Allison Schulnik’s glamour magic and illusion

Allison Schulnik, gouache on paper, courtesy of ZieherSmith

Contributed by Kari Adelaide Razdow Moths are weird and macabre. Allison Schulnik, in her animated short MOTH in “Suffering From Realness” at Mass MoCA, fully captures their gothic elegance. The moths rhythmically fan eyespots and morph into something new and magical every few seconds, conjuring a resonant line from Mary Oliver’s poem, Sleeping in the Forest: “By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.” Schulnik’s chimerical creatures continually transform and hover in and out of sight in frenetic enchantment, taking on the form of a pixie, settling atop a toadstool, becoming engulfed by a flower, and floating past seaside cliffs, glowing and flitting like will-o’-the-wisps. Yet the film is far more than a cross-disciplinary paean to fairy lore. 

Allison Schulnik, gouache on paper, courtesy of ZieherSmith

Some of the moths have skulls on their thoraxes, recalling Charles Burchfield’s 1946 painting The Sphinx and the Milky Way, in which a death’s head hawkmoth with that marking floats luminously in a gray foreground over a lily. Both Schulnik and Burchfield’s investigations reveal a fascination with how nature becomes spiritualized beyond the realm of metaphor. Their mythopoeic works embody visionary musings over landscape and consciousness, reflecting designs on transcendental inquiry. Schulnik’s animation is chock full of glamour magic and illusion. One of her moths transforms into a red-caped, shape-shifting enchantress who removes her mask and turns into a sea serpent, weaving her snaky body above and below the water’s surface until her mouth dominates the screen with sharp teeth, dripping wet. The piece is set to quivering classical background music performed by Nedelle Torrisi.  

Allison Schulnik, gouache on paper, courtesy of ZieherSmith

Elfin and ominously enigmatic, Schulnik’s creatures seem decisively feminine. They include a moth-like centaurette pulsating her wings and uncoiling her tongue (or proboscis) in sync with a quest-driven gallop. There’s a melodious tension between vanishing and transforming, but her creatures never completely perish: the film is dusky but serene. Thus, Schulnik captures the transient nature of the moth, casting it as an aerial avatar of short-lived quests that beguile us with both movement and narrative. Schulnik has mastered the visual manifestation of supernatural ideas in natural spaces, casting seductive light on nature spirits dancing amid creeping shadows.

Allison Schulnik: MOTH,” in “Suffering From Realness,” curated by Denise Markonish. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts (MASS MoCA), North Adams, Massachusetts. Through January 1, 2020. Look for the animation in the Midnight Moment at Times Square, January 2020

Other artists in “Suffering From Realness” include: Aziz+Cucher, Cassils, Adriana Corral, Joey Fauerso, Jeffrey Gibson, Hayv Kahraman, Jennifer Karady, Titus Kaphar, Robert Longo, Christopher Mir, MPA, Wangechi Mutu, Keith Sklar, Robert Taplin, and Vincent Valdez.

About the Author: Kari Adelaide Razdow curates independently at The Sphinx Northeast, an itinerant curatorial project. Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, BOMB, NYLON, Huffington Post, the Walker Art Center Blog, Eyes Towards the Dove, and elsewhere.


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Roadtrip: The Clark, MASS MoCA, Bascom Lodge in Western Massachusetts
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Ideas and Influences: Brece Honeycutt

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