Mummers & demons

ART ESSAY

Opening up associations on Oliver McConnie’s exhibition.

Words by & artwork by Oliver McConnie


Mummers and demons

1 – The Procession, The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy, 1973 – A troop of masked figures wind their way across the Scottish countryside.  Some of the men quite literally cross their swords.  Some of the women bend over ready and wanting to be spanked. At the front of the parade, clad in a mustard polo neck, a long purple pinafore dress and a long black wig is Christopher Lee.  A hobby horse gnashes its wooden teeth beside him while he waves a twig and a scythe in the air.

Mummers and demons

2 – Plague Doctor Costume, Deutsches Historisches Museum, circa 1620 – An ankle length overcoat, a wide brimmed hat and a leather mask shaped like a raven’s beak.  This is then stuffed with a vinegar sponge, the smell of which will, or so the medieval doctor hopes, keep the peasants’ diseases at bay.

3 – Various Different Depictions of Hell, Hieronymus Bosch, 1470–1500 – These range from a blue bird headed creature eating a man who shits swallows to a decapitated rat woman impaled on a lyre.  Broken eggs, small fires and lizards feature heavily, as do mouths, arseholes and vaginas many of which are bleeding.

4 – Object Number: RCSHC/1479, Head, Organs of Taste, Mounted Wet Bone and Tissue, The Hunterian Museum, circa 1760–1793 – “The remarkable length of the woodpecker tongue is an adaptation enabling the predation of grubs deep within the wood of trees.”

Mummers and demons

5 – Historical Labels Display, The Pitt Rivers Museum, 2016 – “Silvered & stoppered bottle said to contain a witch. Obtained about 1915 from an old lady living in a village near Hove, Sussex. She remarked ‘and they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there’ll be a peck o’ trouble’.”

6 – Suspira Theme, Goblin, 1977 – A music box tinkle, overlaid with the twang of an electric guitar, overlaid with a horse, tuneless whisper, overlaid with the slow, heavy beat of a gong all of which become louder and faster and so on until all of the horror has ended.

7 – Opening Scene, Suspiria, Dario Argento, 1977 – “Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her dance studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe . . .” Suzy Banyon, soaked to the skin by the brutal Teutonic rain, sits in the back of a taxi.  The taxi drives past a seething river, a seething motorway and into a forest, scared stiff with silver birches . . .

Mummers and demons

8 – Untitled, Francesca Woodman, 1980 – A black and white medium format photograph softened by a gelatin light.  Silver birches make up the background, and in the foreground the artist’s arms encased in bark.  The top of her lowered head is visible at the bottom of the picture, and also the edges of her rolled-up sleeves.  There is a ring on what would be her wedding finger where the image reversed.

9 – The Moon and The Yew Tree, Sylvia Plath, 1961 – The poem describes the numerous ways in which even the beauty of nature is suffused by the author’s sadness, slowly building until the final, very final sounding line: “And the message of the yew tree is blackness – blackness and silence.”

Mummers and demons

10 – Pinturas Negras, Francesco Goya, circa 1819-1823 – Having borne witness to the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars, Goya suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting in a series of fourteen paintings of unrivalled prog rock schlock. The most famous of these, Saturn Devouring his Son, depicts a huge Neanderthal biting the arm of an already decapitated body.  The body, although comparatively small, is of adult proportions, with the limbs held stiffly together like those of a Dutch doll.

Mummers and demons

11 – Cyclops, Odilon Redon, 1914 – A one eyed ball of flesh tone flesh observes a woman of similar hue.  The grass on which she lies is dotted with mysterious, jewel like flowers, while the amethyst rocks that separate him from her likewise give off an alternative shimmer.  The Cyclops’ expression is friendly.  It is not as if he means any harm.

Mummers and demons

12 – The First Vision, The Layer of the White Worm, Ken Russell, 1988 – A giant serpent coils itself around the ruined altar, in front of which topless nuns are ravaged by Roman soldiers. The sky is blood red. The blood is tomato ketchup red. The worm and his acolyte roar with pleasure while the nuns just keep on screaming.

13 – The Exorcism, The Devils, Ken Russell, 1971 – Vanessa Redgrave’s inward treachery and outward piety culminate in an exorcism.  Her fellow nuns throw off their clothes and lick and writhe throughout the city. The city is tiled with bone white tiles. The bone white city of tiles is filled with the sound of nuns screaming.

Mummers and demons

14 – Untitled (Death of a Chicken), Ana Mendieta, 1972 – A naked woman stands in the centre of a white walled room, her upper body obscured by a headless chicken.  She holds the chicken by its feet so that the blood drips down between her thighs.  However, the just, or just about dead bird carries on flapping its wings, which makes it appear as though it is this action, and not its heart, that pumps the blood onto the floor.

Susan Finlay is a British born writer and artist. She is based in London, UK and Athens, Greece.