The Atrocity Exhibition : Henriette Valium’s “Fist Raid”

Popular mythology would have you believe that on the morning of September 12th, 2001, America woke up, pulled its boots up, and got to work. Everyone singing from the same songsheet, unified in our purpose and mission, determined to rebuild from the horrific terrorist attacks of the day before and to once again stand tall, stand proud, and stand for everything that’s right, good, honorable, and just. There’s just one little problem : popular mythology is a load of bullshit.

The day after 9/11 wasn’t the greatest time to be an American, it was the scariest time to be an American — not because of what had happened, but because of what was yet to come. If there’s one thing you don’t want a nuclear-armed superpower to experience, it’s a tidal wave of ugly self-righteous nationalism, and that was precisely what America’s “leaders” proceeded to gin up amongst the populace — and a reeling, traumatized populace in search of easy answers to complex geopolitical problems, at that. Tell us who the bad guys are so we can take ’em out and even the score, dammit! All that hand-wringing and self-examination can wait! Toby Keith’s on the radio and we want our pound of flesh!

How did that all work out? Well, it’s almost 20 years later and the US has killed hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent Afghan and Iraqi civilians, the Middle East is as combustible a powder keg as ever, and we’ve spent billions of dollars, and sacrificed way too many of our young men and women, at the altar of two wars we’re still stuck in.

By 2011, the writing was pretty well on the wall — and to “commemorate” the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Montreal-based artist Henriette Valium tapped into the frenzied violence and confusion of the attacks themselves to demonstrate the folly of the response to them with Fist Raid, a folio consisting of 12 silkscreens that are confrontational by design, depicting injuries and grotesqueries amidst cluttered fields of what can only be described as visual “noise.” These are in no way easy on the eyes, as you can see from the images included with this review — but even more crucially, they refuse to take it easy on the conscience.

Valium’s cartooning has always been challenging, of course, providing an experience for which the term “sensory overload” is too light as it takes the occult symbolism of Paul Laffoley, the frenetic creature designs of Kaz, the organic nightmare visions of Stephane Blanquet, the raw fetishistic need of Dave Cooper, and runs them all through a kaleidoscope powered by six tabs of bad acid — but even though the aims of this particular project are more immediately decipherable, the impact is much the same : hallucinogenic, non-linear, harrowing, overpowering. It’s all too much, and all at once, but it somehow always leaves you wanting even more. Whether doing comics or doing “fine” art, Valium has one setting : uncompromising and unmediated. His work is visionary in the truest sense of the word, in that it comes straight from the id and applies no filter. William Blake, Austin Osman Spare, David Lynch, Goya — this is the company he keeps. And maybe that guy taping hand-scrawled flyers outlining his plans for a new world economic system based on transmissions from Mars he received over his ham radio on the walls of the subway station, too.

Still, for a mad prophet, Valium makes a number of cogent points, and lands even more conceptual gut-punches, with this gorgeously-produced work lovingly and meticulously brought to us by Le Dernier Cri. It’s a beautiful collection depicting ugly political realities that will consume your thoughts and haunt your dreams in a way that only hard looks at even harder truths can. You’ve been warned — there is no un-seeing this. Which means, of course, that it’s precisely the type of thing you need to see.

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Even though Fist Raid is an older item, a small number of these folios have recently been made available from Austin English’s Domino Books distro. They retail for $30.00 and can be found at : http://dominobooks.org/fistraid.html

Review wrist check – Monta “Atlas” blue dial model riding a “Vintage Bond” NATO strap from BluShark’s “AlphaPremier” collection.

2 thoughts on “The Atrocity Exhibition : Henriette Valium’s “Fist Raid”

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