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Essay by Katja Rivera
Essay by Kathryn Hixson

to Alec Appl Alec Appl to Jill Pangallo Jill Pangallo

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to Bonnie Gammill Bonnie Gammill to Cecelia Phillips Cecelia Phillips

to Peter Johansen Peter Johansen to Joshua Welker Joshua Welker

to Christa Mares Christa Mares to Virginia Yount Virginia Yount

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Creative Research Lab

INTERCHANGE - summer 2007

Ignis Fatuus
by Katja Rivera

Fantastic beings. Unimaginable things. Strange tales. Deception. All of these describe the idea behind Ignis Fatuus--literally translated as "fool's fire." In ancient folklore, ignis fatuus refers to the ghostly lights sometimes seen at night or twilight that hover over damp ground in still air. Many rumors and stories surround these unexplainable lights. In a similar way, the artists contributing to Ignis Fatuus, as a part of Interchange, create fantastic worlds and unimaginable scenarios. Their work sparks the imagination of the viewer causing her to think beyond the unknown. Like a fairy tale from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (the unsettling stories, not the Disney versions) the worlds to which we open the doors with fantasy can be frightening and at the same time fantastic. Throughout the history of art, fantasy was used to take the viewer into a different world—whether it was far away exotic lands not yet familiar or an exploration of the surreal subconscious. Fantasy employs aspects, ideas and concepts believed to be impossible in the everyday world. In many ways, these artists represent reality, yet interject the impossible—which makes their work so intriguing.

Alec Appl creates fantastic miniature worlds, islands of otherworldly proportions. On small domes covered in moss, metal objects pepper an otherwise traditional landscape. In another sculpture, Appl inserts small, seemingly rotating, Eisenhower figures on a sundial like disc alluding to a dislocation in both time and space.

Cecilia Phillips engages the fantastic through her choice of subject matter. Combining two unlikely sitters for a rather formal portrait, she allows the viewer to create and imagine their own story or narrative. For each viewer the story will be different—as visual art tends to be.

Peter Johansen combines memory in a different way. He literally pits time, legends, mythologies, and outrageous stories against one another to create a new context for these nascent fantasies. For example the Death Star from Star Wars meets Sputnik and in another piece the Enola Gay is trapped in the sails of the Mayflower.

Christa Mares alludes to objects, memories, and history in her sculptures and wall pieces. Linked together through a web of crochet, these found objects create an unknown territory mapped through the linked thread.

Jill Pangallo uses video to create an alternate universe in which she thrusts the viewer into an alternate, yet eerily familiar, universe where multiple egos exist. Whether in cyberspace or through toys, the viewer relates to this extension of themselves—however bizarre and removed it might be.

Lastly, Virginia Yount allows the viewer a glimpse into a world that simply cannot be real. She invokes a scene from a science fiction film with unearthly lights that emit from a glowing background, a city at night. Upon closer inspection, these strange shapes in the foreground resemble piles of computers or video games, a sort of graveyard for what was once high-tech.

All of these artists demonstrate the different places that the unknown and the fantastic can take us. Often, it simply calls for the viewer to think outside of the box, to imagine again. In one of Grimm’s fairytales, “The Star Talers,” a young girl sacrifices everything to those in need only to find at the end the stars raining down coins, a thank you for her selfless efforts. Similarly, fantasy in visual art asks us to give up our hold on reality, to stop relying on what we believe must be true. And, the payback is that we are able to open up our minds, allowing us to think in a different way. This is perhaps most important for us living today. We must be able to think outside the box and imagine that in our world anything that seems impossible--whether it be social, political, spiritual or creative--is possible.


Katja Rivera is a second year M.A. student at the University of Texas at Austin. She focuses on post World War II artistic communities. In her spare time she enjoys climbing rocks and listening to records.