Skeletons Warming Themselves
Playing in the interior of the colossal skull is Haas’s celebrated four-screen, twenty-minute-long film installation SKELETONS WARMING THEMSELVES, which takes the viewer inside the experiences, memories and obsessive imagination of the Belgian symbolist painter James Ensor.
The opening scene shifts from the artist lying dead in his studio to episodes in which he appears throughout his long life, including as a baby in the care of his heavy-drinking father. In a memory that haunted him until he died, Ensor recalled an ominous bird flying into his room when he was still in the cradle.
The family lived in the bleak seaside town of Ostend, where his grandmother ran a shop selling curios, bric-a-brac and masks for Carnival, the festival of merrymaking before Lent. Haas presents Ensor at the Carnival as a boy — in the company of his dour grandmother — then later as a young man, each time encountering his greatly intoxicated father. In tableau vivant fashion, the revelers enact scenes familiar from his paintings, with their hallucinatory repertoire of masks, skeletons and skulls.
SKELETONS WARMING THEMSELVES is at once a poetic biography of James Ensor and a work of art in its own right.