Masquerade: The Art of The Vampire

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like,
only lives by sucking living labour,
and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.
Karl Marx, Das Kapital

If there is in this world one story that has been attested,
it is that of Vampires… Will we all be damned
for not believing in them.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

…originally, says Kleinpaul, all of the dead were vampires…
The taboo upon the dead arises from the contrast between conscious pain and unconscious satisfaction over the death that has occurred. Since such is the origin of the ghost’s resentment, it follows naturally that the survivors who have the most to fear will be those who were formally its nearest and dearest.
Sigmund Freud, Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence

Throughout 2000, a group of artists and writers have been working collaboratively on a project funded by The Year of The Artist, through Northern arts, exploring gothic art, literature and the mythology the vampire.

The project culminates in two grisly showcase events at Village Arts in Loftus on Friday 16th February and at The Cornerhouse, Middlesbrough on Tuesday 20th February. The events include poetry, artwork, digital projections, sound effects, live and recorded music as well as improvised drama…

Bob Beagrie explains how the project has developed:

“The origins of the project lay in a chance encounter, a meeting in a pub with a dodgy reputation and the slow accumulation of rumour and hearsay about a nest of Vampires in Middlesbrough. Val Magee, Conrad Gaunt and myself undertook a painstaking process of detection work, cross-checking enquiries, following leads from the archives, down dead-end alley ways, through the streets of Whitby and into cemeteries and woodlands after dark.. The word spread and soon enough they came to us with their own guarded questions.

“So they weren’t real vampires, they said from behind their masks, but a group of young people involved in the White Wolf live -action role playing game. Having spent many hours in my early teens playing table-top games like Dungeons and Dragons, I was fascinated with the idea and the dynamics of live -action games. The players had developed characters over several years, created costumes and props, designed story-lines and intricate plots, and met regularly in woods or at specific venues to play the game as improvised drama.

“We were stunned at the quality, the detail and complexity of the artistic activity going on among this underground network of young people, but which went unseen by any external audience. We decided to work with some of the players, as well as with other young artists, musicians, photographers and writers from Middlesbrough and East Cleveland, to put together a showcase of gothic arts, which included elements of the game.

“We carried out a series of video interviews with some of the players, both in and out of character, looking at the shift in identity and the nature of role-playing. With non-players we explored masks and social disguises in general, while others started to produce artwork in response to the gothic and neo-gothic texts we chose to focus on in groups (from Edgar Allen Poe to Kathy Acker). In September 2000 we held a residential weekend at Village Arts, Loftus, where a group of twelve young people worked collaboratively on developing installation pieces, again exploring the myth and genre of the vampire.

“During the project Val, Conrad and myself have also responded creatively to the emerging themes. As a writer I’ve written a number of vampire-based poems and Val has done likewise, which Conrad has rendered into audio and visual digital sequences. The project, however, has given me the chance to explore the integration of text within a series of visual assemblages, each based on the various vampire characters we encountered. The collaboration between the artists has been really exciting, and has produced a massive range of artwork by some talented young people. I’m looking forward to putting the whole jigsaw together for the two showcase events in February. Each will be very different due to the nature of each venue, they may even attract the attention of a full blooded Nosferatu.”

Vampire Haikus

Snatched from sleep, she sighs –
Opens eyes (as he, her vein)
Back again, to rest.
David Leyland

The first sun rises.
The victim will be the hunter.
The last sun sets…

The last moon brings tears.
The hunter is the victim.
The first sun rises
Hayley McNalley

Exhilaration.
Feed till the heart stops beating
The pangs ease for now.

A Forgotten child
In a nursery long gone
Cries for her mother
Gabby Kent

Peter is office co-ordinator at Tees Valley Arts. He has worked for over a decade as a freelance small business consultant @nealandco. You can follow him personally @pneal.