Being a Thrilling and Wondrous Exhibition of Objects Futuristic, Uncanny, Weird, and Disquieting
18th June – 16th December 2018
The Storm Petrel Foundation, 79 Triq San Anton, Attard
‘The Other Side’ is a rich and curious exhibition indeed, featuring books, magazines, pressbooks, comic books, graphic novels, original comic-book art, movie posters and much more from the collections of the three curators (i.e. Saviour Catania, Fabrizio Foni, and Ray Vassallo), as well as from the collection of Carmel Bonnici. It is the second exhibition hosted by the Storm Petrel Foundation, which was launched in 2017, and whose goal it is to promote and preserve private collections in Malta. The first exhibition had focused on Oscar Wilde memorabilia, courtesy of Francis Spiteri Paris, and attracted significant international as well as local attention, and there are ample indications already that this second event will be similarly successful.
The title ‘The Other Side’ immediately conveys the exhibition’s focus on to horror, gothic (in its broadest sense), and science fiction: three irrepressible facets of the popular and cultic imagination, each distinct from the other yet prone to fascinating overlaps. The subtitle is a lovingly parodic homage to the evocations in the old title-pages of treatises and popular novels within these genres, especially those dealing with superstition, magic, folklore, and the supernatural: all typically seething with motifs that are beguilingly unreal and archetypical at the same time.
The exhibition is divided into a number of sections to reflect the following themes: proto- and science fiction; H.P. Lovecraft and his legacy; the Gothic and the Fantastic; the undead; psychotic others; cryptic creatures; the Grand Giugnol; Dracula; Frankenstein. An attractive aspect of ‘The Other Side’ is that it will from time to time change what is on display in order to allow patrons to fully enjoy the range and depth of the impressive collections it features.
Among the over one hundred movie posters on display, what immediately stands out is the mesmerising and iconic 1959 French poster for Terence Fisher’s very first ‘Dracula’ (1958) film, in which Christopher Lee’s tall figure looming over Mina swooning in his deadly embrace is immortalised by the artist Guy-Gérard Noël. This poster, as well as numerous others, feature a recurrent and unsettling trope: the fateful repulsion–attraction between a monstrous other and an imperilled maiden, as depicted in Jean Cocteau’s ‘La Belle et la bête’ (1946) and Jack Arnold’s ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954). An interesting contemporary variation of this motif appears in Guillermo del Toro’s recent Oscar-winning ‘The Shape of Water’ (2017).
As to literature, both popular and canonical, many issues of the legendary pulp magazine from the 1930s and later, ‘Weird Tales’, will be on display. Their peculiar flavour can also be traced in lurid pressbooks of the time, two of which feature the iconic films ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ (1957) and ‘The Reptile’ (1966).Also worth mentioning is the second edition (1765) of Horace Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1764), in which the momentous subtitle “A Gothic Story” appears for the first time, as well as the first edition of Arthur Machen’s ‘The Great God Pan’ (1894), whose one and only illustration, portraying a satyr, was the work of Aubrey Beardsley. A specific display case has been devoted to Italian proto-science fiction, and another to original programmes and books of the Grand Guignol. Another display cabinet is entirely given over to beautifully illustrated comic books by Alberto Breccia and other artists, including the very first comic-book adaptation of ‘Dracula’, featured on issue #12 (August 1953) of the mythical ‘Eerie’ series. In short, as Ray Bradbury said of Jon J. Muth’s work, itself on display, the exhibition is “imaginative, mysterious, beautifully haunting”.
In tune with this character is an entire room on the first floor featuring original artwork from comic books authored or co-authored by Alberto Ostini, drawn by renowned artists (such as Paolo Bacilieri), and published by Sergio Bonelli Editore, the most popular and prestigious publishing house of Italian comics. Alberto Ostini, in addition to authoring comic-book stories, has also been working as a scriptwriter on a number of popular Italian TV series such as ‘Il commissario Rex’ and ‘6 passi nel giallo’ (the latter was entirely shot in Malta and draws on the well-known tradition of the so-called 1970s and 1980s ‘giallo all’italiana’, which pays homage to such directors as Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Enzo Castellari, Lucio Fulci, and Antonio Margheriti).
The science fiction section includes rare first editions of pulps, such as the original ‘Astounding Science-Fiction’ magazine featuring the first publication of the canonical “Skylark” and “First Lensmen” stories by E. E. Smith (October 1939), a rare edition (1910) of H.G. Wells’ ‘First Men in the Moon’ (1900-1901), and books signed by their authors, such as George R. R. Martin and Jack Williamson.