Exhibition inspired by horror flicks with queer content
Published August 28, 2014 by Bryn Evans in Visual Arts
Artist Zac Slams is a huge horror fan, and his latest show, Crime and Punishedment, is a blindingly colourful and often horrifying look at sexuality and monsters, real or imagined.
He says the show grew out of both being tired of the usual arguments about identity politics in the queer community, and watching horror flicks with his boyfriend that proved to be a source of queer content. “In older movies, queer characters, like Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw or Angela from Sleepaway Camp, are always villains, or punished,” he says. “But they’re also the only non-victimized characters as well. I felt a certain pride in seeing characters that weren’t victims.”
The show is a collection of variously sized collages, splattering the walls of the Untitled Art Society with flesh and fantasy. Some pieces are presented as bewilderingly pungent tabloids, like National Enquirercut-ups; others are overwhelmingly pornographic and violent magazine collages, like a teenage fanboy’s bedroom loaded with characters from famous horror movies that conjure images of AIDS and grisly death — particularly those with a fear of blood, including vampire flicks like 30 Days of Night, or the cult classic Carrie. Gaping maws of sharp, pointy teeth are pushed up against young men, shiny and hairless, their faces plastered with semen. Monsters with the transposed heads of killers, craggy faces with red, alcoholic noses and unkempt beards, sit atop slick, naked bodies with giant, elongated penises. Elsewhere, psychopathic mass murderers eat bodies made of red raw meat.
If it sounds like an exhumation of Jeffrey Dahmer’s unconscious, you’d be partly correct. Dahmer, who figures in some of the collages, was one of the more ghoulish serial killers to emerge post-1980, and lured young male prostitutes to his home, then raped, murdered and (in some cases) ate parts of them. “I went from horror movies to real serial killers,” Slams says. Other infamous serial killers, like Aileen Wuornos (immortalized in the too-painful-to-watch-twice film Monster), also appear in the pieces, some with their heads transposed onto muscle-bound male bodies. He says that the more research he did into the lives of the killers, the more he wondered why they were driven to kill. “After a while, I couldn’t tell what was a real murder or something from a movie. Did Dalmer do this, or [Hostel director] Eli Roth?”
The best collages are those saturated with ’90s excess, violent and nihilistic horror movies, and cheap, mass-produced porn. One tableau is packed with advertisements for gay chat lines, random numbers plastered across nude men, encouraging others with the usual titillating signifiers — fantasy, dreams, horny, instant. Titles encourage viewers, saying “Eat Your Skin” and “Drink Your Blood,” which would be a little too on-the-nose if it wasn’t for the works’ collectively grim and super-saturated appeal, an overdose of graphic horror and fetishistic fantasy.
It’s not necessarily the type of confrontation many people will be comfortable with. “I like gay stereotypes,” Slams says. “Nowadays, gay men are often desperate to pull away from them — things like musicals. I find that insulting.” He says that gay men had to fight for recognition, and doesn’t see why they’d want to ignore that history.
“I think some people would see Leatherface [who wears dresses and makeup in the Texas Chainsaw movies] as insulting,” he adds. “I can see why they’d feel that way. But there are no transgender action heroes.” He mentions Michael Caine’s character as a seductively evil serial killer in Brian De Palma’s ’80s thriller Dressed To Kill as another example. “Is that insulting, or does it say that trans people can be just as dangerous and brave as cisgender people?”