Review: Tracey Snelling at Rena Bransten Gallery (Artforum)

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Tracey Snelling,  Danger Mountain  2013, mixed media, 36 x 28 x 22 inches   

Tracey Snelling, Danger Mountain 2013, mixed media, 36 x 28 x 22 inches


The large-scale posters and elaborate architectural models that make up Tracey Snelling’s exhibition “Mystery Hour” depict imaginary B movies whose premises are as facetious as they are seductively lurid: “She was married to a walking dead man!” declares the oversize poster Forbidden (all works 2013) in LED lights against a bodice-ripper tableau. Using sculptural assemblages and miniature models, the artist creates archetypal worlds from middle- and lowbrow genre films, like the horror movie setting of Danger Mountain, complete with a run-down motel situated precariously atop a winding hill and a swing set perched over a deadly cliff.

The mesmerizing, sinister scenes here—creepy secluded gas stations, a barely visible something in a car trunk left ajar in a darkened alley—are wryly presented with winks to the viewer, such as dribbles of paint running down the sides of pieces. And in many ways the show is about the aesthetics of wicked pleasure. The scale models of ominous hotels and houses—all projecting clips from different, often unidentifiable, films in their windows on tiny LCD screens—encourage our basest instincts to peer into the lives of strangers. The overall effect alternates between uncanny Hitchcockian voyeurism and pure pastiche, as in Zombie Island, whose undead bathe in a lagoon with an LCD screen featuring shark-attack footage.

The thrill of looking in “Mystery Hour” at first seems merely cynical and cheaply erotic—a hard-boiled flick done up in a shocking pink palette—especially given the many sex scenes projected in film clips. But in addition to embodying the genres of thriller and horror into make-believe set pieces, Snelling has also captured their gendered underpinnings. Two neon signs in red and fuchsia which illuminate the rest of the show suggest distillations of the underlying messages in such films; Desire flickers between “desire” and “dire,” while She-Evil alternates with “she-devil.” Both suggest that the real horror in Snelling’s world of grown-up dollhouses is libido rather than the threat of physical harm.