Every midnight in October: a great work of horror and a conversation with an artist. All works are on display in The Last Bookstore. Don’t forget to pick up a map when you get to the store, so you don’t miss anything, or take a peek here.
If I had to summarize House of Leaves in one sentence I would say it’s about a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. But really, the novel is about a drug addled tattoo artist in training named Johnny Truant, who becomes obsessed with a disjointed manuscript written by a dead blind man about a documentary exploring the house as shot by an award winning photojournalist that lives in the house with his family.
A lot of people hate this framing device and would rather just have the creepy house story. I think it drags you in, forces you to watch the affect it has on someone else in the most extreme way. You’ll find the house’s growing corridors and mountainous staircases tearing down your sense of security just as it does with Johnny.
You know that feeling of the universe becoming a whole lot scarier after reading your first HP Lovecraft story? That intangible dread of something lurking in the great dark beyond our tiny reality. House of Leaves does the same thing to every shadowy corner of your house. Object permanence is no longer certain. Your room could become a gaping void while you are just sitting there minding your own business.
It’s a novel that breaks down convention in every way from structure, to page layout, to plot. There is nothing neat about this book. If you aren’t willing to flip your copy upside down to read a page with one sentence on it, then as the opening page of the novel says: “This is not for you.”
But maybe it isn’t for you anyways. Being afraid of the dark as an adult isn’t very fun. And our homes are supposed to be safe. Where else do we have?
YANINA SPIZZIRRI with David Nestor
David Nestor – What’s your spookiest experience?
Yanina Spizzirri – I don’t get scared easily and haven’t ever encountered any paranormal… shit. I remember as a kid being afraid of the darkness, running up the stairs and turning all the lights on, singing to fill the space because of the feeling of something being there.
DN – So, like the book? Empty space and darkness?
YS – The book didn’t incite the same physical reaction but it reminded me of that fear.
DN – Halloween is almost here, what’s your costume? Past costumes?
YS – I don’t have one yet. But we have an interesting family tradition. We do group costumes and a photoshoot at home with my husband and my daughter. We go for silly themes like mucha lucha fighters and we created personas to go with it . My favorite one was this time I was listening to Sun Ra a lot, and became obsessed with the song called solar symbols and created costumes based on that, big gold headdresses.
DN – Can you describe your technique? What are your materials? Most challenging aspect?
YS – I used a shadowbox, paper, mirrors, and LED lights. The most challenging aspect was trying to figure out how to create the depth with the mirrors and repetition within the infinity mirror space and the outside part having the same effect of receding and going out. Everything was hard, but it was fun and I really enjoyed the process. The main focus was getting the effect of the lights right.
I like that you have to come close to it… it really calls you.
DN – How did you choose the book?
YS – I read a part of it back in art school. I saw somebody reading it and it seemed unusual and very interesting. I started it then but never finished it. So when I had a chance to pick it up again for this I went for it.
DN – Did it feel like House of Leaves lends itself to collaboration?
YS – Yeah, I think so. It’s so layered and inviting in a sense you can come at it with different angles and it had so many different voices too.
DN – Like Johnny Truant?
YS – It gave it a kind of freshness, his voice. It’s very you know… contemporary, like a friend I know going through it. I wish the Zampano character had been developed a bit more.
DN – Did Zampano seem real? Did the documentary seem real?
YS – I didn’t think he was real. No, I didn’t think it was real. I didn’t get that sense. He wanted to toy with that fiction reality line, but I didn’t question it being real. No, at all times it stayed in that fiction space.
The other thing I really got into is all the people that he quotes. At times he would quote real philosophers and other times it was all made up people. But I didn’t know which. I would Google certain names from time to time and it would just take me to House of Leaves links.
DN – Did you relate as an artist to how the criticism was presented? How some of them tore down the documentary?
YS – That part seemed kind of familiar to me. How it creates these dialogues among different scholars, trying to break down the meaning of the subject in a certain way. I was familiar with the language. A lot of the interpretations were interesting, like the one about the house acting as a rorschach test, as psychic mirroring.
DN – As a visual artist, what do you think of the typographical elements in House of Leaves? Did it enhance? Distract?
YS – It was a big draw. I’m really into typography too. It’s brilliant the way he told a story and also mirrored that in how he set the type. It made turning the pages exciting, to find all the blank pages with just one word at the bottom or a few words scattered here and there.
DN – Is House of Leaves a piece of visual art?
YS – Yeah, definitely.
DN – Was it hard to come up with a concept for something so enigmatic as the house?
YS – It wasn’t hard. I had too many ideas. The part that I enjoyed most about this project… I’m really processed based. I love doing research. I read philosophy books on space and place. I did a bunch of blueprints, weird map blueprints of the house, trying to illustrate a sense of impossible space.
What would the blueprints be with all these changing spaces that keep multiplying? I did some photography-based stuff too, hallways receding into darkness. I was trying to do it justice. I didn’t want a straight illustration. I wanted to suggest more, what this impossible house could be. It was a long process getting to the box.
I was folding paper, how could it be? How could space do this with architecture? How could I show that? I wanted to say less and less through what I was doing. Take the illustration of the book, the story, and deal with this concept of space being this dark deep void that lives through the house, in the house, I don’t know.
DN – It’s hard to talk about things that are impossible.
YS – That’s what I enjoyed about the book. How do you talk about something that’s impossible? How do you have language for that big unknown that we don’t understand? It’s almost unsayable.
That’s true horror. That’s where it lies, the impossible thing that we can’t know. We in Western culture… that’s what we’ve done, we’ve tried to break everything apart and put a label on it. We think we know everything and when we face that unknowable depth… well, that’s horror.
DN – Was there a specific feeling that you wanted the viewer to get from your piece?
YS – I don’t know if I want to say that.
DN – Was it related to a feeling you had while reading?
YS – No? Was it? I don’t know. I just want them to be confused. What is this? How is this?
DN – Is there a monster in the House?
YS – He expected a monster so it showed up. I kept thinking, you know, there’s a void and it wants to be filled with whatever horrifies you the most. The growling and claw marks were intense. The house brought to surface whatever you were most fearful of. In a sense there was a monster, there could be one.
DN – What is your inspiration? Any other books?
YS – I was reading Edward Casey’s The Fate of Place. He goes on a philosophical exploration on the concept of space, all the oldest creation stories that deal with light and darkness with void and space. I was obsessed with this question of space. What does it mean for a void to exist? Going from space to void, what the house does in a sense.
At times I thought the author had to be reading certain theories, starting with Plato and his concept of the receptacle, this vessel which was the house in a sense holding space in.
DN – Where can we see more of your work?
YS – It’s all in my head, you have to come talk to me. Also, on my tumblr: eideticfields.tumblr.com. It’s kind of my notebook. My obsessions and explorations are there.