In Don Delillo's latest novel Mao II, one of the main characters is a photojournalist. She travels the world photographing wars, famine, coups, and natural disasters. Trouble is, she's too good at what she does. Her "photographic eye" is so refined that she inadvertently transforms the depths of human suffering into high art. People spend more time studying her composition, her use of light and contrast, than they do thinking about the horrors she has recorded. Her desires to bring the world's suffering to the media masses are strangely eviscerated by her overwhelming artistic talent.
Multi-talented artist John Bergin is similarly cursed. Everything that John sees and renders is elevated to a level of beauty. His latest effort, Bone Saw, an anthology of "cyber-horror" art co-edited by James O'Barr is a perfect case in point. I got Bone Saw in the mail the same day I bought Skinny Puppy's Last Rights. I started listening to the CD as I thumbed through the gorgeous perfect-bound volume. The third item in the book is Bergin's own "Monkey Fear", a sickening portrayal of vivisection and cruelty towards our closest ancestor. Ogre's equally powerful "Killing Game" provided the soundtrack to my reading and viewing of Bergin's work. After a while, I caught myself being pulled deeper into the beauty of the images rather than the messages they conveyed. The impact of the piece was still there, at least for the first reading, but I spent much more time lost in the exquisite illustrations, pouring over ever inch of them. I started thinking about the paradox of good art that attempts to show us the darker sides of our existence. Is there a problem in being so skilled at illuminating that darkness that you make it somehow more acceptable? Certainly we wouldn't want Bergin or any of the other artists contained in the this anthology to be less than they are, but the dilemma remains. In Mao II, the photographer decides to turn her lens toward people, writers in particular. She wants to capture their beauty, their complexity, and their eccentricity. While I don't think I want Bergin and company to stop doing what they're doing, I do wonder what it would be like if they worked in the light for a while. As William Blake might have said, the beauty of existence is found in "the marriage of heaven and hell," not in taking up permanent residence in the depths of despair.
The Bone Saw collection is unique in comic publishing in that it contains a broad spectrum of media including comics, sculpture, collage, and short stories. The subject matter is pretty much described by the title. James O'Barr says that when he was in medical school, one thing unnerved him more than anything else, the "high-pitched grind of the [bone saw] blade ripping through bone." Each piece in this anthology (the successful ones, anyway) give you similar willies. My favorites, besides Bergin's work, include Rene Cigler's industrial sculptures "Child with Head Wound," Francoise Duvivier's forensic collages, and Franz Henkel and Mark Rogalski's ribofunk tale of black market organ running "Mimosa Sector." James O'Barr's main contribution is a 32-page color comic called "Slave Cylinder." It's a hilarious cyberpunk send-up of Warner Brother's cartoons, written by Jeff Holland and colored by Carolyn Bergin.
All in all, this is an awesome collection combining cyberpunk, splatterpunk, industrial art, and experimental literature. Let's hope that it will sell despite its lack of a pigeon hole so that Tundra will see fit to produce Bone Saw Volume 2.
John Bergin and James O'Barr
PO Box 45182
KC, MO 64111
1992, 144 pgs., $14.95
[Also, write John and ask for a copy of his free "Grinder" catalog which lists all of his books, cassettes, and other cool stuff.]
graphic: John Bergin, Ashes.