It’s almost time to face the mid-August blues, that moment when the back-to-school copy books hit the drug store shelves. Well, there’s still time to cram in a few summer day trips. One item at the top of the list should be a visit the recently landmarked Childs Restaurant building, better known as the headquarters for Coney Island USA. There, the freak shows still reign and Zoe Beloff’s small show on toy theater dioramas has an extended its run till mid-September.
The four dioramas at the museum are part of a larger project called “The Somnambulists,” with the diorama segment called “Four Hysterical Dramas.” The show’s focus on the 19th century theater’s preoccupation with madness makes perfect fit for the Coney Island Museum, which take up the second floor of the Child’s building. “The show is about about where the science and sideshows collided,” said the artist. Beloff’s last show at the museum also dealt in early psychoanalytic themes and is now touring Europe.
Three of the four theaters are inspired by real buildings, two of which are insane asylums while a third is the gate house at Snug Harbor in Staten Island. But the Chinese-style theater is derived from a more traditional source, a toy theater featured in Peter Baldwin’s book on the subject. Pollock’s Toy Museum in London provided the artist with additional grist.
Inside the three dimensional Victoriana, twenty-first century technology brings the project to life, archival film footage is projected by a hidden DVD onto semi-silvered glass, giving the illusion of 3-D. In the diorama titled “Hysterical Hemipligia Cured by Hynosis” 19th century footage of a mentally ill patient was taken from the archives of the Dr. Guislain Museum in Belgium.
“I’ve always been interested the science in a more reputable way, but in the museums of the 19th century things were more fantastic,” said Beloff. “I am really fascinated by dioramas, where the science becomes a spectacle, which is highly contrived and controlled.”
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