John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Herbert Baglione's loathsome shadow-creatures sprout from old wheelchairs and slide into darkened rooms in this fantastically atmospheric intervention.
Abandoned psychiatric hospitals typically don't need much help to be creepy. So you got to respect what Herbert Baglione has done with this shuttered facility in Parma, Italy. If his crepuscular entities sliding over the walls don't give you chills, you might've been born without a nervous system.
Baglione is based in São Paulo but has painted these ghostly guys on public walls and in abandoned sites in Paris, Madrid and undisclosed locations. It's part of a project he calls "1,000 Shadows," which seems to be an experiment at keeping urbanites trembling at night over every bump and creak. The sinuous, shape-shifting (and anatomically correct) umbra-creatures bend in impossible positions, slither into darkened rooms and peer out from demonic eye-slits. They fit right in with Baglione's other Stygian endeavors, like a recent show in Mexico City called "Obituary" that saw him painting with his own blood.
For the intervention in Parma, a cured meat-loving city in the northern part of the country, the artist invaded an unspecified mental ward and used what was left behind as anchors for his beasties. Some seem to flow out of an empty wheelchair rusting in a dim hallway; others waft like vapor from a dank splotch of mildew. The resulting chamber of lost souls packs enough of a punch that some of Baglione's followers are fretting on Facebook. Writes one woman: "I really like your works Herbert, but I found it really sad and not nice – [it] lacks sensitivity – sorry."
Perhaps the pentagram and inverted cross went over the line, but overall, I'd say this was a great improvement of a neglected property. Baglione recently gave his blessing to share these photos from Parma; have a look, preferably after turning out the lights: