Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, M. Rebekah Otto reviews Stacey Steers’ Night Hunter at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco.
Experimental animator Stacey Steers currently has work on view in Night Hunter at Catharine Clark Gallery. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Night Hunter House (2011), an imposing, black Victorian dollhouse. Through small windows, the viewer may glimpse ten small rooms filled alternately with artifacts of domesticity (a single nylon drying on a rack) and eerie, surreal snakes with foreboding eggs. The rooms also contain small screens that show excerpts of the film Night Hunter (2011), a collaged video starring Lillian Gish, the proto-ingénue of silent films. Gish is by turns the heroine and the damsel of Night Hunter, a delicate film that juxtaposes the “real” filmed world of Gish with an animated one. The simplistic animation and collage techniques illuminate the textures of grainy black-and-white film, creating a world that is stranger and more complex than either medium alone. Gish becomes Alice in a darker wonderland.
Also on view is Steers’ 2006 work Phantom Canyon, which similarly borrows archival images, in this example from Eadweard Muybridge’s seminal Human and Animal Locomotion (1887). As in Night Hunter, the animal and human worlds collide and intersect. Muybridge’s figures now inhabit Steers’ dreamscape, where they transform into bats and fish in a romantic romp with an opaque narrative. The film is shown in a screening room, and stills are arranged on the wall of the gallery.
In a work of ornate animation, the viewer easily forgets that each frame and second of the video consists of individual collages. Luckily, in this exhibition, the gallery also features collages and stills from the films, which help the viewer comprehend the complexity of this craft.
As Faye Hirsch noted in Art in America, “Home is where the heart jumps into the throat. This could well be the motto of the oneiric animation Night Hunter…” Here, fear and domesticity make easy bedfellows, from the detailed dollhouse of Night Hunter House to the tumbling beds in Phantom Canyon. Unlike Gish’s films and many portrayals of fear, the tension in Steers’ work rises and never subsides. In these worlds, catharsis never comes.
M. Rebekah Otto lives in Oakland, California. She grew up in Chicago. Her work has been published in The Believer, The Millions, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is currently the Content Manager at Dictionary.com.