And I Must Scream, on view at the Michael C. Carlos Museum from January 27, 2022 - May 15, 2022, features works by ten contemporary artists in which monstrous, grotesque, and humanoid forms confront and give shape to the crises we collectively face today. Divided into five themes—corruption and human rights violations, displacement, environmental destruction, pandemics, and renewal—the exhibition begins by examining the monster as a creature of humanity’s— our— own making. Through this lens, these issues are shown to be both urgent and interconnected.
Here the term “monster” refers to grotesque creatures or forms that represent a contrast to our rational understanding of order or rightness. In some cases the monster is captivating; in other cases, horrifying. In every case, the monster is the visual expression of uncertainty, forcing us to look more deeply at the systems we create and the power they hold. Monsters are the manifestation of ecosystems out of balance, and the disposal of the human resource to generate income.
This exhibition sits inside this unnerving space with artists who use these forms to make us uncomfortable, who create confusion between the grotesque and the captivating. This is, perhaps, the monster’s most dangerous state: when it has agency, power, and control, but no ethical convictions to steer its decisions—when systems and structures operate without humanity. The goal, however, is not to lay blame specifically, but to emphasize the multiple ways in which we are interconnected with our environment, our political systems, and our cultural and social networks.
An imagined yet extreme potential consequence of ignoring this interconnectivity can be found in “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” Harlan Ellison’s 1967 short story about the reduction of the human species to a source of energy for a computer that wages war on behalf of nation-states. The computer demolishes the world, controlling and torturing what remains of humanity. But the urge to scream in the face of oppression endures.
This exhibition is a call to action. Regardless of culture, time, or place, monsters have been used to represent the dangers of the unknown and uncertain. The hybridized creature that may engender fear at first sight may actually demonstrate that when we see ourselves in the monster—and in the Other—we can take ownership over our creations, and persuade them into actions of love, kindness, growth, and recovery.