BY: ALISA WONG
From zombie horses to amputated feet, one man’s fantasies have been brought to life—and death. Scents of lumber and resin filled the room, and urethane dummies dabbled in layers of makeup remained motionless. Mutilated creatures sat next to each other, with their hope to scream ceased in time. From now until December 8, the University Art Museum (UAM) at Cal State Long Beach will feature the work of filmmaker and special effects artist, Gabe Bartalos. The exhibit, Abhorrence and Obsession, presents a glimpse of the root of Bartalos’ attraction to the enigma of the mind—stemming from his art and the silliness of his dreams over the past 20 years. A walkthrough reveals Bartalos’ lore of gore and dark surrealism.
“In [my dreams] I wake up sometimes laughing about the nonsense of them like, ‘Where did that come from?’” Bartalos said. “But what’s interesting is in the dream, it all makes sense...when you think back at it, all is right. But the minute you walk out of the theater you’re going to be like, ‘Wait a minute, that was pretty weird, how did that stitch together?’”
When asked what is attractive about dark surrealism, Bartalos said it’s the “anything goes” vibe. From his dreams and imagination, Bartalos puts surrealist scenes into films that represent the “abandonment of the restrictions of our daily lives”.
“It’s like in a dream, we’re in surrealness,” Bartalos said. “It gets so abstract it’s almost like if you took scenarios, and you put them on dice and rolled [them] out; and to see how they form is kind of funny. That’s how I see surrealist stuff and that’s very attracting to me.”
During a visit to his studio, UAM Director Chris Scoates discussed with Bartalos about displaying his work at the UAM—from personal projects to creations for films. Abhorrence and Obsession features 28 of Bartalos’ works throughout his career.
Visualists can see how Bartalos processed set designs and ideas of film directors, such as horror film directors Matthew Barney and Frank Henenlotter. Bartalos worked on notable horror films such as “Brain Damage”, “The Cremaster Cycle”, “Basket Case 2” and “Basket Case 3”. In the “Basket Case” series, Bartalos worked on showcasing deformed and conjoined body parts and organs.
“It’s a good combination of violence that has a door of humor to let people in,” Bartalos said. “Frank’s next film was ‘Basket Case 2’, where he zeroed in on deformities. But Frank, like me, thought...we don’t want to be mean-spirited, let’s go to cartoon land. And we began to create visual oddities.”
There is a parasitical eel, an imploded brain face, and a penis baby to spark psychological and sexual eeriness--one of the aims of many horror films. A look at Bartalos’ abstruse, metaphorical extravaganzas pushes cinematic film further into dark surrealism.
The biggest feature of the exhibit reveals Bartalos’ upcoming film “St. Bernard” (2013). The film is about a musical composer who dives into madness. Bartalos wrote this film with an idea in mind to show the composer’s “progressive insanity.” Flickering strobe lights, scattered wood, and a visual progression of the protagonist’s metamorphosis represents his struggle.
“Wood becomes a metaphor for oppression,” Bartalos said. “It begins to push against [the composer], literally and metaphorically, where normal objects begin to transform into wooden pieces...sets begin to be criss-crossed in the wood. Like a maze of his mind is getting more dense, the wood gets progressively more.”
In galleries throughout the UAM, visitors can watch videos and read more of how Bartalos’ art was made and the technicalities of each process. Although he makes it clear where his specialties lie, Bartalos takes on grimy subject matter through all the stages of production. By developing his skills in the film and special effects industry for more than two decades, Bartalos’ art and dreams conceive greater paths for dark surrealists and beyond.
“I’ve always been a believer in the labor you put into stuff. Like dropping a pebble into water makes visible waves. The labor and density of things, whether it’s perceived or not, whether it’s in-person, in an exhibition, or in film—leaves an echo of texture,” Bartalos said. “The audience will pick up on that and it’ll resonate in different waves.”