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Hand-Crafted Horror Scenes Are the Perfect Blend of Cozy & Kooky

Fear, popular culture, and nostalgia get explored with yarn at Shanell Papp’s 'Based on a True Story' exhibition.
October 8, 2016, 12:05pm
Shanell Papp’s The Hunting Party features a group of maniacal-looking figures made from fur, mannequin parts, and other found materials with crocheted yarn bodies. Images courtesy the artist

Yarn is traditionally used to make heart-warming things, but one Canadian fiber artist is more interested in using it to craft spine-chilling scenes. Shanell Papp's Based on a True Story is an exhibition featuring work made from found objects and traditional crafting materials that depict scenes inspired by popular culture and horror films.

The show is currently on view at Estevan Art Gallery & Museum in Saskatchewan, Canada. Papp tells The Creators Project, “This exhibition was based in my interest in video/film and my interests in crime shows. The stories always start with 'based on a true story' but this is not always accurate. I wanted to explore this idea, so I became interested in monster origin stories, and horror movies and found that there is a grain of truth in everything; that all things are based on true stories and facts.”

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Lab consists of a life-sized human skeleton with internal organs still nestled inside it, made entirely from crocheted yarn

There’s a tension in Papp’s work between the comforting materials that she uses and the uncomfortable subject matter she depicts. A work called Lab consists of a life-sized human skeleton with internal organs still nestled inside it, made entirely from crocheted yarn. Another, The Hunting Party, features a group of maniacal-looking figures made from fur, mannequin parts, and other found materials, on crocheted yarn bodies. One figure holds a knife and shows off a grin of repurposed teeth. The strange combination of materials and gestures makes it difficult to tell whether it’s the friendly grin of a child at play or the menacing grin of a murderer.

Much like the stories it references, the exhibition itself is based on retold versions of previously exhibited works. “This show was something I was cooking up for awhile. It’s older work with newer work. I have always been interested in art as evidence.” The evidence presented in Papp’s exhibition also gives the viewer a glimpses into the history of the artist’s life: “I taught myself how to knit and crochet at about 7-9 yrs old. I just had this need to constantly make things from what is at hand. This dovetailed nicely with my interest in fear and the grotesque. I have always liked 'ugly' and 'weird' things. Though I don't think of them that way. I find 'ugly' and 'weird' interesting and beautiful. Interesting things are beautiful to me.”

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A video posted by Shanell Papp (@s.b.papp) on

Sep 9, 2016 at 1:41pm PDT

In addition to the crafting techniques, Papp employs, the materials she chooses are related to her personal history as well. “For years my grandmother ran a junk shop and I was able to use it as a supply house for materials and experiments. I developed the way I work from being in an environment without much pressure to pursue working in traditional art mediums. I was making do with what is available.” Like a detective collecting clues at a crime scene, Papp puts her work together into narratives that are informed by the things she finds and how she chooses to assemble them.

Based on a True Story opened just a couple of weeks ago, but Papp is already working on telling new stories with recently found materials. “I do have an exciting work in process, I just acquired some children mannequins, assorted body parts, old x-rays and I am teaching myself how to work with wax.” And, it seems as if there’s no shortage of artistic and thematic materials for Papp to work with. “I just think the world always has horrible aspects and I don't think we are very different from any point in history. We are fragile and angry, we damage/help each other constantly. Nothing is ever clear-cut, we live in a world of grey areas, where ideas of good and bad are all relative.”

A photo posted by Shanell Papp (@s.b.papp) on

Sep 9, 2016 at 1:50pm PDT

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Papp’s Figure in White consists of a combination of found and hand-crafted objects.

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One of Papp’s crocheted severed heads

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A detail of some of Papp’s morbid crochet

If you happen to find yourself in southern Saskatchewan, you can see Shanell Papp’s Based on a True Story at The Estevan Art Gallery & Museum through October 28th, or you can always check and see what Papp’s been up to on her website.

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