Let The Darkness Shine
As is our want, people are particularly adept at finding correlations in anything then can, no matter how obtuse they may first appear. Continuing that, this week I managed to see the pretty entertaining contemporary horror Sci-fi ‘Brightburn’ (2019) (it had a few great moments), which I had heard a great deal about, and also the truly mind-blowing documentary ‘Penny Slinger – Out Of The Shadows’ (2017) which I had heard absolutely nothing about and it was gimp mask to high heeled shoes stunning in every single frame.
They may seem unrelated, but while one dealt with a fictional character who arrived from another planet with extraordinary dark powers, Penelope Slinger is a real life person who created art as if she was from another dark world, said imagery exuding extraordinarily unnerving powers of potency, honesty, sexuality and raw virile energy. All these elements were thematically projected via a feminist lense, which only adds another level of fecund radiance to all that is beautiful and painful, in existing as a woman in the modern world.
Born in 1947 Penny showed from a very early age that she had a fascinating individualistic viewpoint to the world. In a post-war society painted in dense layers of Traditional Gloom and restricted palette, the 60s rebelled against the dour and the norm, with an explosion of colour and exploration of what it was to be alive, especially when the beige curtains of death had recently brushed so close to western society.
The documentary follows the entire career of Penny as the light she shows as a child is encouraged, enhanced and harnessed through her college years and into the art world, to distil and disturb with equal laser beam potency that can at times burn straight through your eyes, into your mind and incinerating everything you had ever believed, as if conception, birth and death are all one singular erotic moment.
She dealt primarily in the form or photo montage (Full Frontal Collage) that was heavily influenced by surrealism, where the intensity of its sexuality made it all the more truthful, gleefully exciting, intense and exhilarating in a society that is so good at suppressing honest emotions and feelings, were nudity really is a truth that can’t be handled, and she forced you to stare into the dark silence that society is founded upon, inequality, suffering, oppression, depression and the lies that we dutifully buy.
These are the ingredients of the rich and diverse creations, situations and images that she made for decades, that are for the greater part utterly captivating to this day. As the books, pictures and clips glide by it is starkly apparent that she has influenced a vast amount of modern artists and creatives with foretelling hints of Hammer Horror right up to American Horror Story and everything in between, music, fashion, film. Whereas they dealt with fictional horror, Penny dealt with the actual horrors experienced by women around the world.
As dark as the content and imagery is, her work is hypnotically gorgeous. Sex, pain and death frozen in moments, these moments building an alter to liberation, freedom, rebirth. But at what expense, what price, what are we willing to sacrifice to get to this truth? And indeed is it our truth in the end.
Considering the sublime power of her work, I was genuinely stunned that I hadn’t known more about her, but it becomes apparent that she decided to remove herself from the art world and created a whole new life for herself away from her homeland.
Thankfully director Richard Kovitch has Penny speaking for herself throughout the entire film bringing vast extra depths to works that are already abyss deep with intellectual and sincere truths.
There is that concept of something being so horrific that you can’t turn away, Penny is here to show us that horror is the very society we are all constructing around us. Regardless of these wholly justifiable words of praise for her work, it is incredible (and frightening) to see the intrinsic value of her art and it’s necessity today, decades after she was pointing out these ills, in many ways the horrors a have only grown. Thankfully we have such talents as Penny Slinger, who just might help save us from ourselves.
8/10 ‘Penny Slinger – Out Of The Shadows’ is cinemas out now.