by Liberty Finch
Do you ever wonder, as you’re digging through flea markets and browsing antique stores, where all those old photos come from? You know the ones, sepia-toned vintage shots of people from an era long ago and far away. They don’t smile for the camera or yuck it up; their posture is stick straight and they stare sternly ahead.
It’s always puzzled me how someone’s family heirlooms could end
up in a pile of rubble, nestled among 1980s McCall’s magazines and Better
Homes & Gardens cookbooks. They’re somebody’s wife, son, grandparents,
and yet here they are, tucked next to dilapidated Barbie dolls and scratched
Ex-Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh has his own fascination with bygone photos,
and created his latest exhibit, Beautiful Mutants, from “images
pulled from man’s past…then corrected into sickeningly beautiful
beings.” The show is on display at Creative Electric Studios in Northeast
Minneapolis through January 15.
concept is fairly simple, but the results are most unusual. Mothersbaugh, an
insomniac, began this little photo experiment to help him relax when he couldn’t
sleep. He’d scan an old photo, then use Photoshop to “split”
the picture in half and fuse the pieces back together, creating a new image.
The results are subtle in some instances, shocking in others. Take “Woven
Reed Happy Lad,” for instance. At first glance we see a happy toddler
atop a wicker loveseat. But look closer and you’ll see that the lad’s
sitting on four legs instead of two!
“Headcheese circa 1888” is more disturbing from the get go. A cyclops-alien-baby-head
rests in a ruffled basinet, a prism of light hovering over its “third
eye.” In “Sacre Baby,” a roly poly infant is transformed into
a Siamese twin joined at the head and leg. Like a freak show or a car wreck,
the images are disturbing, but you can’t help but stare!
Even without manipulation, these photos would be haunting. The seriousness of
ancestors from a distant past feels eerie; their straight-ahead stares, intense.
Mothersbaugh examines the symmetry of old-fashioned photography and takes it
a step further. He tries to reveal the secrets within these beings, convinced
“all people are hiding something.” By “correcting” the
photographs, he allows the “true tenant of these human faces and figures
to be ‘flushed out’ and viewed without the disguise that we all
so expertly hide.” Of course, any conclusion we draw is uniquely our own:
like Rorschach’s patterns, objects are what they are because of how we
But photo prints aren’t the only thing keeping Mothersbaugh busy. Since
his Devo days he’s produced a number of television and film scores at
Mutato Muzika, his L.A.-based company. The latest project is the soundtrack
for “The Life Acquatic,” directed by Wes Anderson and starring Bill
Murray (in theaters Christmas Day). Creative Electric’s gallery owner
Dave Salmela played me a sample—techno-jazz, heavy on bass and cello,
that was the perfect background to a captivating visual show. ||
Beautiful Mutants runs through Jan. 15 at Creative Electric Studios,
2201 2nd St. NE, Mpls. 612-706-7879. Gallery hours are Saturdays from 10 a.m.
to 4 p.m. or by appointment.