Visual Arts

Dreams, Nightmares, and the Subconscious Come to Life for "In Your Head and Under Your Bed" at Modified Arts

Legendary French bohemian Jean Cocteau once described art as "a marriage of conscious and the subconscious" influences -- a  seemingly a perfect subtitle for the new group exhibition In Your Head and Under Your Bed, which opens tonight at Modified Arts.

According to the show's curator Lindz Lew, each of the freaky and funky works comprising the showcase are inspired by images ripped from the subconscious of the 10 different artists involved. 

The vivid imagery of dreams and nightmares, as well as visions drawn from the most primal areas of brain become the inspiration for more than two dozen works.

Lew, a sculptor and recent ASU graduate, says such subject matter has long been a fascination of hers. So much so that she chose it as the theme of the first show she's ever curated.

"I've always been interested by how our subconscious solves problems for us when we sleep, but also generates our fears and can create all these monsters," she says. "The way our minds take something fairly innocent and turn it into something horrific, it's kind of awesome."

​Lew's subconscious has inspired some unique pieces, some of which are featured in the showcase. Her mixed media sculpture Bon Voyeur, for instance, is a wall-mounted deer head with the warm residence of a tiny mouse living inside. The concept was born of her childhood nightmares of taxidermied animal heads in her parent's house coming to life. 

"I was raised in a family that hunted. Seeing a severed deer head hanging on the wall is a pretty horrific image for a little kid. Those images really stuck with me growing up," she says. "The deer head sculpture of Bon Voyeur comes from that as it represents home to me. It was gruesome as a kid to hear bible stories while sitting near this decapitated head. But I put my feeling of a safe home inside this horrific head of a taxidermied animal."

The inspiration behind Spencer Hibert's work in the exhibition, however, isn't as horrific as Lew's. The artist and sculptor used both his dreams and daydreams to craft 25 of his custom MeeGee vinyl dolls decorated like monsters and colored with unique patterns. He also created a unique-looking 2-by-3 inch diorama of a "mushroom forest" for the show.

"I pretty much dream all day, when I do dream at night they're very real and intense," Hibert says. "I'm kind of a daydreamer, so much of what I put in the show are visions I have during the day."

​Plumbing the deep and dark depths of one's unconscious mind in search of inspiration is hardly anything new in the art world. In fact, author E.M. Forster described the creative process itself as an act where artists "let down a bucket into the subconscious, and draw up something which is normally beyond their reach."

And when sculptor Aaron McNally has been pulling up his particular bucket lately, it's been filled with nightmarish visions of animals slowly mutating into destructive monstrosities. Hence the colorfully kooky fiberglass sculptures like Untitled, a teal-colored beast sporting silver spikes.

"I thought about what would happen if all the life on this planet went away and started again, it would grow into weapons and machines," McNally says.

Post-apocalyptic visions also weigh heavy in the subconscious of painter Dain Quentin Gore, whose fundamentalist Christian church obsessed with end-times dogma was the inspiration behind his Desert Lessons series, which included paintings of anthropomorphic plants that have come alive after the apocalypse.

​"All of my ideas lately have kinda been inspired by my upbringing in end times Christianity where something bad is looming over the horizon," he says. " It's this subconscious fear that plant life will be coming to life as a result of the coming apocalypse. In the past I've had recurring dreams about end times and strange creatures."

Creatures don't get any stranger than the grimacing muppet-like character and the cross-eyed and well-dressed female depicted in Christina Lopez and Nathaniel Lewis' digital collage, The Adventures of Red Boy and Miss Mandarin.

Lewis says that the occupants of their work are the alter ego of each artist, and "reflect different parts of subconscious and id."

"It's reflects the most basest of our desires. I'm a toymaker and have been fascinated with children's programming," he says. "Christina's character is Miss Mandarin. It's related to her experiences in the service industry, where she'd applied for a job that required her to provide 'submissive service' to customers. So the character is the representative of her submissive side."

Lewis explains that their work allows the public a glimpse "into our vulnerabilities and deepest parts of our personalities." In fact, that's sort of the case with all the artists involved in the exhibition.

"There's an element of voyeurism at work in the show, getting to go into someone's head by looking at art that's about an individual's subconscious and base desires," he says. "It's like taking some weird part of yourself and showing it off to the world."

The Opening Reception for "In our Head and Under Your Bed" will be held tonight from 6-9 p.m. at Modified Arts, 407 East Roosevelt Street. Admission is free. The show is on display until August 31.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.