Delight to the fright with MFAH’s Shadow Monsters

Photo: Carrithers Studio | Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Take a walk on the wild side at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s special interactive exhibit Shadow Monsters, where creepy creatures take shape before your eyes daily through September 20, 2015. 

Thanks to the museum’s charmingly engaging, and potentially ego-spooking installation, visitors of all ages can see their shadows transform. As you step before the projector in the Museum’s Cullen Hall exhibition space, you can watch your larger-than-life shadow take on hideous and hilarious forms, keeping time with you as you let loose and jump around.

My Experience with Shadow Monsters

Much to my embarrassment, Cullinan Hall – with its steep ceiling and its wide-as-the-state-of-Texas interior – intimidates me. Luckily the MFAH (clearly thinking of me) has brought Shadow Monsters, a playful and friendly installation that invites viewers to engage in the age-old pastime of shadow puppetry, to the grand exhibit hall this summer.

How to Make Your Own Shadow Monster

The game is easy: First, stand in front of one of the Shadow Monsters stations to project your silhouette onto the screen. Second, watch as your body transforms into a beastly work of art. Hands become mouths filled with sharp, pointy teeth and fins sprout from your limbs. The third step is a breeze – just move it, move it. Make mischief. Shape your hands into bunnies, doggies and owls. Pry open their jaws and flap them like well-oiled hinges. They’ll reward you in squawk and growls. Kiss and hug a loved one to generate monsters in tandem. Or do as Taylor Swift says and dance to a sick beat. It doesn’t matter that the music is inside your head. Throw caution to the wind! The fourth and final step – watch others enthusiastically dance, embrace and be all around silly billies.

shadow-monsters-mfah-summer-exhibit-2015
Photo: Carrithers Studio | Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Sodas, cakes, cookies and pies are no match for the rush overt silliness provides. For your sake, I suggest you extinguish self-consciousness. My testimonial is the proof in this pudding – Shadow Monsters being the pudding. As previously confessed, I am somewhat sheepish so, naturally, shaking my groove thing in a room of unfamiliar faces strikes fear into my heart. But with Shadow Monsters, I can put away the paper bag and breathe easy. Who knew that monsters, those creepy creatures that go bump in the night, could also bump up your confidence?

Origin & Creation of Shadow Monsters

British-born and New York-based artist Philip Worthington deserves thunderous applause and a standing O for conceiving and constructing this deceptively simple work of art. And audiences have given it to him. Though the artwork began modestly as pencil and finger puppets, it is now a well-traveled, urbane installation that has enjoyed stays in London, New York, Seattle, and Moscow.

He found inspiration in his childhood games. “Looking back to my own childhood,” says Worthington, “I remembered the feeling of casting huge shapes in the light of my father’s slide projector, creating monsters and silly animals.” This doesn’t mean designing the exhibit was child’s play. Worthington’s programming starts by pinpointing each curvature in the viewer-participant’s shadow outline. After identifying every incurvature and excurvature, the program selects shapes and sounds from its digital archive. Eventually,overlaying both onto each curve before, finally, beaming the completed image onto the projection screen. Now that’s some serious playtime. Worthington takes a tip from Albert Einstein and insists that “play is the highest form of research.”

Worthington’s sincere study of fun time is in service to you, my dear museumgoer. By virtue of his sacrifice, you can experience Shadow Monsters as the summer blockbuster it truly is. Like fellow summer hit Avengers: Age of Ultron, the exhibit is funny, action-packed, and chock full of beautiful people.

Shadow Monsters at MFAH

shadow-monsters-mfah-exhibit-summer-2015
Photo: Carrithers Studio | Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston