One of my favorite holidays is fast approaching: Halloween. And while it's fun to dress up in costumes, my favorite part of Halloween has always been the legends and stories that accompany it.
Every year, come October, I've inevitably picked up my well-worn copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Also on my list are: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and anything by Edgar Allan Poe. Each of these tales taps into something deep inside our unconscious, something that Carle Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, called “the shadow.” “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote in Psychology and Religion (1938), “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
Perhaps the element of “the shadow” is what brings to mind Erick Swenson’s Untitled (2000). This dramatic work lends itself to a narrative of some sort. The fawnlike creature, innocent-looking and pristine, balances delicately on one tiny hoof as it resists being swept away by a menacing, disembodied cape.
The cape's daunting presence is reminiscent of characters such as Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, or even Voldemort. But as the viewer, we don’t know who (or what) it is, because we can’t see it. The force creating the energetic swoop of the cape is purposefully missing. Moreover, from a physical standpoint, how the piece remains upright is a mystery as well—the rubber-and-polyurethane creation seems to defy gravity, appearing as if it lacks the support of anything other than the fawn’s precarious foothold on the ground.
It is human nature to fear, or at least be suspicious of, those things that we cannot see. After all, if we can’t see something, how can we begin to understand it?
But Jung also notes that, "in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity." In Swenson’s piece, the cape (shadow) plays on the desire to create a narrative from this moment frozen in time. There is an inevitable urge to try to find a way to place the drama and tension of the sculpture into the context of a larger story about predator and prey, light against darkness, or good versus evil.