The culture of terror introduced by gothic art and literature was often dramatised by encounters with symbolic animals or beasts which threatened the order of the British Empire. Amorphous creatures such as werewolves and vampires served to heighten feelings of the Uncanny. In 1897 Bram Stoker’s Dracula hailed the appearance of the vampire in Britain – a creature that respectable members of late-Victorian society would have considered as morally corrupting, criminal and perverse. More importantly, Stoker’s Dracula introduced the female vampire, who joined the ranks of the undead to feed upon defenceless children in a dark distortion of maternal femininity. It has been argued that the emergence of the female vampire was a critique of early feminist acts – women who were seeking education and employment in order to break away from the societal restraints imposed upon them by a male-controlled society.
Early European folklore associated bats with vampires, meaning that the reputation of a bat as ‘evil’ flourished, appearing in gothic tales and images as a harbinger of death. Carrion birds such as ravens and crows were associated with mystery and bereavement. Victorians recognised the birds as keepers of secrets, often appearing as a prophet. Sharing an interest with Freud in the theory of the Unconscious, psychiatrist Carl Jung associated the raven with the ‘dark side’ of human psyche, in the form of a shadow that can project itself into dreams or out onto the world. Inspired by one of Tracey Moffatt’s own dreams Invocations (pictured) captures the sinister nature of the unconscious, often prevailed to us through dreams.
In Invocations, Moffatt has re-staged her own dream by depicting two distinct narratives, a young girl in a haunted forest and an ominous host of ghouls. Moffatts symbolic use of the black crow and floating ghouls, draws reference from popular films ‘The Birds’ and ‘Mandingo’. Her visual style alludes to the works of nineteenth century Spanish printmaker, Francisco Goya, whose etchings veer from dream-like to grotesque.
Gothic Beauty: Victorian Notions of Love, Loss and Spirituality is in its final weeks at Bendigo Art Gallery. Exhibition open daily until 10 February, Free.