still from video of person behind someone, hands on either side of their face

Queer Paranormal
(an exhibition concerning Shirley Jackson and “The Haunting of Hill House”)

October 29-December 7, 2019


Queer Paranormal presents a range of artistic practices “haunted” by historical, political, and sexual difference. Taking Shirley Jackson’s gothic horror classic and its 1963 film version as jumping-off points, the exhibition identifies queerness in themes including witchcraft, the uncanny, the stranger, and the haunted house as undiscovered country and object of desire. Site-specifically located in North Bennington, where Jackson wrote The Haunting of Hill House, Queer Paranormal installs artworks in locations across the Bennington campus, including the Jennings music building—a former mansion believed to be haunted and said to have partly influenced Jackson’s portrait of Hill House. Works in mediums including painting, sculpture, film, video, and sound are spectral in their subject matter and occasionally positioned to otherworldly effect, such as pieces by Senem Pirler and Sasha Wortzel that perform sonic hauntings of everyday spaces.

In conceiving the idea for Queer Paranormal, the Two Chairs curatorial group saw connections between scholarly writing about queerness—specifically, the potential for subversion and social change in thinking and experiences “other” than normal—and the supernatural encounters of the main female characters in Jackson’s novel. The contact between Eleanor, emphatically single, and Theodora, identified as lesbian, takes a queer turn in a scene in which Eleanor reaches out in the night for Theo’s hand only to find that the hand she was gripping was an apparition manifested by Hill House. In their exhibition statement, Two Chairs writes: “Jackson has provided a masterful ghost story that embodies for us what José Esteban Muñoz, in Cruising Utopia, characterizes as the way something ‘might represent a mode of being and feeling that was then not quite there but nonetheless an opening.’”

Also significant to the curators is the writing of feminist film theorist Patricia White and her essay “Female Spectator, Lesbian Specter: The Haunting,” which addresses the 1963 film adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. In addition to screening The Haunting on Halloween, Usdan Gallery is delighted to bring White to campus for a lecture about her scholarship and its relationship to Queer Paranormal themes. Other events include a joint screening with artists Peggy Ahwesh and Susan MacWilliam, followed by a conversation moderated by filmmaker and Bennington visual arts faculty Mariam Ghani.

Artworks are located across Bennington’s campus in Usdan Gallery, the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA), Jennings music building, and nearby sites in the landscape.

Participating Artists
Peggy Ahwesh; APRIORI (techno-botanical coven); Anna Campbell; Tony Do; Lana Lin; Susan MacWilliam; Senem Pirler; Macon Reed; Zoe Walsh; and Sasha Wortzel.

Queer Paranormal events include a Halloween screening of the 1963 film version of The Haunting; a lecture by feminist film theorist Patricia White (Nov. 5); a screening and discussion with artists Peggy Ahwesh and Susan MacWilliam, moderated by filmmaker and Bennington visual arts faculty Mariam Ghani (Nov. 19); and a foraging walk with APRIORI artist Margaretha Haughwout (Dec. 6).

A Two Chairs project curated by Jillian Brodie, Cindy Smith, and Rachel Stevens, with Anne Thompson, director of Usdan Gallery. Special thanks to Two Chairs collective members Yinan Cheng. E.H. Dalton, and George Wichelns. Queer Paranormal is made possible in part by a grant from Culture Ireland.