“So often in looking back at one’s past, there is a tendency to restore order to chaos. As a result, actual events and words exchanged become obscured and are reborn into sweet sentiment, or rather…lies.” – John Brattin, The Triumph of Night, 2006
Half Forgotten takes a closer look at the sublime and invented worlds of painter, filmmaker & installation artist John Brattin. Brattin’s films, in which Victorian era gothic tales collide with horror genre masterpieces, have screened internationally, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Mecano, Amsterdam, and The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. John’s haunting depictions of places existing primarily in darkness unravel through a variety of mediums. He begins with drawings, paintings, and sculpture, they are then utilized as the basis for his films. As artist Tony Oursler stated: “He moves with fluidity from video to installation to painting with astonishing exactitude…A Walt Disney gone bad.” (Station to Station, Artists’ Space, 1997)
His film projects involve the conceptualization of settings, constructed as the locus of semi-narrative experimental works that engage a structured approach to script, ensembles of actors, and numerous technical and artistic collaborators. Commenting on John’s most recent film, Holland Cotter notes in The New York Times: “What’s remarkable here is not the story but the exercise in atmospherics it has inspired and the ingeniously sophisticated way Mr. Brattin has produced it…Like life, The Triumph of Night is an innocence-and-experience tale, destined to be forever continued.”
Half Forgotten brings together, the distinct works from several periods of Brattin’s artistic history. Included are a group of photographic stills drawn from three of Brattin’s major productions, Funeral (1995), The Long Corridor (1997), and The Season of Sadness (1998). Brattin’s glowing black & white portrait of a handsome tearful man laid down upon a pillow of snow triggers both the light and the loss of romance. His landscape of lollipops lurking through dark shadows induces one’s obsessive need of wanting things while making it evident that these desires have great potential to be harmful. Resurrected from Super 8 and embalmed into the land of the living dead, these imitations of life evoke the high drama of Douglas Sirk, the production technique of James Bidgood, and the idyllic wonder of L. Frank Baum. Together with the strong ethereal aura of their translucent casings, these unattainable relics echo the Victorian penchant for collecting “live” or natural matter and encasing them in glass globes. Capable of being seen, but never to be touched. After having achieved the final state of inertia associated with all artifice, they are then served up as commodities and presented to the culture of desire. The intrinsic value is located within the viewer’s haunted memory.
Central to Half Forgotten is a series of oil paintings executed in the late 1990’s that, not unlike John’s films, are at once sensual and stark. His hypnotic painting of a single taper burning in a dark fog lures the one into a nightmarish dream world. Insistent upon the viewer’s willingness to return to a location that had at one time illuminated their dreams, fears, and false beliefs, the narrative within Brattin’s iconic imagery directs the viewer to examine the periphery of the scene: the gas lantern, the cemetery gates, the banister, the gingerbread house, the black forest, the lollipop, and of course, impending evil. Collectively, the paintings provide viewers the fragmentary ruins to interrogate multi-layered artifices surrounding innocence and death. By tapping into his audience’s unconscious, John Brattin elaborates on haunting mental locations. Half Forgotten assembles mechanisms, both immediate and removed, that activate the impulse to restore order to chaotic memories, which are then “reborn into sweet sentiment, or rather…lies.”