E.K. Huckaby‘s “Anhydjinnic Molassicism” at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia through November 29, is a dark, bizarre display that’s packed to its wriggling gills with mystery, monsters, and a haunted sense of the historical South—even the show’s playful title simultaneously alludes to magical beings, contemplative mystics, and a sticky sweet essence that recalls the days of slavery’s Triangle Trade as surely as it remembers last week’s brunch biscuits.
In his artist statement, Huckaby offers some advice to gallerygoers, including: “This exhibition should not be trusted when it claims to speak only to you and no other,” and “These works cannot protect you from the unknown or deliver you to another world.” One of MOCA’s 2013-14 Working Artist Project winners, Huckaby fills his gallery with images that look like they’ve been torn from a witch’s grimoire, and forms that might be more at home in a haunted house display. But he uses his statement to empower the viewer and remind viewers of these strange reliquaries that objects—no matter how striking or scary—can only reflect the prejudices and superstitions we choose to project upon them. Huckaby’s observations apply to iconography and religious/magical thinking, but also to the powers of aesthetics and beauty’s place in the eye of the beholder.
The painting Intangible Agendae has an instructor teaching the basic technique for achieving out-of-body travel or astral projection. His pointer lands on a drawing that is hung between two pillars at the top of a stone staircase of a man lying on his back while successive iterations of his body—each one paler and more “immaterial” than the next—are shown rising from his sleeping form as he enters the dream plane. The twin pillars recall the architecture of Masonic temples, and the man’s period clothing hints that this narrative panel offers a window onto the roots of Southern Freemasonry in the United States and the turn-of-the-20th-century spiritualism boom.
The doll sculpture Brer Cthulhu finds the tentacle-mouthed monster/god of horror-writer H.P. Lovecraft’s mythology decked out in the coveralls of a field hand. Again, Huckaby mixes the supernatural with the Southern, implying a connection between a fabled, ancient beast and the African-American folk tales attributed to the fictional Uncle Remus—the stories were actually compiled and published by journalist Joel Chandler Harris while he was working in post-Reconstruction Atlanta.
With more than 60 paintings and sculptures, “Anhydjinnic Molassicism” is an intense display of abstract and figurative painting, doll forms, and found-antique-object assemblage. Taking in the whole show requires at least an hour of pensive investigating, and it’s beyond the scope of this review to possibly encompass the artist’s entire vision.
However, the show’s Rosetta Stone might be the oil painting on a framed, round panel, Attrition. Picturing a close-up cloud of moths in flight, Huckaby’s title alludes to death but the regenerative symbolism of the moth alludes to a life after death—a transformation. Of course, one can’t read the word “attrition” in the context of Huckaby’s show and not be reminded of William Tecumseh Sherman’s ruthless Civil War campaign, his infamous march, and the burning of Atlanta before it rose again to become the capital of the New South.
Throughout this exhibition, Huckaby’s hoodoo surrealism sets a spooky stage where memory and mystery are free to dance. It’s a show full of ghosts—ghosts that transform and endure.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com