Direct from The Institute, Ash/@retech_org – Why Do You Write Horror?

Why Do I Write Horror?

By @retech_org

Hey Gavin;

I’m sending you my rather belated essay bit in the form of a letter. I’m addressing it to you, but please let your readers see this in its entirety. I’ve really spent a lot of time writing, deleting, rewriting, considering backing out, deleting… and finally writing this. I’m a very solitary person, I don’t ask folks questions about themselves hardly ever, and, honestly, I don’t answer a lot about myself either. It just seems all so rather pointless, you end up giving an answer you assume they expect to hear or one that you wish were true. Often it’s a hybrid of both, rarely is it truth. I hate that. I figured if I was going to answer: “Why Horror?” I should be honest with all of us. So, here’s the gory mess of an answer.

I was really afraid of sounding pretentious, and the first few drafts were exactly that. There were slices of “truth” in there, but damn hard to find and left a bad taste getting to it. Then there was one that was so esoteric I didn’t even understand it when I’d reread it. So we can begin by assuming I don’t ask myself why I do a lot of things. I used to. As a child I would review each day as I lay awake, asking myself why I did each thing. I reached a point where it became tedious, realising that I didn’t actually care and time could be better spent on other things. That has long since grown into the person I am now.

So I make a bit of a hybrid of art, horror, scifi, bio horror/scifi that is sculpting with a good deal of writing behind it. Each of my larger pieces has a backstory. Those all fall into one of two categories: The Institute or Miscellaneous. The latter not too many, the former is the focus of almost all of my work the last few years. Up until 2018, the stories were not told, that was a mistake. I assumed no one cared to know them. The fact was, no one knew they were there and did not know to ask. Now they’re published on my site as well as being serialised in Write Ahead/The Future Looms (online and print). But why?

In my head there’s a constant swirl of stories. These Institute ones are small bits of this huge dystopian future I’ve thought about since I was 9. I have always just assumed humans are finite and we’re not too far off from the end. I’ve never really questioned this. Whenever I read ANY science about our world it is most certainly with that bias. I know it’s not necessarily truth, but I have never been able to shake it. My family found it very odd as a boy when I would talk about it, so I just stopped. Sunshine and roses, that is all they want under their noses… so I gave it to them. Truth is, that’s all most people want. But is it honest? Humans have been really shitty to each other and the life raft of a planet that we’re on hurtling through space. Let’s face it, there is no rescue plane coming to snatch us up when we’re choking on CO2 and trying to swim in a plastic gyre. This is all we have.

But more to the point, as I’ve grown older I find it disingenuous of me to not accept that part of myself, it’s dark, foreboding, not really the life of the party, but there’s no excising it. I think we’re all dead in a few generations so I just don’t give a shit about a lot of the values we have that deal with short term nonsense. It’s made me a better person, I think. I do care about being honest and kind, accepting and giving. Not asking questions because it may hurt and just letting others be them. Oddly, I find the horror community seems to be largely like this too. From the outside this is the group of pervs and deviants, the misanthropes and psychos. But this genre of art I think, is born from the loss of our humanity and certain people trying to figure out what really matters. The shock and fear of horror strips away the shit you wear all day to hide behind, it liberates you, you end up coming out of that other person’s nightmare with a fresh look on your own. There is no surprise in the most recent research pointing to the brain stimulation of horror being similar to the rush of extreme sports or drugs. Your brain is releasing dopamine as a means to push you past the fear, kick in the other parts of your brain, both primal and cerebral, and rescue you. What better form of art can there be than something that liberates someone’s mind? Yep, typing that it sounds a bit pretentious. But in my head, I do hope that one day a piece of mine will stop someone and make them rethink their path. That Institute is a small group of survivors trying to piece together the biotech horrors that killed us and show them in hopes that we never do it again.. I guess, that’s my goal too. That we’ll never go along that path to penultimate destruction. I doubt it, but it’s all I have. 

That’s my brief, oddly round about way to give you an answer that seemed particularly difficult for me. Thank you for forcing a bit of self examination. Thank you for running this series. It’s nice to find a bit of camaraderie, albeit from my hermitage. In the end it’ll give me a better understanding of my art as I continue to live in a post human future.




Artist bio info:

Grew up next to a few factories in South East Michigan. Time travels to gather info on the upcoming apocalypse.


I’m not especially prone to flowery language couched in some odd subtext and I’m not keen on talking a lot about “me”. I think the self here is a moving target and discussing it almost instantly renders it fictitious.

A friend of mine told me I should tell you the why behind the consuming passion. I don’t even think of creating as a passion, it just is. It is not a changing or wavering aspect to my person. I get up and continue from where I left off the day before. It is not a part of me, it is me. I was 7 when I made my first scifi playset. The aliens were made of clay with wire joints. The ship was a bunch of model parts and pieces from old tools, a broken radio I pulled from the trash, and some bits from a tv the neighbour had tossed out too. It was horrible and ugly, but each part had purpose and function. For three years that ship and crew took off and landed thousands of times in my room. Each time a new adventure. Each adventure a collection of cobbled bits. Each collection a learning arc that taught me how others made things and the why behind basic mechanics, engineering, circuits, and the balance between form and function. If I could extricate 9yr old me from time and show him a sculpture I did this year I could show him that was the same process of collecting and cobbling; the same exploration of why; he same reinvention of imagination. I would show him pieces that played video and pulsed LEDs on internal circuits. Show him the welds and the woodworking. I would stand up pieces as tall as him and tell him: You’ll make this one day, here hold it.”  And that… that 9yr old screaming “FUCK YES” as he jumped into the air… that happens for me almost every time I finish a piece. That echo of the 9yr old, the glow in his eyes, honestly, I’m not willing to give that up, not even a little bit.

You can follow Ash on Twitter @retech_org

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