Last night I went to check out the wonderful "Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Brothers" exhibition at Parsons, which features miniature sets, props, and characters constructed by the Quay Brothers' and used as source material for their unforgettable and highly influential stop-motion animated films. These "décors" (in the exhibition's parlance) are presented as static silent narrative worlds; it is as if you had peeked into each tiny space mid-shoot, characters and props all in their place, just waiting to be brought to life by the film-maker's art.
"Dormitorium" is much more than just a collection of props and artifacts; instead, the "décors" you see on view here are something of a revelation, leading one to a greater understanding and appreciation of the Quay Brother's artistry. Having the luxury of time to study these décors in their static state allows the viewer to see things impossible to grasp amidst the thrust and drive of the films; namely, the obsessive and beautiful detail in the source materials. The more one looks, the more one comes to realize that this attention to detail and minutia is what gives the Quay's work so much of its character and mise en scène--at least as much as their lurchy, atmospheric, uncanny stop-motion animation technique. Details such as exquisite and varied typography and calligraphy, a judicious application of dust and grime, the seductively hand-made feel of the materials, and wall hangings, hidden figures, archaic signage and other easy-to-miss details adorning the spaces; of these elements is the Quay's compelling and absorbing universe composed.
In a nice installation decision, also on view in the exhibition are the films themselves, allowing the viewer to go from the décors to the films and back again, encouraging insights into the ways in which the Brothers expertly use cinematic techniques, selective and shifting focus, and obscured views to bring their static miniature worlds to vivid and uncanny life, imbuing them with a sense of depth and abundance of space so at odds with scale and scope of the sets.
More about the exhibition, from Parson's website:
"Dormitorium" explores the macabre fantasy world of twin brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay through the highly detailed miniature sets of their influential stop-motion animations. "Dormitorium", which originated at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, represents the first time the décors of the London-based Quays have been exhibited in N. America. The Brothers have built a cult following with their dark, moody films, which are heavily influenced by Eastern European film, literature, and music and often feature disassembled dolls and no spoken dialogue. The exhibition combines rarely seen, collaboratively designed miniature décors from some of their most prominent works, as well as continuous screenings of excerpts from several of the films.The exhibition will be on view until Sunday, October 4th, 2009 at Parson School of Design's Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery; you can find out more by clicking here. I highly highly recommend you pay it a visit, whether you are already a Quay Brothers fan or not!
All photos* are mine, taken at the exhibition; you can see more by clicking here. You can view some of the Quay Brothers' films on You Tube by clicking here; better yet, buy yourself the film collection "Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers" and watch the entire 2-DVD collection in fine quality at home; click here to purchase from the Morbid Anatomy Bookstore (all proceeds benefit the Morbid Anatomy Library).
*Images: Top 2 images from set for Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles; Next 2 images from set for The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer, bottom image from set for The Calligrapher.