Sometimes the contemporary high school environment can feel this way—stranded in a gloomy and grotesque place with uncanny occurrences and not quite understandable implications. Startled, not the clinking of chains, but by the rattling of a teacher’s thick ring of keys—treading, not the haunted hallways of a Gothic mansion, but the seemingly never-ending corridor between Algebra and Art class… We admit this a bit over the top, but this is a Gothic-inspired project.
The Department began with tracing the disconnected history of Gothic sensibility—from the Germanic tribe, the Goths, who invaded the decomposing Roman Empire in the 4th century to Goth’s current manifestations in the music and styles of no-longer-always-so-youthful adherents to contemporary Goth culture. The Gothic revival in art, architecture and literature in 18th and 19th century Europe was a rejection of classical ideals of order, logic, harmony and stability in favor of the individual, the creative, the idiosyncratic and the sublime.
In its investigation, the Department considered compelling questions such as “What is the difference between the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the classic Tenniel illustrations, the Disney version, and the work of contemporary artist Camille Rose Garcia? Does this difference matter?” We wanted to get to the “nitty gritty,” which is all too often overlooked in Disney productions.
In the Gothic Narrative project, the youth artists explored the sometimes dark undercurrents of everyday existence. Using personal experiences of feeling like an outsider as inspiration—feelings of isolation, not fitting in, being judged, tormented, misunderstood—stories of confusing encounters or relationships gone bad—each youth artist created an outsider narrative.
Of course, classic life drawing and one-point perspective wouldn’t suffice to tell these complex tales so the project began in much different fashion. Week 1: Papers were passionately painted—stained, splashed, smeared and spattered. Week 2: Paper was crushed and crinkled, flattened and messed up again. The artists began by finding characters in the creases and lines on the battered papers. Free from the narrowing constraints of “realism” (remember what gets left out in mono-perspective is also “real”), each youth artist developed the sinister, pitiful, heroic or harassed characters needed to tell his/her story. Later torn paper created spaces in which the characters could interact. Gluing down was delayed until the last moment so that compositions could be shifted and altered intuitively for formal and narrative effect.
Viewer, beware. You’ll shudder at tales of musical teens taunted for being in a band or vulnerable adolescents forced to make paintings based on grids. Be strong. Look closely and deeply. As Anne Radcliffe, a sensational 18th century Gothic novelist wrote, terror “expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a higher degree of life.”
What gets repressed when we are asked to learn and live in a disnified world? The youth artists debated the question (with good answers on both sides) “Would you rather live in Edward Scissorhands’ gothic castle on a hill or in a color-coordinated suburban home in the suburbs below?”
Can we imagine a hybrid home with the safety and productivity of modern life and the imaginative spaces of a Gothic dwelling? Hey, it’s the 21st century—hybridity is so postmodern and hybrid monsters are so Gothic.