By MICAH J. MALONE
Jessie Rose Vala’s exhibition “The Tortuous Veil” is a new series of work based on four enigmatic mythical archetypes: The Werewolf, Vampire, Shape Shifter, and Zombie. While these entities have pervaded pop culture for much of the past century, Vala’s work seems intent to not sensationalize, or more importantly, transform these characters into kitschy representations. Instead, Vala’s thoughtful mediations on these archetypes place them into a context in which they inhabit a world all of there own, with few distractions of the “real” world infiltrating their interactions. One might ask of her work: is the use of myth located in the desire to shield, or conceal brutal human action?
In many ways, the most interesting ways in which myth enters our culture is when it infiltrates the “real”, or offers explanation for bizarre political and social acts. In March 2007, self-proclaimed vampire hunters broke into the tomb of Slobodan Miloševic, former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, and staked his body through the heart into the ground. Although the group involved claimed this act was to prevent Miloševic from returning as a vampire, it is not known whether those involved actually believed this could happen or if the crime was simply politically motivated. However, whether or not they actually “believed” the dictator, who was on trial for war crimes when he died, was a zombie is beside the point. The desire for this act is simply that Milosevic needed to be put to rest… for good.
Likewise, the zombie is often used as a device for social commentary and political unrest. Just last year, the world’s largest zombie walk was held in the Monroeville Mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the setting of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead film. The walk consisted of 894 attendees who all were instructed to bring canned food for a local food drive. And of course, there is the shape shifter (which the werewolf is a form of), which has its roots in social commentary as well. Most famously is the bride/groom scenario, in which either a bride or groom most often involved in an arranged marriage, must pass a test of some kind in order to find the “real” women or man behind their bestial surface, Beauty and Beast being the most popular form of this story line. Speculation has often followed the werewolf, which has been blamed for serial killings in less enlightened times.
Perhaps the most useful aspect of mythological creatures then, is the convenient way in which they can be blamed for poor human behavior. In Vala’s work, the four archetypes run freely amongst themselves amid spiraling landscapes inspired by Tibetan vajra-rock islands or cliffs (inverted pyramids upon which wrathful deities rest). They are often seen confronting each other, sometimes even appearing to be cohorts, helping each other through transformations and visions. However, brutality is always near and, for the most part, each archetype is on a path (literally) consisting of confrontation, consumption, violence, struggle and ultimately death. Perhaps, they are contained within these landscapes amid a narrative of destruction to help locate where a subject might find themselves.
Vala’s attempt to root the deplorable actions of humanity within these creatures allows viewers to project themselves within an archetype. Indeed, each of the archetypes were modeled after Vala’s friends and colleagues suggesting these creatures indeed reflect the actions of humanity and are not simply fantastic imaginations.
“Jessie Rose Vale: The Tortuous Veil” is on view from September 6 to October 27th at Motel Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Motel Gallery.