The Visual Essence of Monstrosity by Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler
'As the world has less and less corners for unknown creatures to hide, animation is one of the most prominent modes to keep monstrosity going.'
Cryptozoology essentially is a discourse about the visual. It is concerned with imaging the unseen and deals with our imagination of biological species that have not been discovered, and that zoology is not expecting to ever discover. But this act of seeing and believing is inseparably linked to a spatial configuration. These monsters have always been projected to live in unknown territories, whether in the hidden corners on earth, under the sea, in outer space or being so tiny that they slip under our radar of perception.
As Cryptozoologist avant la lettre, Pliny the Elder in the seventh book of his Naturalis Historia, written in the years 77-79 AD, wrote about ‘savage and wild men’ living in far away regions like India or ‘Affricke’ (Africa), ‘men with heads like dogs, clad all over with the skins of wild beasts’, ‘Sciopodes’ with giant feet, ‘for that in hotest season of the Summer, they lie along on their backe, and defend themselves with their feet against the Sunnes heat’, or others ‘without heads standing upon their necks, who carrie eies in their shoulders’.
Accounts of such ‘Monstrous Races at the Edge of the Earth’ were re-written over the centuries and finally depicted in the cosmographies at the time of the discovery of the New World, such as plate XII in Herman Schedel’s Weltchronik in 1493. These images of monsters have become iconic for what is considered to be a monster, just as are the blurry photos of supposed sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot or Yeti.
It is striking that these last mysterious entities without a clear photographic depiction in our culture of visual overdose and instant Google search gratification have turned into some of the most powerful pop-cultural icons. But we should not forget that monstrosity has its origin in image making of what is not depictable; it is a visual reaction to our perception of being in the world confronted with the unknown and pushing the bounds of reality.
As the world has less and less corners for unknown creatures to hide, animation is one of the most prominent modes of such a challenging image production to keep monstrosity going. The films comprised under the slate of Secret Monsters not only deal with the topic of monstrous beings on a semantic level, but experiment with this very visual essence of monstrosity.
Elizabeth Hobbs has printed hand carved rubber stamps directly on film material in the tradition of abstract and absolute film in the 1920s; Mandy McIntosh has used folklore patterns as skins for hyperrealist 3D birds, creating a nightmarish void of a non-space; and Motomichi Nakamura projected animations of Tiny People Tribe onto the walls of his house applying mapping technology to create an overlaying of realities. (Don’t miss his making of on http://vimeo.com/75649468.) These and the other films challenge us to question ways of seeing, which is the first step to give in to monsters.
Just as Tiny People Tribe brings the monsters to our home, Motomichi’s other film, True Giant has a domestic twist. Playing with his stylised combination of red and black areas, which evokes an impression of depth where there is only surface, the enormously giant monster takes the boat with its huntsmen to put it into an aquarium. Here, they see a much smaller creature reminding us of the Loch Ness Monster. Now they are afraid – less of the reality, than its iconology. As a viewer, we feel ourselves trapped by haunted imagery, as we keep staring at the screen.
Chapter 2: ‘Of the Scythians, and the diversitie of other nations’, The Seventh Booke of the Historie of Nature, The Naturall Historie, Gaius Plinius Secundus, Translated into English by Philemon Holland, 1601, - http://penelope.uchicago.edu/holland/pliny7.html
‘Monstrous Races at the Edge of the Earth’, Thomas Macho, in: Prepare for Pictopia, eds. Lars Denicke, Peter Thaler and Bernd M. Scherer, Berlin: Pictoplasma Publishing, 2009, pp. 270-275
Die Schedelsche Weltchronik, Hartmann Schedel, Nürnberg 1493, p. XII - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schedelsche_Weltchronik_d_012.jpg
Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler are the founders and directors of Pictoplasma, a project examining contemporary character design and art. Besides publishing books they host the annual international Pictoplasma Conference with artist lectures, animation screenings and exhibitions in Berlin. A second conference also takes place in New York. In 2013 they founded the Pictoplasma Academy to enhance a unique higher learning programme closing the gaps between the genres. In 2011 they staged The Missing Link Show at Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz Berlin and The Missing Link Experience at La Gaîté lyrique Paris, a playful investigation into the mythology of the Yeti translated to lost social bonds in digital culture.