Art of Darkness 2016

By Tobias Wayland; with images by Emily Wayland

“There’s a seven-year- old back there just handing out beers,” says the stout, broad-shouldered man leaning on the gift shop counter. His graying goatee, bald pate, and dry sense of humor identify him as the host of Minneapolis’s Darkness Radio, Darkness Dave.

“Nice. Well, point me in the right direction,” I respond, not sure to whom he is speaking.

He helpfully motions with one thumb over his shoulder, “Just look for the seven-year- old drinking a beer.” I chuckle to myself and head into the Art of Darkness.

The old tavern that houses the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts was originally an inn catering to passing fur traders and soldiers. Throughout its lifetime the building has been a dairy farm, summer home, and currently serves as a space for gathering artists. This historic site has certainly seen its share of history since its advent in 1847, and frankly I’d be pretty surprised if it didn’t have a few ghost stories attached. Since I hate being surprised, it is much to my relief when I discover the lovingly restored home does indeed have its fair share. Two small articles detailing the tragic death of Miss Ella Brown—who gave her life saving the little girl who was her namesake from the vicious currents of Rice creek—adorn the wall just inside of the main gallery. Next to them is a personal recounting of a psychic image said to represent the late Miss Brown that came to a local artist in an odd flash of insight while working in Banfill-Locke. The display is eerily appropriate considering the event, and I enter the gallery with the young woman's spirit on my mind.

The ambient body heat in the crowded gallery warms the air to just above discomfort, and I realize that the handsome black jacket I wore to the event may not have been the best choice for a building without air conditioning in July. I pick my way carefully through the human morass, and exit the main gallery. To my right I find the refreshments, tucked out of the way in an ample room ringed with plastic chairs—the kind you might find in a school, church, or community center. There are two large tubs filled with ice and bottles of IPA. I help myself to a beer and head off in search of Emily’s contributions to the show.

Emily’s family has come up for the exhibition—her mother, father, sister, and brother—and I imagine I’ll find them nearby wherever her two framed illustrations are displayed. The smaller room off of the gallery is full of paranormal art pieces, of which two are Emily’s aforementioned illustrations. Naturally, I find Emily and her family admiring her work, and we begin our tour.

The pieces displayed in this exhibition are spread out between the entrance to the main gallery, the gallery itself, the small room we occupy, and a nearby hallway. If you walk straight through the gallery from its entrance without stopping, you’ll find yourself exiting through a small hallway and entering the room we’re currently touring. If you stop in the small hallway before entering this room, and turn to your right, the hallway branches off into two perpendicular hallways before entering into the refreshments room. Both wings of the T-intersection are dead ends, and both are filled with eerie works of art.

The work in the room which holds Emily’s illustrations varies wildly in scope and style. There are beautiful photographs of haunted mansions, faux newspaper clippings, a statue of a monster made of recycled railroad iron, and an interesting installation whose purpose I am unable to divine. It’s basically a light shining on a piece of reflective hologram paper surrounded by superfluous wires and electronics set on sawhorses. Its main purpose appears to be to trip people, as it does so several times that I see. In the hallway next to the refreshments are a number of hanging paintings, illustrations, and designs. One particular piece is done in the style of an advertisement—for what I cannot be certain—that displays a man in a suit whose head dissipates into a smoky skull. I linger by this piece for some time appreciating its technical detail.

The main gallery holds many treasures dispersed along its walls. The central portion of the room is taken by an odd installation that is beyond my limited artistic understanding. Car parts are hung with precision, suspended by wire from the ceiling, along with a video of what might be the gallery’s basement. The artist’s written statement explains that the piece is meant to represent the fragmented state of memory. I honestly would not have guessed that, but Emily’s the artist, not me. My particular favorite here is the collection of snow globes that house sasquatch and yeti. Their simple novelty is much more my speed than abstract installations.

We wander for some time from piece to piece enthralled in the representation of our favorite subjects. Eventually Emily’s family leaves for their hotel, and Emily and I linger for just one more pass. Having done our last round we exit through the gift shop and out into the warm Minnesota evening. We remark on how wonderful it is that Minneapolis has such a vibrant and welcoming paranormal community and head back to our hotel with just a bit of envy that we have no Banfill-Locke center of our own to go home to.


To see more art and photographs of the show, please visit the gallery.