The promotional flyer for HalloWolfbat described the event as “a visual assault” by Dennis McNett, the Virginia based illustrator, printmaker, and woodworker. Though the ceiling- high sculptures McNett built for the show were actually beautiful- intricate and well-built, their physical course throughout the night spoke to that assault factor. It was a strange experience, as an audience member, to witness the ‘battle’ between these boxy, carefully decorated creatures and even stranger to watch them become mobile.
On this particular night of Halloween weekend, the House of Vans was completely transformed in honor of the occasion. In place of the skate ramp, there stood a wall separating the public from the preparations, itself wildly painted with motifs from McNett’s work. Inspired by legend and lore, the artist depicts mythological and supernatural ideas in a style that’s tattoo-like, regal, and definitely metal. That night, the performance would merge into sets by metal bands, and the ‘assault’ would become not only visual, but sonic and experiential as well.
By 8:30, it was clear that the preparations had come to a close, and right before Mutoid Man took the stage as the first band of the night, McNett’s monsters were revealed. They came from behind the aforementioned wall, slowly and without announcement, but making their presence ripple across the audience in waves. It was hard to attach a label to these first small creatures, other than ‘mask-like’ and ‘bird-like’, but this ambiguity made their entrance even more steeped in mystery. Along with these, there were figures that were clearly people in costume, some of whom were pulling the sculptures along on strings, giving the whole spectacle a bit of a witch trial- military procession air. A little wolf danced around in a circle, baring its teeth at the cameras, a sliver of blond hair peeking out from the back of its oversized white skull.
Two guys with boxes over their heads shuffled around behind it. Then, from the opposite side of the room, the giant wolf that had stood to the side, forming a part of the scenery for the past hour, came to life in what seemed like slow motion, and began to roll (or be wheeled) across the space. The mass of people around it, some in costume, some in their best metal gear, edged backwards as the giant wolf kept on rolling, slowly, but to the point where it seemed like if you didn’t move out of the way it would just roll on over you. This was a confusing experience, and menacing in the notion that this was a wild being, sixteen feet tall and with a nose for vengeance. As the wolf made its way through the room, a distorted voice- over explained the story of the Wolfbats, which added a cool out-of-body element to the show and the narrative behind it. A few minutes later, the procession was over, the sculptures hidden in the ‘backstage’ area, and the band was ready to take the stage up front. A sci-fi saucer glided back and forth over the audience on a pulley, and fluorescent bulbs lit up certain parts of the installations around the space. The DJ booth, occupied between sets, was a mural of its own, lit up with McNett’s design work.
What I found most appealing behind the artistic performance was not the grandeur of the wolves, the peculiarity of the event, or even the aesthetic effects. I loved that you could see the handiwork that made it happen. The DIY element was strong, and it came through in the ropes, the people that were there to support the sculptures, the pulley systems and the constructions themselves. It was clear that this was an artist’s handiwork- just unrefined and clunky enough to remain approachable. It seemed like parts of the show were improvised in a way that did not lose character, and that is what I can appreciate in an organized arts event of any kind. Dennis’ work was an embodiment of the spirit of Halloween- a way to make the dark something to look forward to, sharing the unsettling depths of our relationship with the earth and playing upon it all. You can currently see his work at Rogue Space in Chelsea.