by Jeriah Hildwine
Concertina Gallery is currently showing “Surrender Dorothy,” a collaborative endeavor by Jesse Butcher and Corkey Sinks, both of whom recently moved to Chicago from Austin, Texas. Their collaboration couldn’t be more different from my own work in terms of practice, but their subject matter is right up my alley: Butcher and Sinks share my nostalgia for adolescence, both in its idealized, playful, and potential-laden archetype and in its awkward and embarrassing reality. From the press release: “Mining the tropes of adolescent identity, both artists share nostalgia—even obsession—for the stylized rebellion of teenage subcultures. While struggling to find their own place in society, teens often dabble in fringe elements of the mainstream as a form of escapism. Surrender Dorothy will transform three of Concertina’s rooms into disquieting retreats of familiar adolescent experiences.”
The show hit many familiar teenage tropes spot on. Some of their associations were very much also a part of my own adolescent experience. Their piece “Duress Code” is a boombox containing a CD of REM’s Automatic for the People, which was very much the hot album as I entered my teens. And the sculptural installation “Stunt,” which is a BMX bike chained to a column, could have been lifted from any sidewalk of my youth.
The familiarity of these artifacts is, for me, one step removed. I was never a BMX guy. Personally I rode a mountain bike throughout my teenage years; in fact, the Specialized Hard Rock I got at fifteen is the same one I ride to this day. A lot of the other kids, particularly some of those younger than me, had the BMX thing going on, and built earthen ramps to jump in the vacant lots and fields in which we played. The REM album, too, was only peripherally part of my world. Many were the pair of teenage titties I stared at through that T-shirt with its diagnostic star ornament, but I didn’t actually own the album until several years after the peak of its popularity. It is hard for me to say whether this sense of removal is because I was just a little behind the curve as a teenager, or because these artifacts are taken from an idealized typical teenage experience, one that may have never existed in its entirety.
Other elements of the installation felt distinctly pre-teen in their association. I never made God’s Eyes at summer camp, but I imagine that if I had, it would have been in my late pre-teen years. If I’ve learned anything from movies, actual teenagers at summer camp are too busy screwing in the bushes and making fun of the handicapped kid to bother with little craft projects. And a racecar bed, another classic element of an American male childhood, is another thing I never had myself, but if I had, I imagine that too would have been a pre-teen joy. There is a naive sincerity necessary to enjoy something like a racecar bed, which rarely survives the self-conscious posturing of one’s teenage years.
One piece in the show, however, spoke directly to two aspects of my adolescent experience which I retain to this day: a fascination with and attraction to horror movies as well as spooky hot Goth girls. The video piece, “SUPERNATURAL TEENS,” created by Corkey Sinks although considered an integral part of her collaboration with Jesse Butcher, is a montage of scenes from horror films of supernatural teenage girls: the vengeful Carrie incinerating her tormentors, the teen witches from The Craft, the possessed Reagan from The Exorcist doing her creepy crab walk down the stairs, and the ghost of Samara crawling out of the television in The Ring. I find it interesting that this piece was created by a female, as the idea of a sexually evanescent young woman being supernaturally transformed into something terrifying and threatening seems an idea particularly sympathetic to a male audience. Certainly it resonated with me, and more than anything else I felt an affinity between this piece and my own work.
“SUPERNATURAL TEENS” drew for me even stronger parallels to the work of Jillian McDonald, in particular her 2008 video piece, “TV = Evil.” I saw this piece at McDonald’s 2008 exhibition “Horror Stories” at ThreeWalls. It is, like “SUPERNATURAL TEENS,” a montage of footage from horror films, in this case the scene from Poltergeist where Carol Anne is hypnotized and absorbed into the television, alternating with the same scene from The Ring as Sinks used in her video. While “SUPERNATURAL TEENS” is about the supernatural manifest as malevolent power embodied in teenage girls, “TV = Evil” is a more playful and witty juxtaposition, taking two unrelated scenes both featuring a television and linking them into a new narrative.
Jesse Butcher and Corkey Sinks have just recently moved to Chicago; Butcher is a first year MFA student at SAIC, and Sinks has just been accepted into the Fibers MFA program there. This is a strong show by a couple of grad students relatively new to the city, and it will be well worth following their activities over the next couple of years. It can only be hoped that those years will see the rise of the adventurous collectors and serious critics that Chicago needs in order to sustain the careers of artists like this in this city after they graduate.
[Editor’s Note (KB): I’m totally hijacking the end of Jeriah’s post to add trivia about the term “Surrender Dorothy”.
1) it is the name of a special effect used in the Wizard of Oz , 2) also the name of a terrifficly disturbing indy film that I’m very fond of, in which Dorothy is probably a reference to the gay slang term “FOD“.]