In the 1980s and ’90s, there were Satanists. They listened to Metallica or Marilyn Manson. They lived in Tallahassee, or Mobile, or some other shit city. They favoured a WWF T-shirt their mom’s boyfriend gave them. They could be seen on the local nightly news accused of some horrid crime. But as the coverage transitioned from 60 Minutes to Jerry Springer, it became evident that we might have made the whole thing up.
Vancouver-based photographer Sylvana d’Angelo’s latest hypnotic photo series Satanic Panic toys and taunts our ability to imagine and believe in the horrific. D’Angelo takes up Satanism and Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) as her haunting inspiration.
“I finally thought this is a time in my life, let’s talk about God and stereotypes and the Devil, isn’t it funny?” d’Angelo says on a suspiciously rainy afternoon.
Satanic Ritual Abuse was a term coined and popularized by Victoria-based physiologist Lawrence Pazder in the late ’80s. His study Michelle Remembers was later revealed as nothing more than pseudo-science folklore, but the subject’s imagined torture, abuse and marriage to the Devil became the ignition to America’s latest moral panic. Every suburban family unit became obsessed with the possibility of their new night-shift neighbour worshipping the Devil.
D’Angelo’s interest began in 2011 with some images that didn’t quite sit right with her.
“I took three photographs that I really, really loved and they didn’t fit in with any of my normal work and I didn’t know what to do with them,” she says.
After watching a couple of True Crime documentaries and reading Pazder’s de-bunked sensationalism it became clear the connections she was unknowingly drawing.
“I kind of felt like this when I was taking the photos, like I didn’t know what was going on it was just so strange and interesting, I just started reading and researching and it all came together.”
Moving through the photos d’Angelo’s process seems to pinpoint a particular feeling, but too vague to identify. Some are achingly familiar; an image of a blanket draped across a wet concrete barrier elicits a slew of associations, none of them exact.
“What I really wanted, my specific goal was to create an image that would make you think. Obviously a pentagram isn’t going to make anybody think, we’ve seen it a million times. And so I wanted to use something that suggested a familiar idea but wasn’t actually familiar. When I stumbled across the image of the blanket, I walked across it 10 times before I took the photo. I tried to use that kind of direction, if it was something that I couldn’t stop thinking about.”
This vague familiarity encourages a process of imagination; the instinct is to identify and re-imagine d’Angelo’s Satanic suggestions. The viewer begins to insert their own associations of Satanism, a particularly absurd Twin Peaks episode, a spoon found in one’s yard, become essential elements in their retelling. It’s precisely this power of imagination Satanic Panic elicits that makes the series more than just a joke about Satanism.
“I think there was a time in my life where I took it very seriously. And I was really serious about not incurring the Devil’s wrath, and I guess it was a gradual realization that this isn’t real and for me that was the point where imagination became very real. I had imagined this entire situation, that many, many other people don’t imagine and then I saw the power in it. If I could make other people see the same thing and it’s just a hallucination, an imagination, I think that would be my dream show.”
Satanic Panic opens May 9 at Dynamo Arts Association (Suite 103 – 30 East 6 Ave. Vancouver) and runs through May 23. Check out Sylvana d’Angelo’s blog at http://www.sylvanaisthebest.com
By Alison Sinkewicz