CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
My fascination with the macabre began at the tender age of four. First through TV shows like Tales From the Crypt and the Goosebumps novels, then through films like The Shining and Phenomena. Then just about every other medium there is: art, music, film, fashion, design, literature. Anything with an obscure feel to it had an irresistible appeal to me.
My parents never thought much of it until puberty hit like a dark wave, painting everything black. Admittedly, some grim elements of my personal style were just a phase. Eventually, I transitioned from a teenage Lydia Deetz to a more mature Delia Deetz, swapping dramatic melancholy for mysterious chic. Those who have seen Beetlejuice will understand. But despite this evolution I can’t say that I ever grew out of it – my heart never ceases to skip a beat at the sight of something arcane.
Of course, its aesthetic is what first drew me to the obscure. Some love the colourful poppy fields of impressionist Claude Monet – I prefer to be haunted by the beautiful paintings of Henry Fuseli. However, I knew that my love for the dark arts went beyond its visual appeal. Essentially, art in whatever form is about what it makes you feel. Fuseli’s paintings are grotesque and poetic, veering from the delicate to the ludicrous. His art allows me to project emotions that otherwise have no place in the real world. Romantic, tragic and violent, gothic novels like Dracula and Frankenstein reflect similar feelings of despair, dread and desire.
Classic horror lays bare a wide range of emotions that helps me channel my own. The genre offers the perfect balance between realism and escapism. To this day, gruesome tales of monsters and cold bodies hold up an unwavering mirror, revealing unsettling truths of human behaviour, bigotry, gender politics, class constructs, death and struggles with mental health. Absorbing art through a dark lens has taught me important lessons about myself and about the world around me. It has sharpened my senses and made me eternally curious. Curiosity is what makes people visit haunted houses, see psychics and learn about the occult and the spiritual – we need to know that there is more to life, beyond what the naked eye can see. We’re on a quest to find answers, desperate to uncover the unknown.
For me, the macabre has always been entwined with the unexplored. Engaging with it through a story or a visual aesthetic always makes me feel a bit out of my depth. It’s scary but it’s exhilarating and being in that state of mind is also where I’ve had some of my biggest professional breakthroughs. The legendary David Bowie describes this perfectly: “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
Horror has been a comforting friend, yet has also pushed me to go further into the water. It has served as a trusted compass that has led me exactly to where I am now – the editor of a feminist horror magazine that hopefully encourages others to go a little bit out of their depth too.
Valentina’s cabinet of curiosities including, front and centre, her own Suspira magazine