Shane LaVancher’s “Creatures” invites us into a lab of hybrids–somewhere in between our technological future and our cave-dweller past. These bodies are beautiful and monstrous, thriving on the ethereal gothic: it is Gattaca meets Nosferatu. In the press release for the show, LaVancher reminds us that “visible changes in the human body are often preceded by unseen changes in the mind. As the mind is altered and becomes more beautiful, or angrier, or more erratic, the body and its surroundings generally follow suit.” How often, though, do our minds become overwhelmed with a host of electronic and visual stimuli, to the point that we hope to tunnel our escape through a distorted vision of the body? Figure 1 displays the particular anxieties and dreams that our capitalistic, technological advances have afforded us. Delicate, bat-like wings encase a human form that seems to be sleeping. But then notice the luminous steam or gas filling the tube–we cannot say whether this wondrous, haunted thing is about to be released or killed. Do we need to study our desires–to fly, to be better in body and mind, to continually morph into something greater, lest they get out of control? Or do we let many such dreams die, suffocating under own analysis?
Figure 2 crawls on the backs of its hands, inching forward without looking up. We can’t tell if it has just learned to crawl and is still figuring out the basics or again, if it’s about to die. The lower half is smooth, with the thin, sensuous legs of a woman, but the belly is reptilian. The back sports mats of hair that grow in strange patches, even coming over the chest and down the arm. Its scalp looks diseased with the lack of any hair–can you say whether this is a male or female, caught in the evolutionary process, or perhaps trapped by our own anxieties about just what, a “male” or “female” should look like? In my grotesque class, I always ask my students to think about what is the difference between the “natural” body and the “normal” body. We are perpetually caught in the war between these two rhetorics—that which we are, that core of the self that sheds all labels, that in-between thing we might be terrified to face, and that “normalized” self which obeys the whims and fancies of culture.
Figure 3 is a gleaming, gorgeous body also in the middle of a grotesque transfiguration. At first glance, my eye followed the dark tail whipping up into the air and I immediately landed on the label, “mermaid.” But the end doesn’t fan out into a glorious fin as it should, and then I pay attention to the cracked landscape, which creates a darker narrative. Obviously, the sea has dried up, and so this creature must either take flight or learn to slither upon the barren ground, like any normal serpent. The story rings too true as we create more adaptive technologies in the face of rising global temperatures and disappearing resources. Still, we must bow before Nature’s force, even while we learn how to fly.
LaVancher’s show is a breathtaking display of light, shadow, grotesque bodies and stark landscapes. If you are in New York City, then go and view “Creatures,” which is showing at the Orchard Windows Gallery, 37 Orchard Street in New York City until July 5th. Caitlin Dodge Sloat was the model for all the photographs.
To view more of Shane LaVancher’s work, visit his website: http://www.lavancherstudio.com/