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Wrong Turn

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: February 10, 2020

Artist Description: A galaxy too far. Titans of terror.  

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

When I was a much younger person —call it 3rd or 4th grade, which would put me at about 9 or 10 years old— I developed an obsession with Choose-your-own-adventure books. They occupied a very specific section of my school’s library: left when you walked in, on the eye-level (for a ten-year-old) shelf of the second bookshelf, there they all were. A lot of them were R.L. Stine joints, Goosebumps spin-offs, but there were others there too, and they all had really banal sounding horror names —Journey into the Maw of Madness and so on and so forth—, but the kicker, and the reason I was really addicted to them, was that they were horrifying. I have these vivid memories, memories so vivid they come with a smell and a taste, of reading the books, which were always written in the 2nd-person, and imagining myself getting liquified, getting eaten by zombies, getting trapped in a mummy’s sarcophagus, falling into a hole, buried alive, etc. etc. They were chock full of harrowing ends. But more than anything else, I remember the pictures. Far more realistic and terrifying than anything which should be within physical reach of a ten-year-old at a school library. There they were: Highly-detailed depictions of monsters, deaths, aliens, spaceships, you name it. 

This was the first thing I thought of when I looked at Wrong Turn, the brilliant piece by Balinese artist Oshika (Mayumi Haryoto)

Not just because of the actual imagery, but for the title: This was always how these Choose-your-own-adventure books presented your fate. You navigated through them by flipping around based on decisions you were asked to make at the bottom of certain pages. For example, “If you want to enter the bat-filled cave, turn to page 61. If you want to turn around and go back to the graveyard, turn to page 126.” And inevitably, invariably you’d make a wrong turn somewhere, thereafter meeting some gruesome, sudden, undeserved fate. And then you’d turn back to the original page to try the other choice. Maybe the bat-filled cave wouldn’t be as bad as the graveyard, where you immediately fell into quicksand and were pecked to death by buzzards. Part of the fun was discovering all the death and doom the book hid for you. And that was the part that stuck with you, how the books played with your perspective, brought you into the story, seemed to grow outside of the confines of their pages.

Wrong Turn is an almost eerie recreation of these feelings, the evocation of helplessness, the sudden danger, the way horrible things seem to appear from outside the walls of the story itself. Oshika’s poor heroine, dressed in a white, body-tight suit pulled from an amalgamation of sci-fi stories, seems to have taken the proverbial wrong turn here. Her arm outstretched and holding a ray-gun forward —though at what exactly, we don’t know— the situation around her seems bleak: the red hue of engine failure has washed over everything, the character included, and cut wires crackle with electricity. Smoke plumes puff endlessly outward, and all of this is captured within a small, oblong oval in the center of the image, the rest dominated by an enormous beige barrier. We’d be forgiven for thinking this barrier is just a border, an artistic choice unrelated to the narrative being displayed here. But the entire image briefly shakes, and from the right edge of the frame emerges a shadow, huge and with a long snout, with an angry eye, with a lobster claw for a hand, and the shadow is cast over the whole of the image, beige barrier included, and suddenly it becomes clear exactly what Oshika’s heroine is dealing with. And it doesn’t look good.

I can almost see the description on the opposite page. “You tried an evasive maneuver, but your hands were sweaty, you lost your grip on the steering wheel, and plunged down onto an unfamiliar planet. You awake some time later, your ship bright red and blaring with alarms. You have to be careful, there is fire from somewhere underneath the cockpit, and an exposed wire is flailing around wildly. Suddenly, you hear a sound. It’s loud, and the ground shakes beneath you. Though groggy, you take your ray-gun from its holster and point it upwards, but whatever’s coming is big, really big, too big for a mere ray-gun blast to deter. And then you see it. The snout. the giant beady eyes. the claws. It's coming closer. Closer. Closer! You wonder whether to shoot or just play dead. It doesn’t matter. The monster snaps you up in its jaws and eats you whole!”

Or something along those lines.

I rarely find myself ignoring a piece’s aesthetics altogether, but in this case, Oshika’s piece is so evocative, and so nostalgic, and has had such an immediate and powerful effect on me, I thought it was more important to document that then to talk about the comic book style of the art, the luscious color palette, the esoteric but emotionally-effective narrative stuffed within a mostly-static composition. It’s rare when a piece can bring you back to a certain moment, and then you’re remembering locations, smells, tastes, textures, the colors of the pages of an old book you haven’t thought about in 15 years. When I walk through art museums, this is what I’m hoping to accomplish while standing before the works of the masters. I want not just to see something beautiful in them, I want to be brought somewhere, to find in these pieces little bits of me that the artist had prophesied and hidden away. There’s no higher aim, in my opinion, that visual art can aspire to. 

And yet, here we are. Oshika created a piece in February of 2020, and now, two-and-a-half years later, I’m sitting on a bed in suburban New Jersey remembering long-forgotten remnants of my childhood. That’s not just a great service, that’s a bonafide miracle. It’s the kind of thing only art of the highest level can —even accidentally— accomplish. If anyone knows Oshika, please thank them for me. If anyone has any more recent history with Choose-your-own-adventure books, maybe you can make some recommendations.

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