cinematic photography

Gregory Crewdson’s dark, atmospheric, cinematic photographs capture perfectly framed frozen moments incorporating disconnected figures which seem to reflect the domestic and natural landscapes they inhabit; the mundane landscapes are often characterised by an eerie solitude and transformed into something otherworldly, haunting, and compelling. His photographs seem to both reveal and conceal something, creating ambiguous narratives – they are both stills of life and embodiments of the uncanny. The boundaries between life and art, between intimacy and isolation, between strange and familiar environments are blurred.

“My pictures are about everyday life combined with theatrical effect. I want them to feel outside of time, to take something routine and make it irrational. I’m always looking for a small moment that is a revelation.” – Gregory Crewdson

The cinematic nature of his work is also reflected in the complex process of creating and staging his images: there is a large crew involved in various aspects of production; props, casting, storyboards, and the natural world is heightened by the use of artificial Hollywood-style lighting and effects such as artificial rain and ice.

“My pictures are about a search for a moment—a perfect moment. To me the most powerful moment in the whole process is when everything comes together and there is that perfect, beautiful, still moment. And for that instant, my life makes sense.” – Gregory Crewdson

In his interviews, GC emphasises the importance of the visual balance between the figure, the interior space, and the exterior space; the feeling of transience and the sense of in-between-ness evoked by his images, the enigmatic moments between other unknown moments, the visual commentary on the human condition, the portrayal of flesh, nudity, aging, vulnerability, and mortality.

Crewdson’s aesthetic incorporates American suburban surrealism, and the mise-en-scène usually features windows, mirrors, bleak settings shown in a mysterious, ghostly light. His photographs are windows into the intimacy of a world filled with hidden unsettling desires.

“I’m interested in using the iconography of nature and the American landscape as surrogates or metaphors for psychological anxiety, fear or desire.”- Gregory Crewdson

The characters created often seem alienated, immersed in deep thought, in cosmic loneliness, internal conflict, or a longing for something ineffable. Their expressions are pensive, focused on something beyond the world depicted, at times introspective. The feelings evoked are anticipation – frozen in time, subconscious disquiet, and estrangement.

“I really love that dynamic between beauty and sadness…there’s always these moments of quiet alienation, the sense of disconnect, but also, these moments of possibility.”- Gregory Crewdson

Crewdson’s photography reminds us of the suspense, sadness, and solitude of Edward Hopper’s paintings, of Diane Arbus’ bizarre and psychologically intense photographic portraits of people on the margins of society, of William Eggleston’s saturated depictions of seemingly normal, mundane settings behind which something disturbing seems to lurk; as well as the surreal quality of the films of David Lynch.

Crewdson’s series include Cathedral of Pines, Twilight, and Beneath the Roses.

Review: Mira Nedyalkova’s underwater photography

A selection of artworks from the stunning, eerie underwater photography collection by Bulgarian visual artist and fine art photographer Mira Nedyalkova.

Mira’s work depicts the beautiful facets of pain and sadness in fluid forms, whilst linking water with eroticism, as well as exploring the erotic in the light of the emotional and the aesthetic.

Water symbolism always makes us think of regeneration, purification, and catharsis – a reflection of the beginning and the end. Mira emphasises the dual dimension of water, symbolising sin and purity, as well as pleasure and innocence. The aquatic element has both generative and destructive powers; it can be life-giving and apocalyptic. Her models are depicted as otherworldly beings, seemingly frail, yet also dark and enigmatic. Water is also the essential element contributing to the surreal aesthetic of the pictures, since it changes the light, colour, and shapes in unexpected ways.

Mira Nedyalkova is, admittedly, not very interested in pure photography – as opposed to many photographers who praise raw analogue photographs for capturing unaltered moments, she recognises the creative and transformative power of post-processing and digital editing as a way of enriching photography, of creating something new, conveying an emotion, and telling a story. As a former painter, she now sees digital editing as a way of getting closer to painting again- digital painting.

Like many artists, Mira believes emotion is an essential part of a remarkable piece of art. Her view is epitomised in her stunning and memorable photographs, which often depict expressive, intense characters, as well as captivity, nudity, nature, fragile-looking animals, and subtle sexuality.

Film sequence analysis: Melancholia (2011) – the surreal overture

The opening sequence of Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier), a collection of gloomy, surreal, painting-resembling, slow-motion shots, is an insidious introduction to the themes of this compelling cinematic symphony of death and destruction. What completes the eerie dreamscape is the exquisite, haunting piece of music by Wagner – the Prelude to the tragic opera Tristan und Isolde, which magnifies the sorrow depicted in the shots and throughout the whole film. The film and the opera both exhibit the philosophical pessimism of Schopenhauer, revolving around unhappiness, death, and painful, unfulfilled human yearning. The nocturnal landscape, the Realm of the Night from Wagner’s opera, symbolically stands for the realm of hidden truth; and the only escape or redemption from a world perceived as evil and relentlessly suffering, is spiritual release, death, hence Justine’s morbid Ophelia moment and the early appearance of the destructive planet, “Melancholia”. The deadly planet, with its suggestive name, is a metaphor most beautifully conveyed visually when Justine, the perpetually despondent and apathetic bride, bathes naked in its light and is shown yearning for its life-threatening touch, on the same musical notes from the Prelude. Death appears in other forms in von Trier’s haunting cinematic overture as well, such as the striking nightmarish image of the dead birds falling from the sky in the background whilst Justine’s cold blank face is shown in a close-up shot; or the horse collapsing backwards in bleak surroundings. Another memorable surreal image is that of a fascinated Justine staring at her fingertips as they seem to be connected to the bolts of lightning.

Within the themes and the atmosphere of Melancholia, we can also find echoes of Wagner’s own beautifully dark poetic words about Tristan und Isolde, once again resonating with Schopenhauer’s philosophy. He describes the tragic story as “a tale of endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love; world, power, fame, honour, chivalry, loyalty, and friendship all blown away like an insubstantial dream; one thing left living – longing, longing unquenchable, a yearning, a hunger, a languishing forever renewing itself; one sole redemption – death, finality, a sleep without awakening…”

A glimpse of Annihilation (2018). The Uncanny Within.

After the success of his intense directorial debut, Ex Machina, Alex Garland creates a cinematic adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book from the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation. The sci-fi thriller turns out to be a visually stunning exploration into the unknown, which in this case borrows the form of the enigmatic ‘Shimmer’, a disquieting yet alluring foreign veil encompassing a part of the Earth, Area X – ceaselessly expanding and threatening to swallow the whole world.

The film opening reveals Lena, the protagonist, a biologist portrayed by the enigmatic, detached Natalie Portman who appears disoriented while being interrogated about the expedition and its survivors. The next scene introduces us for a brief moment to the desolate landscape surrounding the lighthouse, which is mysteriously related to the powerful alien presence the film revolves around. The lighthouse becomes a symbol, the connection with another world, with something uncanny, just like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

The eerie and toxic beauty of the scenery from Area X echoes the dystopian “Zone” depicted in the well-known sci-fi, Stalker (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Similarly, just as the Zone proves to be a philosophical journey, the Area X expedition also symbolises an exploration inwards, and eventually, a disintegration of identity – an idea poetically alluded to through the words of the psychologist in a crucial intense scene towards the end: “Unfathomable mind: now beacon, now sea.”, quoting Samuel Beckett.

A geomorphologist, a paramedic, a physicist, a biologist, and a psychologist enter the Shimmer seeking answers and, whilst they encounter biological anomalies, beauty and decay, and a lot of unanswerable questions, we are encouraged to wonder what really lies beyond their (and our) human drive to enter the unknown, and how the uncanny encountered outwards echoes the uncanny within each of them.

Annihilation (2018), the absorbing sci-fi thriller, can be found on Netflix.