We took the day off today and spent a little time at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the museum down at Land’s End here in San Francisco. Among other things, they are currently featuring an installation plus film called Alexandre Singh: A Gothic Tale.
The installation uses pieces from the museum’s own permanent collection to explore the theme of doubling and the doppelganger — the perfect theme for a museum housed in a building which is itself a replica of a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The installation, full of mirrors and symmetries, features duplicates from the permanent collection: prints and even sculptures of which the museum owns multiple copies, almost but not perfectly identical, like human identical twins. The space also serves as an anteroom for a small screening room, playing Singh’s short film, The Appointment.
The Appointment is a nightmarish little weird tale, exploring duality (of course) and transmigration. The protagonist, Henry Salt, is an author who seems to have a fascination with the idea of The Double. He wakes up one day, completely disoriented, and finds in his diary a note for a lunch appointment. Only he doesn’t remember making the appointment, nor can he make out the name of the person whom he’s meeting….
I won’t spoil the story, except to say it’s precisely of the type I enjoy, though I’m not sure I personally would call it “Gothic.” It’s certainly Weird, however. Singh drops puzzling little hints through the narrative, which all come together in a satisfyingly dark way at the tale’s end.
The film is quirky, set in some ambiguous time period in the mid-twentieth century. The technology (landlines and cassette tape answering machines) point to the seventies or eighties. Salt’s bicycle and some of the fashions point to an earlier period, perhaps the thirties or forties. Certainly some of the themes of the movie feel even earlier than that, back to the period of Spiritualism’s heyday. One of the characters is named Professor Oblatovski, which brings to mind (my mind, anyway) the real-life theosophist, Madame Blavatsky.
I love the scenes of La Folie, the location of the lunch appointment, which is the sort of place that would happen if Hieronymous Bosch opened up an exotic-meat restaurant, sous-chefed by painters of vanitas still lifes. You know, the kind with beautifully composed arrangements where the fruit is a touch overripe, or the flowers are on the verge of wilting, and there’s always a skull, and often flies, somewhere on the table. The customers of La Folie are also beautifully arranged, colorful and grotesque.
And then there’s Oblatovski, some sort of deranged anthropolgist, who works at an institute filled with creepy and primitve masks, a veritable museum of Folk Horror. One of the researchers at the institute specializes in “Cannibalism and Exotic Gastronomy,” which ties in well with La Folie.
The Appointment premiered in September of last year, here at the Legion of Honor; Singh also showed the film at an exhibition at Metro Pictures in New York, where he is based. Hopefully, the film will be available elsewhere, after this exhibition ends.
Alexandre Singh: A Gothic Tale runs until April 12, 2020. The film runs every hour, and at 20 minutes and 40 minutes after the hour. If you are nearby, do check it out. And afterwards, check out the museum’s extensive collection of Rodin sculptures. After seeing the Singh exhibition we wandered straight into the gallery featuring some of Rodin’s early works, which struck me as particularly gothic. A perfect transition from Singh into the rest of the museum.
Featured Image: The Legion of Honor at Night, Frank Schulenburg (2017). Source: Wikimedia
Still from The Appointment from The Legion of Honor Museum website.