Signs of The Undead
In vampire fiction, there are always signs that let us know a vampire is around: cloves of garlic, a coffin, crucifixes, shadows. This exhibition plays with this idea by using street signs as materials, such as perspex, light boxes, and acrylic, to depict images that suggest a vampire is nearby. The show also invites us to consider the vampire as a stand in foreigners. People that come from a different place, belong to a different era, and a different race. This is one of the reason why vampires are important, they tell us something about our fears and anxieties for strangers. This show is about signs that tell us a vampire is nearby. While looking at the vampire, as a metaphor for foreign people and far away places.
Once More, With Diversity Feeling is a (poorly performed) ‘audition’ for a Mexican vampire in the upcoming Buffy The Vampire Slayer reboot, which was mediatised as emphasising diversity. This collection of sinister melodies vampirises the Y2K-teenage-apocalypse style of the Buffyverse to conjure post-colonial dynamics, Gothic pathos and Catholic iconography.
This work parodies the craze for ‘inclusivity’ of 2018, when every form of media became about showing people from many different places. The TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer was casting for a reboot at the time, and a big part of their marketing ploy was their commitment to hiring a diverse cast. The artist made fun of this by setting up a fake audition, sitting on a coffin, where he sang a set of (out of key) songs with weirdly political, and overtly emotional lyrics. The intention is to present an incredibly uncomfortable performance to a conscientious audience, who wants to laugh at the artist but is not sure if that’s an appropriate reaction.
Ramirez has deep interest in the ‘undead’ and it is a recurrent concept in his writing, such as Unnatural Hunger: the copy, the vampire and postcolonial anxieties (2019) and The Monstrous Kiss and Its Perversions (2020). The starting point for this body of work is the idea that Bela Lugosi’s character in the film of Dracula (1931) is a Gothic version of the Latin Lover—dominated in that era by the Mexican actor Ramon Novarro (Ramirez previously referenced this actor in his video Postcard eXotica, where he displaced him in a haunted set). This correlation is a natural effort to imbue Dracula with seductive qualities and is best appreciated in the act of kissing that became iconic for both Dracula and the Latin Lover. Both actors are also foreigners and while the otherness of Novarro envelops him in romance, it charges Dracula with darkness. This correlation inspired the perspex and neon works Foreignness of Evil (2019), where Ramirez traced the silhouette of Dracula in a highly reflective surface—in reference to the shadow and the mirror—to demonstrate the similarities between Bela Lugosi and Ramon Novarro’s screen persona.
This motivated Ramirez to explore how the undead is a creature that embodies complex anxieties about race: the vampire is an immigrant who belongs to a different time, place, and race. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire simultaneously stands for the colonised (as a foreign, racialised figure feared by the British Empire) and the coloniser (as a monstrous entity decided to feed on England’s population).
The artist made the rest of the works with a similar method, by formulating critical responses to hallmarks of the vampire as a cultural figure. In large scale sculpture Eternal Arrival (2019), Ramirez approached the coffin—one of the most ubiquitous clichés associated with this creature—as a form of media that mediates the vampire’s aberrant existence. Neither dead or alive, the undead is an immigrant or settler who crosses the sacrosanct border of life (a threshold patrolled by the holiest powers of Heaven in Western thought) to claim the world of the living.
The light box portraits Old Vampires (2019) and New Vampires (2019) depict the morphological shift from beautified and Victoriana corpse as seen in Interview With The Vampire, to the plain looking youth of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. An evolution that mirrors how perceptions of monstrosity changed from representing physical characteristics to an internal state of psychosis, heralded by the advent of psychoanalysis and a greater interest in the self.
Ramirez also considered how the vampire is imagined in Mexico by creating the neon light The Infinity of The Past (2019), which rescues the image of the Mayan god Camazotz—who drinks blood— by tracing his features to create an iconic mirage. He also made a graphic triptych titled Wrestler Vs Vampire I-III (2019) inspired by the pulp typography of horror movie posters representing Mexican wrestlers fighting vampires. The resin frame Protective Sign (2019) pays ode to the garlic amulets that permeate vampire fiction while the lightbox Phantasmagorical Heart (2019) references the hollow heart that often haunts these characters.