Sunday, September 11, 2005

On the Trail of la Chupacabra


The paramount difference between mythologies and folk legends lies in the inability of the latter to successfully migrate, severing their ties from the soil that gave them birth. When the direct carriers move to a different place, the old tales linger only as shallow memories of something they left behind, waiting to be forgotten by successive generations. The tales only live as long as there are people to tell them. Few can now recall the diabolical horror of the Spring Heeled Jack or cunning mischief of Kappa. In contrast, mythologies are abandoned or dormant religions that have been accepted by a large populace at a ling period of time and generated a substantial material base by which they can be remembered. Thus it appears, that the duty to erect a memorial to folk legends falls on the shoulders of those, who know the last about them.

Latin America is naturally rich with tradition, and an attempt to capture its entire scope in one exhibition is unthinkable. The best we can hope for, is to provide a tiny glimpse behind the colorful curtain, in hopes to stimulate interest and wonder, enough to encourage individual investigations. For the sake of creating this link, I decided to concentrate on something small and fairly recent that can be both vibrant and engaging, something that still remains a part of the contemporary culture. My choice fell on the Mexican legend of La Chupacabra, of a legendary creature that is still believed by some to roam the forests in search of a stray goat to sink it’s teeth in, and drain every last drop of the victims blood. The reports of it’s visual appearance vary widely, but the most common image depicted in a number of paintings and statuettes is that of a reptilian creature with greenish skin, that hops in a manner of a kangaroo, and emits a terrifying hissing noise from it’s canine mouth lined with massive fangs and a protruding forked tongue. The farmers allegedly embarked on a number of expeditions to hunt down the legendary Goat-Sucker (a literary translation of the La Chupacabra) but the creature proves to be quite elusive.

As the central aim of my exhibition is to awaken the dormant sense of wonder, and interest people in the study of legends and folklore, it seems appropriate to refrain from a customary display of categorized elements in a receding sterile environment. My exhibition will engage the visitor to partake in a journey to search for the legendary creature, wading though the clues and snippets of conflicting information, while wondering through a constructed environment, that features the threads of myths and legends that the visitors are free to follow further on they own accord. In essence, the search for la Chupacabra becomes a vehicle through which other legends are discovered.

Due to the nature of the proposed experience, it would not make sense to impose a single walking pattern on all visitors, as the essence of the project lies in exploration of the unknown. On the other hand, it would make little sense to dump the entire array of exhibits on the unsuspecting visitors and leave them in the middle of an amorphous mass of seemingly unrelated items. The paths and revelations have to be carefully planned, but the order in which these paths are taken should remain at the will of the observers, thus giving them a freedom to explore without sacrificing the capabilities of a directed experience.

The visual style and physical properties of the constructed space is perhaps the biggest challenge I will have to face. It needs to be engaging, mystifying and exciting, without becoming a local low-budget substitute for Disneyland. In it’s heart, it must remain a museum exhibit, a sophisticated display of elements that is not without a scholarly interest. Therefore, the visitors are not likely to be left wondering amidst the murky woods of cheap plastic trees, expecting an occasional plush spider to be dropped on their heads from the trapdoor above, cleverly painted to represent the starry sky. I am determined to discover the optimal style for the exhibition through a number of experiments and a study of the location. There will most likely be a unifying structure, inseparatable from the displayed artifacts, employing visual, tactile and acoustic stimuli. What that structure will be, I am yet to find out.