What the fuck, Elmo?!
  • Heidi Schwegler
  • What the fuck, Elmo?!

The Art Gym at Marylhurst University is a pain in the ass to get to, so I don't often write up a show there unless it's really worth seeing.

Reader, the Art Gym's current show, Botched Execution: Selected Works by Heidi Schwegler 2004-2015, is really worth seeing. Schwegler's work is immersive and tremendously creepy, containing allusions to all manner of horrors, from the Lynchian to our own prison-industrial complex to the kitsch terror of murderous clowns and uncanny dolls.

One such doll greets you at the entrance to the show. From the door, it looks like a small child resting on the parquet. For a moment, I thought maybe it was an actual, living child, although I can't say taking a kid to this particular show is a great plan. Nope, it's a child-sized dummy, a lifelike construction that's kidlike from behind, but up close has an adult-sized face and hands. My stomach turned upon realizing this; it's that visceral, uncanny body horror no one asked for, and it left me simultaneously intrigued and wanting to head for the doors.

BOTCHED EXECUTION Pictured: Heidi Schweglers childlike homunculus. Not pictured: Internal screaming.
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  • BOTCHED EXECUTION Pictured: Heidi Schwegler's childlike homunculus. Not pictured: Internal screaming.

See also: A chainlink cage, which rattles in regular intervals as its motorized door creaks open and closed in an infinite loop. There's also "Distinguishing Characteristics," a sound collaboration with Jason Loeffler, in which a computer voice rattles off distinguishing marks that might be given in filing a missing persons report, or identifying a body. The taxonomy of scars, tattoos, injuries, moles, and birthmarks is frightening in its breadth—listen long enough, and you'll hear descriptions that fit everyone you know.

This is really a sculpture show, though, and to that end, Schwegler's concerned with texture, implementing a flocking technique, a coating process that gives a velvety, dusty sheen to whatever it touches. On gray objects, the effect is something close to a skin of dryer lint, or mold. The show includes a flocked kiddie pool, a flocked laundry basket, and flocked Venetian blinds; the latter's materials list also includes "gunshot residue," in case you were wondering. Similarly, did you know that if you drain Elmo's face of all color, it looks like he has three eyes? I didn't, but now I do!

Schweglers self-portraits in My Struggle.
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  • Schwegler's self-portraits in "My Struggle."

Schwegler seems especially interested in creating sculptures that function as destroyed facsimiles of everyday objects—detritus cast forever in hardy materials like concrete and aluminum. There's also a clown that's been shot in the face, and a sequence of portraits of Schwegler's face as she's gradually beaten up, frame by awful frame. The title, "My Struggle," is wrapped up in its own layer of violence—it is, of course, the English translation of "Mein Kampf."

I stayed at the show for as long as I could, then booked it out onto Marylhurst's grassy, tidy campus, its Spanish tile roofs reminiscent of Hitchcock's San Francisco.

Sometimes, the best thing an art show can accomplish is to slip you from your comfort zone, through nothing but illusion. If you can handle creepy, you'll be richly rewarded by Heidi Schwegler's house of horrors. But don't be a hero: Get out before things get too weird.