Kate Lacour: challenging the Codex Seraphinianus in the category of surreal, faux-anatomical weirdness

kate lacour

When Kate Lacour sent me a link to her tumblr, sharkbrains (subtitle: “Body horror beauty – art and comics”), I didn’t know quite what to expect. What I found was delightful – a modern successor to the Codex Seriphinianus.

The Codex, if you don’t already know, is one of the weirdest books ever published. Like Kate’s work, it invokes the familiar layout and structure of scientific textbooks, anatomical encyclopedias, technical schematics, etc., but it uses those structural elements in the service of surreal, often disturbing visions. As one review puts it,

Essentially an encyclopedia about an alien world that clearly reflects our own, each chapter [of the Codex] appears to deal with key facets of this surreal place, including flora, fauna, science, machines, games and architecture. It’s difficult to be exact because no one has ever understood the contents page. Elements of today’s world are visible but they are nearly always given some surreal twist — floating flowers, a peeled banana containing pills, a strange car covered in flies, clothing that would seem strange even in the 1970s, a man wearing roller-skates — with a fountain pen’s nib instead of a hand — stabbed through the chest with a pen, and lots of biped creatures with human legs attached to all manner of crazy things.

Kate’s tumblr, like the Codex, tweaks scientific diagrams and anatomical illustrations to surprising, often ambiguous ends. A few short descriptions of her pieces make clear how well they’d fit into the Codex: a giant earthworm being carved as salami, a cryptic experimental protocol involving possible human-snake chimeras (?) (above), an embryonic snake hatching and immediately devouring an embryonic bird, an ag-industrial nightmare, a la The Matrix, in which pigs gradually morph into neatly stacked, tube-fed pink cubes. Likewise, Kate’s short comic Milk Teeth is succinctly described as “respond[ing] to the questions that gnawed away your ability to believe in anything with (mostly) wordless vignettes and technical diagrams,” and Unicornhole depicts “slightly gruesome stories about the reproductive cycles of mythical beasts (unicorns and dragons) with unconventional unicorn illustrations. Not for the kids!”

One Amazon reviewer observed that Kate’s artwork “take[s] a very childlike topic — the fairy tale — yet examines it through a very adult lens.” Unpacking the word “adult,” as applied to Kate’s illustrations, is not so easy. The reviewer appears to mean “adult” as in sexualized and/or dark (as reflected by the “Not for the kids!” disclaimer on Milk Teeth), but on the other hand, many now-sanitized fairy tales were originally violent and explicit. One might also say that Kate’s work simply returns to fairy tales’ creepy ancestral roots. It could also be described as “adult” in its dry, faux-scientific approach, which seems (at least superficially) at odds with the childlike whimsy of magical realism (but see, e.g., Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book), or in its brightly colored, comic-book style, which reminds me a bit of a vintage Sea Monkeys ad (but see the Codex, other “adult” comics and cartoons of the 1970s, as well as modern graphic novels).

Perhaps Kate’s work is most “adult” in neither content nor form, but in its ambiguity and complexity, and its uneasy suggestions of future (or alien) technology gone hideously wrong — again, much like the Codex. Regardless, it’s thought-provoking.

In addition to Kate’s Amazon publications, she is offering four prints of her “monstrous anatomy” series (you may have seen them already at Boing Boing or Street Anatomy).* I personally prefer the more anatomical diagram-ish, Codex-ish work posted at her tumblr; I’ll definitely be following her tumblr and hoping she posts more of it soon.

*Yes, Boing Boing and Street Anatomy beat me to the punch while I was traveling. But since neither of them mentioned the Codex, I thought I’d still post here as well, because if you’re a fan of the Codex, I think you’ll like Kate’s work – and vice versa.

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