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Queens Chronicle

Fear and loathing (fun too) in Long Island City

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Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2018 10:30 am

Manipulation, fear and gore abound at a former warehouse in Long Island City this October, and it’s all a bunch of rollicking fun.

In “LIC Fear Returns” and “Manipulated Life,” Long Island City Artists at The Plaxall Gallery present two art exhibits with complementary themes: fright, timed for Halloween month, and the artistry of puppets.

Each evokes childhood experiences of art in action. In “Fear,” it’s the costumes of Halloween and the drama of mastering fear by playing with scary ideas. In the puppetry exhibit, it’s the multidisciplinary art of puppet theater.

“We like the shows to either accentuate each other or stand in contrast,” at Plaxall, said “Manipulated Life” curator Edjo Wheeler.

Where’s the fun in fear?

“I think it’s the adrenaline of it all,” said “Fear” co-creator Jason Artiga. Having grown up in the VHS era, he and his co-curator, Tessa Kennedy, find horror nostalgic. The two remember the anticipation of renting a movie from the video store, taking it home and perhaps inviting friends over to enjoy together the roller-coaster ride of a scary movie.

“Fun, candy, horror,” Artiga said.

(They might have seen some together, just the two of them — they met and started dating, and only then found out they both are artists.)

In the “Manipulated Life,” you can see some happy fun, for example, in the display of a chicken made by Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets that live on Sesame Street.

“I’ve always had a love of puppets” since childhood, Wheeler said. A yarn puppet created by his maternal grandmother Viola Calabrese, “Puppet for Eddy,” provides a friendly grace note at the entrance to the exhibition.

But you’ll find enough creepy puppets to make you wonder if you might be in the “Fear” room. Some are mounted like hunted game on metal armature forged by Wheeler, a metal sculptor and the exhibit’s “evil mastermind.” Wheeler wanted the mountings to be in context, to evoke the motion and stories of the puppets’ real lives and the realms they inhabit.

Puppetry is one of the earliest arts we’re exposed to as children, Wheeler said, but since it’s a performing art, the puppets themselves are underappreciated and underrepresented as art. Puppet artists responded to the call for entries enthusiastically, he said, as they rarely, if ever, get a chance to display their work in galleries. The puppets resonate with visitors, as well.

“The people come in and immediately take out their cameras,” Wheeler said.

A Pinocchio taller than a ranch house by Theodora Skipitares leans against a ladder that stretches to the enormously high ceiling, stick in hand.

“I thought his face was a little maniacal,” Wheeler said. “He’s inviting you. Go ahead. Go on up.”

See what you get from that stick and ladder.

Hellenmae Fitzgerald’s life-size mannequin macabre, “The Night Carnival,” holds echoes of puppetry near the entrance to “Fear.” Artiga sees her as a “Miss Universe” from the beyond, decked out in a dismal gown adorned with skulls.

Artiga’s “Final Girl” used the term for the last victim in a 1980s horror flick, a woman being vanquished and ravished by male evil hands, he said. This being the year 2018, the hands don’t reach Artiga’s “victim.” Can’t touch this.

“I like the idea of a final girl not being touched,” Artiga said.

Kennedy’s “The Old Test” and “The New Test” allude to Bible quotes about the sin of failing to act. Lipstick words appear as if a hand wrote them from inside a mirror, backwards, in “The Old Test.” “The New Test” shows that hand emerging from a dark hole to write at you.

“It is sort of a psychological horror,” personally, Kennedy said. “If I fail to do it, it’s like a sin.”

“It” is creating art.

“To have some sort of gift and not do anything with it, that is frightening to me,” Kennedy said.

‘LIC Fear Returns’ and ‘Manipulated Life’
When: Through Sun., Nov. 4
Where: The Plaxall Gallery, 5-25 46 Ave., Long Island City
Entry: Free. (347) 848-0030,

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