Culture  Strangers in the night

Deep dark secrets revealed at Parisian Laundry’s current exhibit

Marigold Santos’ installation “Haunted/Talisman,” – on display until October 8 in the bunker of the Parisian Laundry gallery – creates an unnerving and evocative atmosphere. The bunker of the gallery is the perfect backdrop for the artworks, transporting the viewer into a folkloric world. Santos explores the theme of fragmentation, and examines the struggle within one’s mind between different aspects of one’s own self. Walking through the exhibit, an eerie feeling descends over the viewer, who may leave the exhibit feeling truly haunted by these strange and fascinating works.

When the viewer first descends into the basement, they are presented with a large mirror. This forces them to confront an image of their own self as they walk into the installation, and beckons them to compare their own body with the fragmented bodies presented to them. They then proceed into a small corridor, enclosed by a low ceiling. Here they are faced with three small works, the small space forcing the viewer to leave behind the “respectful distance” encouraged by most galleries. The three works are portraits of women, who all seem to have mystical qualities. Titled “Secret Signals 1, 2 and 3”, each figure is fragmented in some way. Most significantly, each creature’s hands are separated from the rest of their bodies – as though they are no longer connected to the world, and can no longer participate in physical reality through touch. As one intrepid gallery viewer, Laura Linden, noted; “All of their eyes are smudged out, as well as their mouths – all of their senses are erased.” This leads the viewer to question whether the figures are lost, disconnected to the physical world, or if they are signaling to us from another place – a fantasy world of the imagination. Are these creatures the lost ones, or, are we separated from our creativity in a society that emphasizes being realistic and sensible?

Progressing through the small corridor and entering into a large, dark room, the viewer is confronted with the most haunting work in the installation – Santos’ figure titled “Asuang”. A single overhead light illuminates this mysterious piece. The figure of  “Asuang” is explained to the viewer in a statement about the show as a “frightening creature of Filipino folklore,” who splits into multiple selves to hunt during the night – leaving those pieces behind that do not return by dawn.  Santos’ figure is hidden behind its long dark hair – we cannot see the creature’s true face, increasing its mysticism and further separating this piece from reality. One of its feet is separated from its body and is placed on a crystal a few feet away. This is a piece of the “Asuang” figure that was left behind at dawn, a piece that will now remain separate from  the figure. Through this Filipino legend, Santos explores the fractured self, and the different selves we all have present in our own minds – and how these selves can yearn for different things, leading to a disconnect within our consciousness, as we struggle with different choices and paths.

Santos’ installation “Haunted/Talisman” is meant to evoke curiosity in the viewer. Are these figures Filipino myths, or representations of our inner conflicts and disorientation? When finally emerging from the dark bunker into the daylight, it’s easy to feel as though a dark, mystical world has been left behind – one that is not often allowed to be glimpsed.