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Ailson Shulnick

Updated on February 7, 2017

Alison Shulnick Hobo Clown 2008

works by Shulnick and imagination

To oil paintings, ceramic cats, and mesmerizing video animation it is definitely clear that Alison Schulnick Los Angeles artist and residence is interested in projecting and developing a world of fantasy, discomfort, and mystery.

She is best known for her clay stop motion animations one titled HOBO clown 2008 invites you in to a mutating, transforming world in a fantastical forest. The clown is a recurring character in her work, its both uncanny and post human. I think the theme of post human is very interesting, these creatures seem humanoid, and then transformed by costume and by class (hobo) and then almost seem alive and dead. Clowns for many are scary on their own but these are even more complex and unsettling as they fold in and out of themselves.

I think one can take ideas and concerns about bodies, (flesh), humor, emotion, and psychological elements. I am so deeply in fascination and admiration for how Schulnick has developed a confident and intriguing world for her stories and characters. This is something that's important to me in my own work. It's really delicious how she uses multiple mediums to talk about the same things, from painting, the sculpture, to animation. She has toxic and alluring plants, nightmareish lakes, and really built up paintings with cats and monkeys who look like they took LSD.

There is a generous depth of discomfort and ambiguity in the spaces she develops that make you wonder if the characters are aware of the presence of the viewer. Somehow I feel drawn to the angst and discomfort projected from these creatures. I think in our contemporary situation it isn't a requirement but it definitely is refreshing to see this versatility with such mediums loaded with history side by side with new technology.

Post Humanism
Ideas about the Post-Human involved both moments of terror and satisfaction or curiosity that I think is on some level how we as a culture interact with contemporary works in sci-fi, horror, and gore porn ( movies like saw). I think work like shulnicks is important because it talks about the human condition in a very imaginative and complex and even playful way. You can tell she valuves both content and aesthetic. I think sometimes in contemporary art one of the two is often sacrificed or unbalanced in the conversation the work(s) are having with the audience.

There’s something about the uncanny or the other which ties in to the Post- Human that we are drawn to because it challenges are pre-convinced notions and conditions about the world around us in ways about how we view our selves and those who are not like ourselves. Another way of looking at the idea of Post human is the idea of the separation of body and mind and this view can be split between the opposing views on superstition of religious practices or a scientific or atheist perspective involving metaphysical division between the body as a host and the soul as another form of measurable matter.

Most ideas of the post human are dim for the human race either involving our deconstruction or totally destruction or enslavement. Ideas of machines that are man-made could be one of the possible downfalls of our race which doesn’t only stop at the physical shell of what a human means but also the constructs of society structure, religion, politics etc. and so Post-human concepts extend from the clique ideas of werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Going back to the idea of self-awareness in relation to what we think about others and our reality, Post-Human concepts can also be applied to sentient objects or things that mimic or demonstrate human characteristics such as computers. Most ideas of the post human are dim for the human race either involving our deconstruction or totally destruction or enslavement.

Ideas of machines that are man-made could be one of the possible downfalls of our race which doesn’t only stop at the physical shell of what a human means but also the constructs of society structure, religion, politics etc. and so Post-human concepts extend from the clique ideas of werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Going back to the idea of self-awareness in relation to what we think about others and our reality, Post-Human concepts can also be applied to sentient objects or things that mimic or demonstrate human characteristics such as computers.

Nevertheless Post-human concepts don’t always have to be negative and apocalyptic in nature in terms of medical advancements there are many things bettering the lives of many people and through the deconstruction and synthesis of an idea or tangible thing we can aim to add a positive diversity to our race.


The uncanny define by some as something that should have remained hidden but has instead come to the surface. The uncanny is something that is strange, freighting, uneasy, and intellectually uncertain according to the two texts. But the uncanny is also more than something that makes you uncomfortable there is a critique on individual’s subjective view on “beauty”.

The uncanny isn’t always something that is scary too but something that is strange or uncommon. The Freud text talks about automata and relation the uncanny as to inanimate objects in storytelling in relation to living people. I immediately thought of Frankenstein which I think might be a post human idea (The novel). “The intellectual uncertainty between the real and the imaginary dominates throughout...”

The clowns in the works give off a humanoid and also doll like feel. The materials used to make the paintings and the animations dont transform themselves so much that we aren't aware of what they are however they strike up a interesting conversation about real and unknown and performance and humanity. Clowns are usually meant to bring joy and laughter but then there is something dark and sinister about some of these characters and then there is also something that is very uncomfortable and painful about them, yes to look at but they characters themselves seem to be comfortable in their own being,

Maybe humans don’t like uncertainty which something else that is discussed is and we as humans have the urge to identify things which ultimately helps us distinguish ourselves as humans and as individuals but when our identity is challenged but something we are uncertain of it makes us uncomfortable. anxiety and discomfort are big elements in Shulnicks works.At times I think questions arise about the human condition concerning monster in emotional or a psychological way.

The text go on to talk about the inexplicable which describes situations or things occurring that people can’t explain like things coming to life or fantasy mixed with reality, myths, and legends. The dream or nightmare like events or environments that seem to be central to the works as much as the characters really push the tension of ambiguousness and reality. The forest and woods are places of nature and beauty but like in some of the animations the flowers and moss mutate and pulse with a weirdness. Kind of scary but also kind of morbid.

Vampires are used as an example for the role suspicion plays.

world building

Most artist spend their entire lives talking about the same thing but in different ways, Alison I think does a great job at doing this in a very satisfying, complex, and skillful way. Building a world just for the sake of being able to say that I can do more than one thing isn't what I think is found in this work but something more authentic and honest.

The textures between the cat paintings and monkeys have a in common with the way the clay animations are done and the vibrant environments, everything seems to have a pulse to it even if it's a drawing or a painting, it moves just like the claymations do. The attitude and strangeness of the characters are so owned and developed in such a particular way that when you see the ceramic vessels and even croppings of other sweetly gross colors they all make sense without seeming exhausted.

Having a leading role or main protagonist is a good way to create a focal point of the work. The clowns are both monster and human which makes a great push and pull between mental, physical and body and disgust. There is enough happening with the material and multitude of different materials that the simple and complex parts of the painting provide information that we can identify with and some that we aren't so sure about. Because of the sure and unsure there is lots of room for interpretation and for the imagination to be at play, these works are indeed so playful as well as being daunting,

Shulnick owns her creative vocabulary and is able to make us believe and feel these emotions and moments while still being able to appreciate the strange beauty of these characters and things. It ios a great breath of fresh air from things that are too conceptual, or minimalist, or even perhaps too strained over with detail and perfection.

Aside from thought provoking issues dealing with the human condition and nature these works also deal heavily in imagination and emotion. The marriage between real and unreal and human and not humans vehicle through narrative and vidid gross color is a great way to not compromise either craft, skill, intellect, or imagination.

Maybe artist could look more at the late 80's horror and science fiction along with the 90's use of color and design and imagination. Something happened along the line where sleek, cold, over detailed photoshopped things became the new deep or the new entertaining. This takes place in many modes of creativity and media, for example with the introduction of high definition television and HDMI modes for screens realism or practicality seems to have sucked all of the imagination out of things.

Something about Shulnicks works reminds of of Jim Henson and his muppets, more specifically movies like. The labyrinth and dark crystal, or even another classic like The never ending story. rich color and texture along with deep existential issues and conceptual themes around a "cool" narrative. I think this goes back to the materiality of the work, of paint, of ceramics, and of clay and motion. There is something so important and felt through the tangible aspect of this body of work, that doesn't disregard craft in any way.

Attention to detail or the pursuit of a conventional idea of realism is something many might consider the goals of a beginner artist, To make something to look like what something is in the world that is worthy enough of attention and self praise. But what happens after this is achieved? what else can be said? without imagination or by extension feeling or poetics what is art or anything? Its void of a meaning or doesnt have any context to anything. Its a image or experience (if it gets that far) that ends so soon or is just one of soaking in color, form, and texture for a short satisfaction, and in this day and age cameras, social media, and movies capture and mirror everything. Where is the joy of making? the process of construction and eraser? Why do we at times yern to mirror the ability of a lense with the human hand, what is satisfying about that? "likeness" has something deeper to do with that than ust looking like something or someone, Sometimes it's okay to be uncertian, shulnicks work wades powerfully through uncertainty imagination, and process.


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