life

Hunky Dory Space Adventures with Adolf Wolfli

I’m not very good at coming up with date ideas.

I mean, I’m good at coming up with ideas, just generally not ones that I can convince other people to do with me. That’s why my S.O. is pretty awesome — he’s almost always up for my bullshit.

The weekend before last, the heat finally crept below 80°F. Of course, it also stormed the whole time, so options were limited. Last weekend, the sweltering heat was back. Hanging out indoors somewhere else isn’t something either of us considered optimal, so we made our own fun.

Saturday, we picked up some pies (tofu curry and Baltimore bomb for me, pulled pork and strawberry rhubarb for him), put on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, and cracked open my copy of John Maizels’ Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond. (I bought this book used, and somehow ended up with a signed copy. So, if you’re out there Steve Moseley, thanks.) My S.O. and I huddled around it like kids with a pile of comic books, poring over the incredible body of work of Adolf Wölfli, the otherworldly twists of the Palais Idéal, and the incredible figures of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh.

Photo of sculptures in the Rock Garden of Chandigarh by Fanoflesage. CC BY-SA 3.0

(Honestly, if you’re not familiar with Wölfli, get ready to go down a deep rabbit hole. His work is fascinating and unmatched in scope. You can even find some of his musical compositions on Spotify.)

Sunday, we had crêpes and settled in to watch a movie — Color Out of Space. Admittedly, I mostly find Lovecraft kind of tiresome, owing in no small part to a former room mate who was a little too into his work. Still, COoS is probably my favorite of his short stories. I’ve got a thing for malevolent architecture and eldritch landscapes, and this tale in particular scratches that particular horror itch really well. (So do SCPs 455 and 3219, if you’re into that sort of thing.) It’s also the kind of subject that lends itself to Lovecraft’s particular style, which tends to vacillate between “I can’t describe it, but trust me, it was super weird” and “they were secretly… Foreigners!” When you’re talking about something that defies description by its very nature, like a nonexistent color, it works.

Speaking of, I dig the artistic choice to show the eponymous Color as various shades of magenta. While magenta does exist at least as much as any other color, it’s pretty much the color mascot for the fact that so much of what we consider real is incredibly subjective. Neato.

I also dug some of director Richard Stanley’s other choices in this film. For one, the main protagonists (I’m hesitant to attach the word “hero” to a story so bleak) are a Black man and a young woman. There’s some romantic tension between them. You know, the kind of stuff that would’ve made Lovecraft have to take to his bed with a cool rag and some kind of nostrum.

There’s also one scene with a horse where the horse’s eye briefly flashes purple. It’s ambiguous, however, whether this and the horse’s subsequent freakout are a sign of the contagion or not. Notably, the part of the horse’s eye that appears to flash is the tapetum lucidum, the membrane that reflects light and aids in night vision. Is the horse acting out because the Color’s gotten to it? Is it reacting to what it sees emanating from the people it’s looking at? Is it both? It’s the little fridge horror/fridge brilliance touches like that that I really enjoy.

Lavinia, the family’s daughter, also provides some interesting references to Wicca. Nothing too complicated or heavy, really, though mentioning the Wiccan Rule of Three provides a bit of foreshadowing. The Necronomicon makes a brief appearance at one point, though it’s left unclear whether the in-universe book is meant to be genuine, or just a paperback for edgy kids. Some viewers put forth the idea that, while the Necronomicon itself is widely regarded as a hoax, all of the best hoaxes contain something tangentially genuine — so it’s possible, at least in-universe, that Lavinia’s ritual did something.

(It just wasn’t what she wanted.)

Lastly, near the end, we’re given a brief glimpse of the Color’s home planet. Normally, I hate this kind of thing — one thing Lovecraft got right here was the fact that the things your imagination conjures are inevitably far more terrifying than anything anyone else can show you. In this case, the look we’re given is brief enough, and the atmosphere built by the flashing colors, patterns, emotions, and musical score building to that point is just mentally overwhelming enough, that it’s impossible to fully absorb what you see. You’re given an image, but your imagination still has plenty of room to build around it.

It also strikes me as somewhat visually similar to the ending city in Junji Ito’s Uzumaki:

Which I thought was awesome, because I love Uzumaki. (I get some very Hellstar Remina vibes, too.)

No idea what we’ll do next weekend. There’s an abandoned pyrite mine I’d like to poke around, and this reservoir I found a bone at once. Really, after all this, I kind of just want to snuggle up and re-read a bunch of Ito’s books.