Lucy Dodd | “The Studio Before 54″ | January 2013

Lucy Dodd

“The Studio Before 54”

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Under these conditions, it is surely useful to try to define how animate or inanimate nature can give the impression of escaping its own norms, and even of mocking them outright. Rarity and strangeness here play a crucial role. For example, simply considering the world of vertebrates, alongside the animals that are the stuff of legend (sphinxes, chimeras, centaurs, mermaids, griffons, etc), there exist animals, such as the unicorn, that natural science catalogued and described for a long time. Conversely, certain animals catalogued only quite recently actually do exist. Their morphology is so bizarre that an observer would readily judge them more thoroughly unreal and inadmissible than the legendary hybrids. Of course, to name them “fantastic” is a misuse of language, but a significant one. In any event, being subject myself – perhaps unwittingly – to the diffuse pressure exerted by language, I was induced to launch the idea ) surprising, to say the least, especially to me) of the natural fantastic. I first used the term in connection with an insect from northeast Brasil, the lantern fly, and a North American mammal, the star- nosed mole or Condylura. These two animals’ appearances made me resort to a category whose specious nature I could easily perceive. Quite obviously, these creatures were not fantastic because they were a part of nature. Just as obviously, they seemed fantastic, and even gave quite an exceptional sense of the fantastic: the tree-dwelling homopteron, on account of its frontal protuberance, which is almost as big as its body and deceptively suggests a crocodile’s muzzle; and the subterranean vertebrate, on account of its snout, which sports a crown of twenty-two short tentacles of live pink flesh, all mobile, sensitive, and retractable, flaccid or tensed at will, and very vaguely like an intricate starfish or some horrible corolla. – Roger Caillois Au coeur de fantastique (1965)

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