Dream Doctor

Dugan's creepy Balance.
Courtesy of Michele Dugan

In Michele Dugan's Balance, a ballerina dances under a bridge in a dark, phosphorescent cavern. She's flanked by two male figures: a skinny, bald and naked man ogling her breast; and a kneeling, half-human/half-rooster, who looks like he's about to peck away at her posterior. It's the kind of dream-imagery a clinical psychologist savors, but in this case, the psychologist just so happens to be the dreamer.

The Jung Center of Houston's new exhibit, "The OverSoul Collection," features Dugan's digitally manipulated, "magico-realistic" photographs. "Jungian psychology certainly incorporates the spiritual or the soul, which is what the series is about," says Dugan, who juggles her art career and a psychology practice.

The works cover a dreamlike realm awash in symbolism and archetypes: Her models pose in windswept scenes that evoke the barren territory of Samuel Beckett or crumbling medieval castles and cathedrals. Transcendence and illumination are recurring themes, but Dugan's images also suggest that something supremely menacing is lurking in the shadows. What's creepier is that the majority of Dugan's models, including young children, wear white, expressionless masks.

"This work is about spirits and bodies," says Dugan. "A spirit is timeless and ageless. What the mask does is it immediately shifts you to that more eternal realm, and it strips people of their individual identities."

Dugan began work on "OverSoul" in 1996, and she continues to refine and edit her photographs digitally. Her models, most of whom have been working with her for years, are friends and people involved in the Los Angeles art scene -- and judging from her photographs, pretty fearless. "At my last photo shoot I had 14 painted people and a trained stallion," says Dugan. And with that, we bid you sweet dreams, Houston.


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