Screamscapes

When I moved to Winnipeg four years ago, I really did not know much about the city at all. I was a refugee in a bizarre land whose main claims to fame were the impressive number of murders per capita committed there, several poorly painted polar bear statues that appeared on random street corners, and an unhealthy sense of civic pride in the amount of slurpees and perogies they consumed.

People seemed genuinely confused when I told them that I had chosen to live there of my own volition. I have my reasons. I was charmed by the idea of a city with literally no ego whatsoever. To be fair, a grand chunk of that wanderlust also stemmed from the fact that my hometown of Oakville Ontario was and still is a place where dreams go to get warm beer thrown on them and curb stomped outside of a Pizza Pizza.

Upon landing in Winnipeg in March of 2008, I managed to get a full time job right away, and had very little time to go out and familiarize myself with the city. I did not see much in those first few months beyond the neighbourhood near my home, the vast industrial nothingness near my work, and the corner of Portage and Vaughan, which was where I would have to wait every day to transfer busses to get to and from work.

Also located on the corner of Portage and Vaughan is the Bay department store, an impressively large heritage building at the center of one of the busiest intersections in the city. It’s been there for decades, and being located in an area of the city with heavy foot traffic, they of course have large window displays facing into the streets.

Why am I bringing this up? Because there is something I witnessed in those windows that I need to share with you. Something that I have never been able to shake since moving here, and something that I fear I will never be able to erase from my memory. It was a far cry from the usual mannequin and discount sign set up that you’re likely to see there today.

When I first arrived here, they contained Screamscapes.

Screamscapes was an art instillation, comprised of several pieces donated by a local grade school. I unfortunately did not get the name of said school, nor the ages of the children contributing the pieces. It really does not matter, though. Knowing that information would certainly not give I or anyone else any comfort in this situation.

For you see, Screamscapes was a collection of plasticine renderings of children’s worst nightmares, created by the children themselves.

Oh, yes.

I would like to remind you, I moved to Winnipeg in March. In some parallel universe where this kind of thing is tolerated, you put these things in the window on Halloween, and you promptly bury them in the backyard and beg forgiveness from your Lord on November 1st. You don’t keep stuff like this in your window in the springtime, just when people are starting to feel good about themselves for the first time in months! To top it off, these mini windows to hell were on display for an OBSCENELY long time. They were finally removed in August of that year to make way for a back to school display. Keep in mind that I have no idea how long they were in the window before I moved here, and we can’t rule out the possibility that they could have been there for weeks, months, perhaps even years before I showed up.

I asked all my new Winnipeg friends if they had seen these things, and none of them said they had noticed them. It seemed that nobody I told even believed me that they were real.

So I got proof.

What you are about to see are some of the pictures I took of these pieces. I must warn you, if you still have faith in the purity of todays children, or if you still hold out some tiny bit of hope that future generations will rise above the many obstacles and hindrances of our hectic world, you are about to have those illusions thoroughly shattered. These tiny works of macabre art are scarier than a thousand Freddy Krugers, and will curve your spine and turn your soul as jet black as they have already turned mine.

Also, please do not forget, these were on PUBLIC DISPLAY in the window of a very well known and respected Canadian business, in the middle of a busy intersection, in a city that I had just moved to, and that I had to walk by every single day.

For six months.

God help us. Lets begin.

“The Boogeyman” by Alysia

“The Boogeyman” has always been a classic ambiguous character for children of all ages to attribute their various fears to. Every child has a different vision of this elusive figure, but for Alysia, he is your standard “man in black with a bloody knife in your doorway” type. I suspect that this is probably not the exact nightmare Alysia had involving said Boogeyman, but that this was the simplest way to show her general fear of someone she does not know busting into her room, invading her personal space, and just being a general creep. We’ve all been there, Alysia. Not a lot of specificity going on here, but relatable all the same. Still, if you ask me, I’d say she was asking for it by having “The Boogeyman” written on her sheets. Just sayin’.

“Death” by Paige

“Death”, the original Boogeyman, if you will, is a far more direct presence in this purple and brown opus by Paige. The first thing I noticed here is that Paige is seemingly not distressed in the slightest by the looming spectre of the damned standing at the edge of her bed. She is actually smiling in the face of “Death”, which, say what you will, takes serious balls. Who among us can claim to be that fearless in the face of our own impending mortality? Not me, that’s for damn sure. Every time I’ve almost been in a car accident, my mind immediately shifts to all the excuses I’m going to give to Jesus about how every time I’ve masturbated that it was in self defence. “Death” is something that we never really get over being afraid of, and I suspect that Paige is going to grow up to be just as neurotic and conflicted about it as the rest of us. This work shows us that she at least has somewhat come to terms with it, and is clearly maturing very fast for her age. She will likely to be the first girl in her class to read Animal Farm and get a tattoo of a word like “Sustain” or “Endure” on her wrist.

“Creepy Crawly Sleep” by Davina, and “Arachnophobia” by Cali

Spiders. A fear that still plagues a huge chunk of the people I know, and with good reason. They’re gross, they’re hairy, the way they move is just flat-out creepy, and we have yet to make a Pixar movie that shows how adorable they can be when humans are not looking. In these companion pieces, Davina and Cali both take on this classic phobia with two distinctly different flairs. Davina is evidently still a little shaken by what was likely a real event that happened in her life, and decided to manifest it plasticine form. To be frank, not a lot of imagination went into this one. I’m sure her friends and family are happy she made it, since I can imagine there was a good six months where she would not shut up about that time she woke up with “the hugest spider ever!” on her face. We get it, Davina. It was a daddy long legs, you were at the cottage, it didn’t bite you, your dad killed it, then he gave you some Oreos. Suck it up, buttercup. Your nightmare sucks.

Cali, on the other hand, has added a little bit more artistic license to her game. Sure, nobody likes spiders, but how about giant three-legged spiders that shoot lightening out of their backs and only get blood on one of their teeth when they eat you? Now THAT is a story worth repeating to people. “Arachnophobia” shows us how sometimes fears can get so overblown that they often don’t even resemble the core idea of what we were afraid of in the first place. Cali probably tells her friends she’s scared of spiders, but really, its evolved way beyond that at this point. In a more deeper sense, she’s scared of herself. She will probably over-medicate this neurosis well into her teens and twenties to quell those inner demons, feel guilty, get a career in either social work or psychiatry to karmically offset it, and end up solving the bullshit ‘problems’ of people like Davina who will likely still be boring the crap out of people with the story of the time she woke up with a spider on her face until the day she dies.

“Little Sunburn?” by Nick, and “Night Murder” by Sara

Sara definitely takes home the prize for best title with “Night Murder”, which I’m now pissed I didn’t use as the title of my failed pilot pitch to FX. While I’m not completely sure what is going on in this little two act play, I suspect that what we are dealing with here is the fear of dying in your sleep. I’ve never really understood that, since quite honestly, I sincerely hope that I die in my sleep, especially if I’m going to be “Night Murdered”. People who are worried about being murdered in their sleep have not really fully considered how much it would suck to be well rested and alert for it. Also, being murdered in the middle of the day is an infinitely worse proposition to me than being murdered at night. If the sun is still out while I’m getting murdered, trust me, that was not my idea.

On the topic of the sun, “Little Sunburn?” is certainly one of the more esoteric additions to the Screamscapes pantheon. I suspect that the question mark was added in by the person who printed up the little signs, since I can’t really make much sense out of what Nick has given us here, either. Near as I can tell, Nick is afraid that he is going to float out at sea on a raft, and wind up being horribly burnt by the sun. So horribly in fact, that while he’s out there, he will start to hallucinate that his scorched flesh has turned bone white, and that the sun has transformed into an angry hispanic vampire. I can’t say I was ever afraid of something like that happening to me before, but I sure as hell am now. Thanks a lot, Nick.

“Blades of Doom” by Dwayne, and “Into the Ground” by McKyvor

Responsibility is always a tough pill for kids to swallow. Your whole life you get to run around naked eating Golden Grahams, then one day, suddenly someone tells you that is not cool anymore. In school, one of the first ‘jobs’ you’re likely to get is that of junior crossing guard, which is a responsibility that I’m guessing McKyvor was saddled with at some point. It does not take a psychology degree to interpret what kind of issue McKyvor is dealing with here, that of course being the completely rational stress that he, a small child, has been given the daily “responsibility” of stopping hundreds of motorized metal killing machines from mowing down himself and his friends. Why do we think it is okay to slap a reflective vest on a pre-teen and assign them the task of saving the lives of their classmates from drunk drivers and texting businessmen? As a former junior crossing guard myself, I sympathize with him. He’s purely a victim of circumstance in this situation. If you ever had this job as a kid and you don’t STILL have nightmares about it, I envy you.

As for “Blades of Doom”, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that Dwayne got confused by the assignment. Instead of making a nightmare picture, he’s clearly made a picture of the awesome dreams he has where he fights the creatures from Testament album covers.

“Out of Breath” by Saleha

Alright, let’s just suspend our disbelief for a minute here and pretend that Saleha did NOT get help from her parents with this. If we are to assume that, then “Out of Breath” is clearly the most elaborate and vivid of all the works in this series, by far. The attention to detail here is truly stunning. I don’t know why it was important for Saleha to depict the loss of her shoes, but even that seemingly innocuous detail makes this a remarkable work of art for someone of ANY age. I have not worked with plasticine in quite some time, but you could give me all the time in the world and I’m sure I would not be able to make something half this good. Kudos, Saleha. You have a great talent in making your nightmares come to life. Now, you must either take your new found artistic skill and translate it into a long and respected career in the arts, or you need to fess up and admit that you didn’t make this, and that your dad was one of the creators of Bump in the Night.

“Great White Monster” by Michael, and “Capsized” by Shandina

Ah, the sea. Bitter enemy of sailors and self-conscious fat people who don’t like taking their shirts off alike. “Great White Monster” gets right to the point, and is clearly presented to us by an artist who is not a big fan of ‘subtlety’. Does this one really need any further analysis by me? I’m pretty sure it speaks for itself. Michael does not want his legs bitten off by a whale. Got it. Who the hell does? Moving on.

“Capsized” is a far more interesting piece to me, anyway. At first glance, this is just a depiction of your standard, run of the mill phobia of being trapped on a sinking ship. Not really that imaginative in the grand pantheon of nightmarish situations. However, what really grabbed my attention is the white duck in the foreground. This dosile creature is oddly juxtaposed against the catastrophe behind going on mere feet behind him, and it’s an image that I’ve yet to be able to fully process. Shandina has given us an intimate peek into a deceptively simple scene, since it is clear as day to me that this duck is responsible for sinking that ship, and for the deaths of hundreds of innocent sea-faring men and women. Every other piece we have seen thus far depicts horrible things happening just to the artist, but here, I believe we are viewing this carnage from the perspective of Shandina standing on the shore, watching the horror unfold at the hands of this murderous waterfowl. It’s kind of like that song In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins, only if Phil Collins was a little girl, and if the guy she saw drowning that other guy was actually a duck (which, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he wasn’t).

“Scary, Crazy Clowns” by Jacklyn, and “The Evil Flowns” by Ryan

How could we get this far down the rabbit hole of things that scare the crap out of children without touching on clowns? These malformed terror jockeys have been ruining the innocence of children for centuries, so it’s no surprise that they are featured prominently at the end of this collection. “Scary, Crazy Clowns” is, let’s be honest, pretty tame compared to some of the more modern interpretations of creepy clowns we’ve all grown accustom to. I suspect that what Jacklyn is trying to say with her work is something that we all know in our heart of hearts to be true, though. That is of course that NORMAL clowns are already scary and crazy. You don’t need to amplify something that in it’s basic inception is already balls-to-the-wall insane to make it any more sinister. Message received, Jacklyn. I’m totally on board with you.

It’s companion piece, “The Evil Flowns“, requires a bit of explanation. The title may at first seem like a typo, but I assure you that it is not. You unfortunately can’t see it based on the angle at which I took the photo, but it did indeed have the word “Flowns” written clearly in the bottom corner. Based on the picture, I have to assume that “Flown” is short for “Phantom Clown”, or some other sort of bizarre ghost/clown hybrid. These “Evil Flowns” then steal children at night and stuff them into barrels, for reasons that the artist Ryann unfortunately did not feel like elaborating on. Too bad, since this is obviously something he has extensive knowledge of, and is something I genuinely wish to know more about. I get the feeling that this is only a tiny piece of a much bigger puzzle. He knew enough about his nightmare, and was certain enough about the correct names of these creatures, to know that he had to write the word “Flowns” on his piece to avoid any possible confusion. I wish I could empathize, since I’ve had scary creatures in my nightmares too, but none of them had any preferred nomenclature that I knew I would have to clarify to people.

Even if you’re not dealing with clowns that are cursed to terrify you from beynd the grave, normal clowns can be scary enough in their own right, which brings us to the final piece in our collection…

“Clown Massacre” by Winnie

OH GOD, NO! GET IT AWAY! BURN IT! BURN IT WITH FIRE! Sweet Baby Jesus, what is going on in the Winnie household!?! This kid is going to be fighting this demon well into adulthood, I’m sure. I just hope that she eventually gets the help and medication needed to slay it. Where the hell do you even start with this one? It has everything! Thunder and lightning? Check. Home invasion scenario? Check. Clowns? Check. Bloody chainsaw? Double check, because for those of you with a keen eye for detail, you all will notice that the most disturbing part of this whole scene is the small motion lines around the chainsaw. That’s right, not only is this a murderous clown brandishing a bloody chainsaw in your bedroom, it is a murderous clown brandishing a FUNCTIONAL bloody chainsaw in your bedroom! A fully feuled cordless power tool in perfect working order that is being opperated by someone who knows how to effectively use one, in this case for the purposes of “Clown Massacring”. This is not some dumbass clown who got a hold of a chainsaw and is just winging it, hoping for the best. This is a career criminal whose preferred weapon of choice is a goddamn chainsaw, and Winnie wanted to make sure that everyone who saw this piece was fully aware of that. She is a stronger person than I for even attempting to create this. If this was my nightmare, I’d have woken up crying with the shit-sweats, and devoted the rest of my tragically short life to drinking black coffee and screaming in terror at strangers.

Without question, “Clown Massacre” is the crown jewel of the Screamscapes series. In the whole spectrum of artists we’ve seen, Winnie is clearly the… uh… “winner”? I guess? Well, whatever. Congratulations, little lady. Please, do not kill yourself. Promise me though, if you do, you will only do it if you know that the only way to keep him from crossing over into our world is to travel to hell and fight him on his own turf. I trust you will make the right decision.

Well, that’s it. Thanks for making me feel less alone in having to wrestle with these images on my own for the past few years. You guys make sure to visit Winnipeg if you ever get the chance. The arts community here is truly exceptional, as you can plainly see.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go curl up fully clothed in the fetal position in the shower for a while. You’re all welcome to join me, if you wish.

- J.D. Reanud

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