Waveshaper by Kate McQuillen
Waveshaper by Kate McQuillen Credit: Courtesy Comfort Station

October is the month that darkness claims as its own. The days grow shorter, the nights colder, and seasonal totems appear: black cats, spiders, jack-o’-lanterns in every conceivable emotional state. Styrofoam tombstones dot yards where mummies, scarecrows, and ax murderers slump in shadowy corners. Horror classics run in marathons on TV. A certain giddiness prevails. Are you afraid of the dark? “Yes!” we scream, giggling and running headlong toward it.

Coursing beneath our collective love for candy corn and cheap scares is a genuine attraction to the darker aspects of existence. We’re drawn to that which we can’t understand, the veiled and distant forms onto which light never truly shines; we entertain an impulse to step ever-so-slightly closer when instinct suggests we back away. It is to this gnawing little need that “A Stranger in Your Arms” softly whispers.

A spooky show in October runs the risk of corniness or camp, but Jessie Devereaux, a curator who’s worked with Comfort Station since its 2011 founding, has gracefully sidestepped it with this group exhibition. Yes, visitors to the small historic building on Logan Boulevard will be met by a murder of taxidermied crows while unsettling sounds swell and echo through the space, but the effect is less haunted house than House of Usher. Devereaux has constructed an atmosphere of earthly disquiet.

In a series of screen prints on canvas, Brad Rohloff explores the imagery of photographic landscapes, obscuring our view of the natural world with layer upon layer of ink. Each layer added to the original is one step further we’re removed from our understanding of it. The picture gradually slips from focus and the familiar becomes imbued with a sense of the strange. Kate McQuillen explores the side of human nature that’s led us, in a post-9/11 world, to a place where shoes and abandoned backpacks are objects of fear. McQuillen paints in smoke using kitchen matches—once quotidian objects now understood as deadly weapons on commercial flights. Holding the flame beneath paper, she creates ethereal worlds in which beauty and danger are inextricably bound.

Devereaux achieves a layered sensory experience with the inclusion of taxidermy by Woolly Mammoth and an audiovisual installation by Wrekmeister Harmonies, And Then It All Came Down. Together, the work elevates “A Stranger in Your Arms” to the level of spectacle. But unlike Halloween, the unease it inspires may not pass once the calendar marks November 1.