- Tormented or worried, as if by a witch 2. 1680’s “afflicted by nightmares”. An old term for sleep paralysis, the sensation of being held immobile in bed by a heavy weight and accompanied by a sense of an alien presence. Also ‘ridden by the hag’, ‘the witch riding your back’, Succubus, Mære, the Old Hag
Hag-ridden is work by Edinburgh based visual artist Michele Marcoux which explores personal identity—specifically female identity–as a form of haunting. Referencing film (Hitchcock’s Vertigo and 1960’s Italian horror), the writing of Shirley Jackson and iconography from her childhood growing up an identical twin, Michele Marcoux explores formal visual ideas of collage, duplication, erosion, to create a portrait of identity as dream, obsession, resonant memory.
One summer when she was 19 Michele Marcoux had a dream. “I was staying in a beach house I was convinced was haunted and awoke from a nightmare – I don’t remember it very well – I was running from something horrible and dark that threatened to engulf me. It took me ages to surface and when I did I was so relieved I just wanted to speak with my twin sister who was sleeping across the hall. But when I tried to move I couldn’t and when I tried to call out I was unable to. With horror I realized that there was something in the room with me– a presence, a woman, crouched in the corner – and that though I was awake the dream was now playing out in the ‘reality’ of my bedroom. I was utterly panicked and kept thinking that if only I could wake my sister it would be alright. But then the dream dealt me the sucker punch. In the hallway outside my door something was crawling toward me and I realized with horror that it was my sister, but a version of her that I didn’t recognize – she had transmogrified into a sort of limbless primordial creature but with her face superimposed on. She looked at me accusingly in agony and despair as if to say – how could you do this to me?”
“I found out later that this particular sort of dreaming while awake is called sleep paralysis – which is where the title of my latest show Hag-ridden comes from. Sleep paralysis is a transition state between wakefulness and sleep characterized by complete muscle atonia meaning that you can’t move – and is often associated with terrifying visions, such as an intruder in the room or an evil presence. Though you are immobilised as if asleep you are conscious and the dream imagery, which is particularly vivid takes on a horrible format. People report an evil presence in the room – often a female presence – a hag or witch or dead woman. The Old English word maere – which is where the word nightmare is derived from – refers to one of these demons—usually female—which, like a succubus, attacks you in your sleep. The phenomenon is reported worldwide and across multiple cultures.”
“I have thought about what this dream could mean. Being a twin isn’t easy. It is a struggle to establish yourself when you are continually being referred to as a collective noun (“the twins”). It took a while after I left home for example to even feel comfortable with my own name. The first birthday I really celebrated as just myself was when I turned 19.”
“Sharing frightening stories was something my sister and I did from a very early age. We read Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson, HP Lovecraft. Frightening ourselves became an ongoing conversation, a common ground that we always shared. I came to think this conversation to a certain extent was a coded way of talking about our experience and identity as girls—and girls growing into women; a process that was often fraught, confusing and difficult for both of us—and complicated in certain ways by our twinship. We not only felt or struggled for ourselves, but also for each other.”
“The exhibition started as a way to explore this iconography of horror and the haunted house as a way to look at these questions of identity – female identity in particular – both as a personal experience, but also to explore the expectations imposed on girls and women–female identity is often what we are supposed to be as opposed to what we actually are. How difficult it is to push back at these expectations and how woman often become—even unconsciously–complicit in the experience of it.”
The exhibition includes large installations of drawings on carbon paper and found objects (caravan windows) as well as moving image, painting and collage. The sound installation House/Body which references film soundtrack from Vertigo, The Innocents and found instructional videos, is by sound artist Lynne Thermann.
The exhibition which is in the Lower Church Gallery at Summerhall, Edinburgh EH9 1PL is on from 7th June until July 11th
Lower Church Gallery, Summerhall Edinburgh EH19 8PL
Exhibition 7th June – 11th July
Notes to Editors:
MICHELE MARCOUX is an Edinburgh based artist who came to Scotland from New York in the 1990’s. She is based at WASPS Dalry and also works at Screen Academy Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University. www.michelemarcoux.com
LYNNE THERMANN who collaborated on sound work in the exhibition lives on a 19th century farm in the Catskills Mountains in Upstate New York and is a 24/7 carer. She does her sound work in the barn. https://www.michelemarcoux.com/nostalgia-diary/hillsounds-and-dollfur/