I love Angela Deane’s joyful little ghosts.

ghost_joy_angela_deaneghost_joyGhost_Images_Angela_Deane_03My favorite images from Angela Deane‘s excellent series of ghost photographs (in which she takes vintage pictures and paints little white ghosts over all the people) have one thing in common: they all feature water. Perhaps that’s because swimming, for me, is such a joyful act, and these ghosts seem like oddly happy creatures, despite their featureless, faceless nature. Or maybe it’s because water has a strange, reality-bending property (as well as light-bending abilities) and ghosts inhabit that in-between place of real and not-real. Or maybe it’s because I’m craving summer and dying to shed some layers. Or maybe because it feels so irreverent, combining that spooky blankness with such standard images of All-American Summer Fun.

Or maybe who cares! Deane is a clever, funny artist with a great visual style and a wonderful collection of old photos to draw from (and upon!). See more here. 

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Two scary things, in honor of the holiday.

Kate MccGwire Secretions Art Instillation
1. From Shirley Jackson, a true master of horror writing and vastly underrated writer, the best way to begin a book:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

If you don’t have chills after reading that, go ahead and read the whole book. I’ll wait here. (Shirley Jackson is my all-time favorite author. I wrote my college thesis on her—and Poe and Toni Morrison. It was about ghosts in American literature… I was/am/will always be a nerd.) Kate MccGwire art installation of feathers

2. British sculptor Kate MccGwire makes wonderfully nasty and strangely beautiful art installations out of feathers. They’re textural and rich and oh-so-creepy. Plus, they all have fantastically horrifying names, like Secrete (top), Siren (second image) and Slick (below). Some of her other installation names include Purge, Gyre, Corvid and Specter. I love how her pieces feel both organic and naturally occurring, and utterly uncanny in the most Freudian sense. They’re a double gut-punch of pretty and creepy. See more here. Slick,+2010,+Kate+MccGwireHappy Halloween! 

Three good books not for bedtime.

station-eleven_612x380_31I’m binge eating disaster lately. I mean, in my reading habits (but probably elsewhere, too). The past three books I’ve read have been about the apocalypse and I enjoyed them all. But not all horrors are not created equal, so in order:

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel // I cry frequently when reading. It’s kind of embarrassing. But I think a good book is one that makes me laugh, loud and rude. A good book is one that makes me choke a little on myself, happy to be so sad. Station Eleven did both. It’s the story of a traveling theater troupe performing Shakespeare for rustic villagers twentysome years after the world has ended from a nasty avian flu. This may be the nerdiest book I’ve ever read. The performers motto is from Star Trek: “Survival is insufficient” and the entire book traces mad circles around King Lear (my favorite) and falcons cannot hear the falconers and every other sentence contains a reference and somehow, it all works brilliantly.
  2. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Cary // Sometimes, I have a hard time parsing how good or whatever a book is because I just read it too fast. That’s the case here. I read The Girl With All The Gifts today and I freaking loved every moment. Set in dystopian future England, it’s the story of a zombie girl genius who has no idea she’s a “hungry,” as they call it. The book’s title is a translation of the name Pandora and flesh-starved Melanie is the metaphoric gifted girl, whose real gift I can’t say because of spoiler alerts. I can’t decide if this should have been the first one on the list or if I’m still living in it a little, but damn, was it good.
  3. Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich // A recommendation from a friend brought me this strange book and once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. This should be the lynchpin in this list, the one that solidifies the trend: literary, obsessively referential, cynical and politically-affected post-apocalyptic tales published in the last year. Odds Against Tomorrow is about a finance jackass who’s a little less jackass-y than his coworkers but far more brilliant. He is also clearly suffering from very, very bad anxiety (which I suppose is supposed to be his tragic flaw?). But I ended up just really, really wanting him to get a therapist. Lame way to end a novel, but still.

What a lazy, biased series of quasi-reviews of really great books. Whatever, I’m not a critic. Five stars for all.

A good death is hard to find.

momento mori soapsMemento mori is a Latin term that means “remember that you must die” and apparently, that’s what inspired a California artist who goes by Eden to create these beautiful soaps. Her project, which was launched on Kickstarter, has been fully funded though she’s still accepting orders. Embrace your mortality while cleansing yourself of all earthly sins! Bathe in the knowledge that death comes for us all! (And when it does come, do try to have a good death, yeah?)

As anyone who reads this blog probably knows, morbid-pretty is my favorite kind of pretty. Poe once wrote that “there is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion” and I just love that. Strangeness in the proportion. Ugly-beauty. Morbid-pretty. It does feel like this is becoming zeitgeist-y as of late, with lots of female morticians speaking out on Twitter and lots of trendy blogs posting about Goth-y topics. But I think I like that (as much as I ever like it when my pet subjects grow larger than me). Let’s all embrace the strangeness of our proportions and plan our funerals and hold hands with our deaths and dance until we all fall down.

Skeletons of saints, covered in gems.

- Waldsassen, Germany, detail of St. Gratian. The Basilika at Waldsassen holds the largest extent collection of presumed skeletons of martyrs from the Roman Catacombs still on display..

When a man in a German village approached Paul Koudounaris during a 2008 research trip and asked something along the lines of, “Are you interested in seeing a dilapidated old church in the forest with a skeleton standing there covered in jewels and holding a cup of blood in his left hand like he’s offering you a toast?” Koudounaris’ answer was, “Yes, of course.”

I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone to ask me that question! Preferably an old crone with chicken feet that poke from beneath her skirt. She’ll ask me to come with her in cackling tones, then she’ll lower her voice and lean forward. “My name is Baba Yaga,” she will whisper, her breath smelling of burnt sage and rotting meat. “I know,” I’ll say. “I’ve been waiting for you.” She will nod, folds of her red calico headscarf falling around her wrinkled face and glinting eyes. “Come with me, child. Into the forest.”Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 7.10.23 PM

But dang, some people have all the luck. Koudounaris is a photographer, author, and art historian. He has a really rad website called Empire de la Mort that you can check out here. For a more intellectual take on his work, go read the piece at Smithsonian.com.

Emily Carroll gets under my skin.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 7.58.21 PMI have a raging girl crush on Canadian artist and writer Emily Carroll. She has single-handedly shown me that graphic novels and webcomics aren’t just for boys in love with guns. Sure, her comics are violent, but not in the POW! BANG! way of vintage superheroes and their incompetent nemeses. Carroll’s stories are violent in a slow, creeping way. They are dark and twisted, like the original Grimm’s fairytales (nothing like that sanitized Disney junk).

She writes fables and horror stories, fairytales and mysteries, and illustrates them beautifully. There is a layer of mistiness to each image, a sense of distance, a gray wash that only enhances the shock of crimson that comes later (sometimes it’s blood, but sometimes the horror is something else entirely).

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.09.41 PMI had my own little Christmas book flood this year (or in Icelandic, Jolabokaflod) and one of the books I received was Through The Woods, a print collection of Carroll’s webcomics and stories. Some of these are available to read online, including “His Face All Red,” a fantastic story of two brothers and a wolf, and “Out of Skin,” which is about a crone who finds herself suffocating in human skin. They’re spooky and wonderful—wholly original fairytales that pay tribute to the history the genre without being beholden to it.

Go read them on her site, or better yet, buy a copy of her book. It’s the kind of heavy book that keeps you coming back to it (I’ve read it twice already). Despite containing relatively few words, it is captivating in a literary sense and in a can’t-look-away-can’t-look-at-it sense. Also, I’ve realized that graphic novels are great because they make me slow way down and pay attention to exactly what I’m looking at. You can’t rush through them. You have to read the pictures, to pause and look at them, to suss out the clues buried within each pen stroke.

Bloody good stuff: illustrators cover Angela Carter.

Company of Wolves by Sidsel Sorensen Angela Carter is the fairy godmother of modern fairytales. Twisted and clever, Carter turns the classics upside down, subverting them in sensual, strange, provocative ways. I like it! Can you tell?

And if there is anything I’ve learned from working at a magazine, it’s that great stories need great visuals. Well, maybe they don’t need them (the oral tradition would beg to differ) but they definitely benefit from the right images. Knowing that, The Guardian issued a call for entries for Carter’s best work. The results are just fantastic. My favorite is this one: Sidsel Sørensen draws “The Company of Wolves.”

See them all here.

A few thoughts on death, photography, and Ghost Busters

med_fuss_af-0462-jpgA fascination with ghosts can be written off as whimsical. Often, people imagine Casper or Bill Murray fighting ectoplasmic globs, when one mentions the g-word. True believers might find it a bit more sinister, but even then, they tend to speak of odd occurrences with windows, breathy sounds heard in the night, a persistent shadow that falls without light, old objects found with no point of reference. All things that are possibly spooky, but never truly threatening. As someone who writes frequently about ghosts, I tend to hear a lot of ghost stories. But even when the storyteller is uncomfortable, I find it’s more often out of embarrassment than fear.

But a fascination with death? That’s an entirely different kind of beast. Even the word trails off with fear, lingering consonants that dryly hang in the air. Death is threatening. It is real. It is ugly and universal and either entirely unfair or ruthlessly just, depending on who you ask.

Though I don’t like to think about death, I tend to do it a lot anyway. This helps explain one of my weirder possessions: a book of images from The Burns Archive. The Burns Archive, as you’ll see if you click that link, is a collection of photography that focuses primarily on the grotesque. There are images of soldiers and their gun wounds, portraits of the mentally ill, and lots and lots of postmortem photography.

Why would anyone take a picture of a dead person? Well, this used to be the thing to do when your relative died. It was a curious practice, and often involved propping the deceased up in a chair, pushing their eyelids open, and doing everything possible to make them appear alive. It’s the strangest masquerade; the dead posing as the living in a medium that has been described as a metaphor for death itself. Though I’ve never found the pictures particularly creepy, this idea freaks me the heck out.

And if I’ve just creeped you out, maybe this will bring you some peace: the New York Times recently ran a piece on their Wellness blog about German photographer Walter Schels, who captures his subjects in the days before death, and then again soon after. Instead of being sinister, manipulated and a little bit weird, these pictures are oddly peaceful.

“People are almost always pretending something, but these people had lost that need,” he said in an interview. “I felt it enabled me as a photographer to get as close as it’s possible to get to the core of a person; when you’re facing the end, everything that’s not real is stripped away. You’re the most real you’ll ever be, more real than you’ve ever been before.”

About the image: I didn’t want to clutter up my blog with pictures of dead people, so instead I simply linked to them, and used this gorgeous photograph by Adam Fuss, an extremely talented artist, to illustrate the point. It’s from a series call “My Ghost,” so I thought it was rather fitting.

Dealer’s choice.

When I was in elementary school, I went through a pretty intense Wiccan period. It started with the book Wise Child by Monica Furlong, which is, to this day still one of my all time favorite novels. I adored the description of the dorans, these people who lived in harmony with nature, gaining power and wisdom from the land. I wanted to be like Juniper, Wise Child’s mentor and guardian. She was kind and brave. She was very powerful, but most importantly, she was a complete aesthete. Rereading it recently, I still wish I was more like Juniper—even though she is a fictional character in a children’s book, she still has a lot to teach me.

As I’ve gotten older, my obsession with fantasy has changed. There’s still a Mists of Avalon-esque hippy factor, but now I’m also really fascinated by the darker side of magic, the occult and the eerie and the ghostly and the strange. In college, I wrote my thesis on ghosts in American literature and I’ve never stopped reading (or writing) about horror movies. And that’s why these amazing Zombie Tarot Cards are right up my (creepy, abandoned) alley.

They’re campy and hilarious and wonderful. Made by Headcase Design and Quirk Books, they would be a super Christmas present for that zombie fiend nephew of yours (or, you know, me).

More here.