By Anam Baig
Ronni Thomas, a filmmaker and oddity enthusiast, has created a new web series documenting the darkness, eccentricity and mystery of the uncharted and unimaginable happenings of New York City.
Fittingly named The Midnight Archive, these videos boast an eclectic class of characters such as Sue Jeiven, a tattoo artist at East River Tattoo, and Madame Cagliastro of Brooklyn. Jeiven, who is featured in episode three, specializes in anthropomorphic taxidermy, creating lifelike tableaux from dead animals that she guts, stuffs and lovingly clothes in vintage human attire. Madame Cagliastro also deals with animals, performing mummification for pets weighing 20 pounds or less—she mummifies a dead toad in the first episode.
Episode eight, the latest on the Midnight Archive website, is entitled “Wax.” Sigrid Sarda, an artist who started making hauntingly human wax sculptures after the death of her father, hosts with her spooky collection of wax figures that line every inch of her house.
Other members of the odd ensemble who work on the series include Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult New York; Jere Ryder, conservator for the Guiness Automata collection at the Morris Museum in New Jersey; and professor Paul Koudounaris, who traveled the world photographing ossuaries and charnel houses, places constructed of human bones.
In his IKA Collective office at 15 E. 32rd St. in Midtown, Thomas sits among a giant Grim Reaper, scary child dolls and other spine-chilling items as he edits a new episode of the show.
The episode features Thomas himself discussing his collection of stereoviews, a late 19th century entertainment consisting of 3-D images projected through a stereoscope—a much older and intricate ancestor of 3-D View-Masters.
“The lecture was on my collection of macabre stereoviews, in particular my set of diableries, which are French stereo tissues from the 1860s that depict Satan’s daily life in hell. I always kind of sat on these macabre demented things, these private fetishes. When I saw the variety of people who showed up for my lecture, from Harvard professors to gutter punks to people I didn’t even know from my old high school, I decided, let’s make a film out of this stuff.”
Many of the eclectics filmed for The Midnight Archive are lecturers at the Brooklyn Observatory, an event space at 543 Union St. in Brooklyn that serves as a multipurpose room for artists. That’s where Thomas met Joanna Ebenstein, the curator of Morbid Anatomy at the Observatory and now the producer of the series.
Thomas said that after the first episode, TV networks were offering to air the show, but it would have meant less creative control for Thomas and the guys at IKA Collective, whom he says have “fostered a very artistic environment” for him to pursue his work. Television might also “exploit these people or make them look stupid,” and even though the money would be good, Thomas remains speculative about selling out his perverse brainchild.
“I want people to see these everyday people doing extraordinary things, and I wanted to give them a view from an insider, myself, who has had a lifelong fascination and respect for these things. There is a dark underside to all things, and I want to open up that side to those who are outwardly interested and to those who live two lives,” he said.
To watch, visit themidnightarchive.com.
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