In the scream of things

Text by Erin Silver

Although the dream is a very strange phenomenon and an inexplicable mystery, far more inexplicable is the mystery and aspect our minds confer on certain objects and aspects of life. – Giorgio de Chirico. All objects lose by too familiar a view. – John Dryden

In the Scream of Things aptly describes the scene: A young girl is both herself and possessed, at home and in the realm of the unfamiliar, summoning and summoned by an array of household objects, cats, birds, and butterflies. Amid the supposed safety of objects, the young girl commands the environment that also threatens to betray her, seemingly wielding the gift of telekinesis, that which becomes a curse without the mastery it requires, like the dream that suddenly, unexpectedly, becomes a nightmare.

Janieta Eyre’s new cibachrome series In the Scream of Things (2008) is inspired by Balthus’s unnerving depictions of childhood and Neil Gaiman’s otherworldly Coraline and might be read as the familial offspring of her earlier works, where surrealist and uncanny occurrences have replaced the serenity believed to accompany the norm. Portrayed here is an image of childhood that at once exposes the capricious nature of the imagination and the menacing realm of the real. A combination of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical, fictional Alice, and Alice’s inspiration, the solemn, real life Alice Liddell, the young girl wears multiple brightly-colored wigs that change in time with the brightly-colored Victorian rooms, rooms that quickly transform from welcoming solace to chilling austerity. The girl is not only a child when standing on homemade stilts, lazing on couches, and reading oversized books, but also a tired hostess to flying creatures that demand her attention, follow at her feet and hover at her head, a helpless captive to objects that threaten to attack her, to the knowledge of an escape into the outside world that her isolation denies her. And though permitted to visit, the viewer who peers in on the child who has been left to fend for herself remains helpless to her plight.

Contained within the young girl’s house—and head—is foreboding sense of dread and danger, an unease that cannot be rationalized away. And why should it be? That which is quietly assuring in one photograph is that which finds its distorted mirror in another: a safety that is not to be confused with comfort, a house that is not to be confused with a home.