Reflections on Art from the Mailbox: Nicole Kuprienko’s Hobgoblin 2

Audrey Tran


A satellite dish is just a bundle of metal, nuts, bolts, and wire fastened together.  For anyone familiar with the neighborhoods in Queens, a satellite dish on top of a roof is an instantly recognizable object. Pretty common and harmless, but if anything they present just a bit of an eyesore, and visually not much else.  However, in Nicole Kuprienko’s contribution to Special Delivery (depicted below), a satellite dish looks like a little monster. It seems to be lurking and hunched over like an old, old lady. The photo has the snapshot quality of grainy, U.F.O.-like pictures. The trick of the photo comes from a mix of heavy shadows, distance, and a wicked good angle that creates the illusion. Nicole’s title for her piece, Hobgoblin 2 completes our imagination, telling us that this is indeed meant to be read as a darkly, fiendish creature.

It’s funny how we instantly assign human characteristics to objects that are not at all human.  For me, it recalls the essay, “Seeing Bodies,” from art historian James Elkins. In it, he writes on this tendency—what Elkins calls an instinct: “When we are confronted with an unfamiliar object… we seek a body in it; we try to see something like ourselves, a reflection of an other, a doppelgänger or a twin, or even just a part of us—a face, a hand, or foot, an eye, even a hair or a scrap of tissue… we prefer to have bodies in front of us or in our hands, and if we cannot have them, we continue to see them as afterimages or ghosts.”

With that in mind, the photo also reminded me of two movies: The Blair Witch Project, and the more recent Paranormal Activity—a film I haven’t seen but have heard much about. Both of those films are famous for creating pretty frightening stuff using almost next to nothing, but reactions to those pieces are mixed. Some people find them scary; others find them laughable, and maybe even dull.

When talking about this photo, Nicole regards it as hilarious piece, and I do too. It’s the scene right outside her bedroom window. And mine. Though I can think of the scene lightly now, I might not feel that way if I’m up late peering outside. God forbid I ever catch my hobgoblin moving, or twitching, or hobbling around.

Funny, how images do this to us.

—Audrey Tran

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