Quirky ce­ramic art­work ex­am­ines the alien ab­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON GILL­MOR

WHAT IT IS: False Mem­ory Syn­drome I, by Win­nipeg artist Kevin Stafford, is a won­der­fully weird take on “a close en­counter of the fourth kind.” Now on view at aceart, the small ce­ramic work is part of Dis­tribu­tary, a show of seven artists who use ce­ram­ics to ex­am­ine so­cial ideas and is­sues while ex­plor­ing the outer lim­its of their medium.

WHAT IT MEANS: There’s a de­lib­er­ate, de­tailed re­al­ism in Stafford’s style, in the way the hard ce­ramic sur­face repli­cates the yield­ing soft­ness of the pil­low and mat­tress, for ex­am­ple. Stafford’s con­tent, on the other hand, is skewed — a mash-up of mus­cle mags and pulp sci-fi and an ap­peal­ingly odd, un­pre­dictable vibe.

While the work has a comic edge, its ti­tle, False Mem­ory Syn­drome I, sig­nals Stafford’s se­ri­ous, skep­ti­cal take on the alien ab­duc­tion sce­nario.

Carl Sa­gan once said that “many of the prin­ci­ple ad­vo­cates of UFO ab­duc­tion seem to want the val­i­da­tion of sci­ence with­out sub­mit­ting to its rig­or­ous stan­dards of ev­i­dence.”

Many sci­en­tists be­lieve that alien ab­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ences are hal­lu­ci­na­tions Art his­to­rian Ali­son Gill­mor looks be­neath the sur­face

of news­wor­thy art brought on by a near-sleep men­tal state in which one feels phys­i­cally par­a­lyzed and men­aced by a malev­o­lent pres­ence. (In other places and other pe­ri­ods, one finds tales that par­al­lel alien en­counter sto­ries, ex­cept the place of the alien is taken by a se­duc­tive suc­cubus, a ghost, a de­mon or a witch. In New­found­land folk­lore, it’s “the old hag” who sits on your chest and steals your breath.) Other re­searchers re­gard the ex­pe­ri­ence as a con­tem­po­rary form of hys­te­ria, with alien ab­duc­tion ac­counts com­ing from false mem­o­ries that are “re­cov­ered” through ex­po­sure to sim­i­lar nar­ra­tives.

Stafford plays up the erotic an­gle in his odd lit­tle sce­nario, mak­ing the point thatal­ien­ab­duc­tionac­countsoft­enseem to hinge on anx­i­eties of a sex­ual na­ture. (How else to ex­plain all that anal prob­ing?) There’s some­thing sug­ges­tive and soft porn-y about the tanned, mus­cled man who lies spread-ea­gled on the bed, the pat­tern of his leop­ard-print briefs mak­ing a con­nec­tion to the fe­line alien that stands over him.

The space-cat is a bit un­ex­pected. In con­tem­po­rary North Amer­ica, most alien mythol­ogy ex­ists in a closed loop of X-File-ish in­flu­ences, in which pop cul­ture shapes ideas about aliens, which in term shape alien ab­duc­tion ac­counts, which in turn shape pop cul­ture. De­spite a uni­verse of pos­si­bil­i­ties, the de­pic­tion of aliens in en­counter sto­ries is gen­er­ally lim­ited. (There are the “Rep­til­ians,” the “Small Greys,” the “Tall Greys,” the “Nordics.”)

Maybe that’s why Stafford makes up his own ver­sion, which seems to com­bine a real cat with a car­toon cat, along with some stan­dard “ex­tra-ter­res­trial” fea­tures (those slanted, blank, black eyes). It could also be that Stafford just likes cats: He ex­plores the el­e­gant lines of (non-alien) cats in other works.

WHY IT MAT­TERS: You can see why an artist would be fas­ci­nated by the alien ab­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence: A per­son hal­lu­ci­nates, but the hal­lu­ci­na­tion takes a form that comes from the fears and dreams of the mod­ern world. The alien ab­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence can be seen as an en­counter be­tween an in­di­vid­ual psy­cho­log­i­cal state and shared cul­tural ex­pres­sion. It’s kind of like art that way.

Dis­tribu­tary, which is cu­rated by Chris Pan­coe and spon­sored by the Man­i­toba Crafts Coun­cil, runs un­til Sept. 3 at aceacrt, 2-290 McDer­mot



Wil­lard shares a laugh, at his own ex­pense, with Fal­lon.

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