Strange Devotion is a multimodal art book and exhibition that exhumes the Appalachian Gothic tradition to examine the often-misunderstood nuances of past and present life in the Rust Belt and Appalachia. The book exists in intertwining parts--photographic essay and fictional narrative--that explore themes of overgrowth, hidden-in-plain-view peculiarity, and macabre banality, while still honoring the abundance of natural beauty and the complexity of lives lived within the ancient rolling hills and valleys. The two-person exhibition highlights similar themes through unique, single-edition photo collages that bring together images from the book in addition to found objects, laser-etched graphics, text, wallpaper and other printed ephemera.
Jacob Koestler’s photographs anchor the project by documenting wide swaths of the region, from the hidden caves and forests of Kentucky and West Virginia, to the rural landscapes of Ohio and industrial burnout of his native Pennsylvania. His photos invite the viewer to discover detail and beauty in both lush and stark regional terrain. Interweaving with Koestler’s photos is Michael McDermit’s four-part novelette which is rooted in an empathetic exploration of the all-too-common matriarchal experience of being put upon in a place considered to be doomed by God and man alike. The project includes a fabricated fanatical religious pamphlet, a pastiche of historical zealotry and kookiness, but imbued with a poignant story of loss and salvation all its own. The result of these seemingly disparate elements is a work that exceeds the sum of its parts through a multifaceted investigation and vaunting of the surreality within a region and era often dismissed as bygone.