'Teen Wolf' Meets Biker Bar in a Surreal Hesher Paradise
“Grand Ole Opera” is a Lynchian dreamscape filled with empty trailers, neon lights, and suicidal werewolves.
If Michael J. Fox's character in Teen Wolf had really considered the repercussions of life as a werewolf, there's a chance that film would have ended as tragically as the video that plays on loop as part of Grand Ole Opera, a mind-blowingly detailed installation on view through July 30 at Pioneer Works in Red Hook. The video, titled Noitulos Edicius, depicts a werewolf that eerily resembles Scott Howard, Fox's character in the film, putting on a record, looking at itself in a mirror, and blowing its head off with a revolver.
The video is only the tip of the tragi-comic iceberg inside Brent Stewart and Willie Stewart's surreal hesher paradise. The two artists, who are not related, and curator Gabriel Florenz have created an immersive installation that combines a deep knowledge of art history and the decidedly un-erudite subjects of heavy metal and horror cinema. "I am a huge proponent of passion over professionalism," Willie tells Creators, "and I don't worry much about locked ideas. I try to stay fluid and open."
Grand Ole Opera fills the massive Pioneer Works space with what could easily be mistaken for a David Lynch set piece — a 1977 Ford pickup with Tennessee plates that say "STU WHO" glows with green fluorescent light, parked next to a stage where a satellite video of the sun plays on a loop. Against another wall, a taxidermy deer sits in front of a row of hot-pink lights as if they are a cozy fireplace. Ouija Boards and VHS tapes of Slacker and The Craft are stacked inside a trailer lined with cheap woodgrain paneling. And there's a fully functioning bar.
"The Bar is a nomadic biker bar built by Jason Grunwald and Greg Minnig of Deth Killers of Bushwick," Willie explains. It's been the biker gang's clubhouse for years, but for the run of Grand Ole Opera it's been appropriated into a work of communal art, something the Stewarts hope will function in the same vein as Gordon Matta-Clark's landmark artist-run restaurant, Food.
But the mythology of Grand Ole Opera is mostly autobiographical. Willie grew up in a biker bar outside Nashville, TN, and he and Brent, also a native Tennessean, bonded over a shared love of Southern counter-culture, cinema, and music. The pair has blended their shared obsessions into something that seems like a well of movie cliches and personal tragedies playing out side by side.
Between 2000 and 2009, three of Willie's friends, as well as his father, committed suicide. Each of them was looking into a mirror just before. "These types of suicides are common," Willie says, explaining the background of the werewolf video as both a reversal of Jacques Lacan's concept of a mirror stage and a play on the infamous 1986 lawsuit against Ozzy Osbourne, whose "Suicide Solution" was playing when John McCollum, a depressed teenager, committed suicide allegedly after listening to the song.
Part of the installation is musical, and a concert series of noise and metal bands play on the Grand Ole Opera stage. California stoner doom metal band Sleep and Japanese experimental psych band Fushitsusha are slated to play later this month.
"Willie and I will be bartending during the Sleep show in a few weeks and will host an informal talk about the show while we're bartending," says Brent.
Brent Stewart and Willie Stewart's Grand Ole Opera is on view at Pioneer Works through July 30. For more information, including a full list of the concert series, click here.