One of my goals in writing Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween was to explore the history of Halloween in all of the arts, especially several I felt had been largely neglected in earlier histories. A big one was the holiday’s portrayal in the world of fine arts, but of course I realized pretty quickly that there just wasn’t much to discuss. Although Halloween has spawned an entire cottage industry of pop artists (most of whom look back to earlier representations of the holiday to produce whimsical, colorful new art) and folk artists (and I include the most creative amateur haunters in this group), Halloween has been…well, let’s say under-represented in the fine art galleries and museums (and yes, the argument could certainly be made that holidays in general seldom provide the basis for the work of classical and modern artists).
Now, imagine an interactive Halloween experience held for only two nights of the year – October 31st and November 1st – staged in a large, overgrown vacant lot in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, depicting a hidden world of found objects and pumpkin-headed people, all created by a gifted artist. If you think that sounds like something that somehow meshes folk art, pop art, and fine art into a thoroughly unique Halloween experience, you’d be right.
I could easily spend the entire rest of this post raving about how much I loved gerG Maclaurin’s The Fall of the Pumpkin People, but let me provide you with a little background first: I first heard about the project when one of my Halloween friends sent me to this Kickstarter page, where gerG was seeking $1,500 for what he described as “a new type of walk-thru diorama experience”. Intrigued, I contributed a few dollars, then followed the project’s progress via the website and the Facebook page. I still wasn’t completely sure what to expect, although the artist’s background and approach led me to sense waves of good juju building.
I finally attended The Fall of the Pumpkin People on the 1st. This is the banner that pointed the way:
At the entrance to a side yard, we were greeted by the artist himself, who gave us a flashlight and a pumpkin seed (this latter came complete with a cool little bit of mythos – the seed would keep the shy pumpkin people from fleeing as we approached). A winding path outlined in orange lights led through the side yard to the huge vacant lot (there are lots this big still undeveloped in the middle of the San Fernando Valley?!). We entered the lot by crouching low to step beneath an archway, then made our way along a winding, unlit trail. In the distance we could hear eerie, echoing music and see a few lights. A lovely, almost-full Halloween moon had just risen, adding its own magical effulgence to the scene.
Whatever I expected from Fall of the Pumpkin People, something this genuinely strange and beautiful and oddly moving wasn’t it. Closer to installation art than a yard haunt – but spookier in many respects than most haunts – Pumpkin People presented a series of gorgeous sculptures produced from found objects and tree branches, each creating some sort of structure that presented a unique tableau. One little building was lined inside and out with knives (according to the Kickstarter description, this would be “the knife-sharpening shop”). A glowing Japanese lantern looked down on a collection of small dolls. Upon bending closer to one display, you could just make out the faint sounds of a feminine voice, offering what sounded like a fairy tale. Above all, speakers had been artfully placed far apart to generate an otherworldly musical background…and yet the music itself was ballads from the ’50s.
The grand finale was the medical building: Constructed of twigs and computer keyboards and vinyl LPs and sheets of translucent plastic, mounted overhead with a multi-colored lamp, a glimpse within revealed a surgeon nodding over a pumpkin boy, who softly counted backward as his anesthesia took hold. I was genuinely startled to realize the surgeon was moving, and I was mesmerized by this scene. I moved around to the side of this tableau, where my flashlight beam picked out bottles of medicine, and the vine-thin body of the surgeon. The detail was so intricate, and the interplay of flashlight, moonlight, and source light so hypnotic, that it was almost impossible to leave.
Fall of the Pumpkin People is such a complete experience that it’s nearly impossible to properly describe or capture in a recording, but perhaps this video of the surgery scene will provide you with at least a small sip:
I believe Greg is planning on expanding the project in coming years, and I can’t wait to see where he takes it next. Fall of the Pumpkin People is almost certainly one of the most unusual and most wondrous Halloween experiences out there.