- What is without reason, is monstrous. What is with singular reason, is monstrous. What ignores reason over a singular, driving motive, is monstrous. What is reasonable will get you from the top of the steps of your home, where you tie your shoes and feel the first breath of the day’s weather on your skin, to a table across town that sits near the door of the place where you do business, but this will never be anything anyone would pay to see on a screen. Only the monstrous is entertaining and profitable.
Robert Smithson said, “Artists that like Horror tend toward the emotive, while artists who like Science-Fiction tend toward the perceptive.” Matt Borruso, who borrows heavily from both genres in his drawings, sculptures, films, and collages, proves the theory by giving us perfect balance. His work is a perceptive dissection of the emotional. It explores the aesthetics of the grotesque through grids and systems that reveal our dysfunctional relationship—disgust and attraction—to the grotesque: bad food photography from sixties cookbooks, cheap horror film F/X, the polyester-based craft boom of the seventies, blob-inspired fifties modernism, and the places where all the aforementioned melt into each other.
The work celebrates a backstage view, where tools are exposed. Here behind the scenes are instruction booklets for crocheting large afghans, death masks are molded, homes in magazines are arranged pornographically for cameras, and the rough edges have yet to be sanded. In that spirit, instead of presenting you with his finished artworks set against a neutral backdrop, I’ve taken a camera into Borruso’s workplace.
In films, a serial killer’s lair bears a stark resemblance to an art studio, with the murderous thought process mapped out through news-clippings, photos of future victims, and documents of crafty murders. Borruso’s lair especially fits this parallel with its gruesome stills from horror films (often about serial murders by humans, monsters, or aliens), cast body parts, and various images and memorabilia collected from flea markets that serve as inspiration and occasionally become incorporated into modernist arrangements or collaged into compelling vignettes. In trying to think like the criminal, detectives (in films) often have similar charts and photos, the assumption being that reading the past of the criminal mind will enable the detectives to predict the corrupted brain’s future moves. It follows the logic of this quote from one of literature’s most dedicated criminologists, Colin Wilson, who said, “Life itself is an exile. The way home is not the way back.”
The United Nations christens 1986 The International Year of Peace. It’s a gesture on the UN’s fortieth anniversary to raise awareness of the drive to foster peace, not a prediction that ’86 might actually set a standard of peace. Like most years on earth since man, violent conflict troubles the whole globe. Some (not all) of the wars and military actions taking place this year include:
The Second Sudanese Civil War.
Sri Lankan Civil War.
Siachen Conflict between India and Pakistan.
Agacher Strip War in Burkina Faso.
Western Sahara Conflict.
The Aceh War.
Soviet War in Afghanistan.
El Salvador Civil War.
Ugandan Bush War.
‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
Ethiopian Civil War.
Angolan Civil War.
Continuous clashes between Indonesian and East Timorese groups.
Mozambican Civil War.
Military takeover in Lesotho.
Construction and testing of nuclear weapons all over the globe.
South African Border War.
Namibian War of Independence.
Guatemalan Civil War.
And, the U.S. bombing of Libya.
With all this in mind, peace is fist-pumped like an anthem full of admirable goals and lines of coke. And yet, when people of the future recall 1986, it will not be peace that is remembered, rather the fist-pumps and pastels.
When people look back at the eighties for the archetypical cultural aesthetics of the decade, they will almost always look specifically at this year, 1986. 1986 is a boarder year: the American pop version of what the decade washed down to. And 1986 itself washes down to the film Ruthless People. In the same way the great smorgasbord of cultural contributions by lesbians in our time is reduced in comedic terms to the tuna casserole, so the complexities of an entire decade are condensed into a film vehicle providing a second life for Bette Milder. Packed with murderous intentions, Memphis Group furnishings, shoulder pads, and Disney-gone-dirty (via Touchstone, this was the Disney Studio’s Second R-rated film), the film is monstrous, and that’s how it will become an icon.
The year of Ruthless People is also a year in which many of the top musical pop stars of the 2000-and-teens are born. While the stars and figureheads who are dying are the last great wave of people who have been photographed throughout their lives primarily in black and white.