When a faint crack appears down the middle of the Usher clan’s capacious, disintegrating mansion, its caretaker, Roderick Usher, fears the worst. Roderick’s visiting friend, the unnamed narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” dismisses his paranoia as a symptom of emotional malaise caused by the dark water and decayed trees surrounding the estate. Meanwhile, Roderick’s beloved twin sister, Madeline, succumbs to a mysterious family illness, dying mere days after the narrator arrives at the Usher household.
Madeline is laid to rest in the family tomb beneath the house, and with her death, Roderick’s paranoia spirals out of control. He’s petrified, afraid he’ll die of his own shadow. One stormy night shortly after Madeline’s burial, Roderick and the narrator hear faint shrieks from the bowels of the mansion. Then footsteps on the stairs. The door swings open, and Madeline appears, very much alive, her white burial dress torn and bloodied. She lunges at her brother, and the pair die together, she of exhausted rage and he of absolute terror. As the narrator escapes, the mansion crumbles into a deep black lake.
Poe’s gruesome masterwork of Gothic horror is suffused with all the genre’s usual trappings: gloomy atmospherics, ancient, crumbling manors, and supernatural scaries galore. The story also adheres to an unspoken rule of Gothic horror: men are paranoid when they’re scared, women are hysterical. When “Usher” was published in 1839, physicians commonly misdiagnosed women with a catch-all mental illness they called “hysteria”; men were rarely hysterical, it was said. Some physicians linked the condition to sexual frustration; others prescribed bed rest and solitude. Thankfully, the medical concept of hysteria has since been dumped on the garbage heap, but the vestiges of gendered fear and pain linger, reappearing in our 10th exhibition of the year, Down A Long, Dark Corridor.
By turns eerie, erotic, unnerving, and nightmarish, the work in our 10th show builds on the cloying paranoia and feverish hysteria that defines Gothic horror. Scroll through to read about the works, artists, and themes in Down a Long, Dark Corridor—then enjoy the show!
Paranoid Anti-heroes and Hysterical Damsels
Derived from hystera, the Latin word for womb, hysteria was blamed on the uterus, an organ thought to literally wander around a woman’s body in search of sperm. Jennifer Hand reimagines the nomadic organ as a stable, primordial sanctuary with “You Are the Light That Came From Inside Me,” a sculptural piece she created from latex, glass, and fur. “The duality of hot glass inspires me with its sensuality, unruliness, and inclination to make one hell of a scene,” Jennifer says. Leticia Velasquez pours the product of an empty womb—menstrual blood—onto stark white paper in “Bleeding No. 1.” An ongoing record of the artist’s menopausal years, the Bleeding series sees Leticia moving through a range of emotions, including “despair, sadness, and anger.”
Christine Garvey explores “anxieties around ruin and motherhood” by reinterpreting classical portraits of maternity. In “Madonna and Child—Red and Blue,” she creates her rendition of monstrous motherhood with frantic mark-making that flutters across the paper like an anxious heart torn between powerful, conflicting emotions. Mexican artist Brenda Maria Fernandez explores the damaging effects of isolation and creative repression in “La Censura,” a claustrophobic black and white photograph from her series This is the Feeling You Thought You Had Repressed.
Supernatural Terror, Atmosphere, and Haunted Houses
Spiritualism—the belief that the dead communicate with the living—sprung from Victorian-era superstitions amid increasing secularization. Their fascination with the occult crept into the era’s literature, embodied in crumbling manors, inclement weather, and resurrection from death. Situated in front of an ominous green sky, Gard Jones’ cryptic sculpture “Styx & Stone” taps into primal fears of the sublime and supernatural. Photographer Erin Naifeh captures the Gothic zeitgeist in “Marionette,” a faintly erotic self-portrait that grapples with autonomy, manipulation, and creative expression.
Like the doorway to a haunted house, Nicholas Milkovich’s vaulted sculpture “MY Spine is Sharp” lures viewers into a false sense of security before tearing them apart with steel replicas of female vertebrae. Jacquelin Nagel’s ghostly “Glow #1” plunges viewers into an eerie atmosphere, while Charles Titterington’s enigmatic photograph “Dark Descent” creates more questions than answers.
Murder, Mystery, and Specters of Death
Inspired by the cozy mysteries of Agatha Christie, painter Rani Young contributes “Reflections,” a dreary revision of the damsel in distress. Brooke Shaden immerses herself in the concept of death with “Samsara 1,” a sculptural piece that creates space for grief, vulnerability, and decay. “By studying my connection to darkness, I create worlds that embrace and normalize death, grief, and difficult emotions,” says Brooke.
In perhaps the show’s most explicit reference to Gothic horror, Christy Savage’s illustration “The Demise of Mademoiselle Camille L'Espanaye” is an homage to Poe’s short story “The Murderers in the Rue Morgue.” Her bloody blonde, stuffed into a chimney and scandalously exposed, captures the genre’s preoccupations with sex and death.
Forbidden Desires and Symbols of Sexual Repression
More sexually explicit still is Natalie Lambert’s “Forgive Me, Daddy, For I Have Sinned,” a lurid installation that “draws on religious aspects of what it means to be repressed.”
Jesse Klick’s austere photograph “RED,” flashes a warning signal to those who’ve loved and lost. “There's a possessive intimacy, there's a danger in doing something I know is wrong,” says Jesse. “There's a struggle to make changes in the face of temptation.” Working with digital collage, Kimberlee Frederick invites us into a strange dream where sex, death, and moths commingle, uncertain bedfellows in her curious vision.