Sunday, November 13, 2011


by Drew Martin

Hogancamp's "The Ruined Stocking" is a bar in Marwencol, Belgium where everyone gets along because the men who frequent it are satiated by flowing booze and beautiful women. The bar is named after the owner, Mark Hogancamp (center at the bar), a recovering alcoholic who downs cups of coffee instead of shots.

"The Ruined Stocking" refers to the many staged cat fights that take place there; gorgeous women wrestle each other for the patrons, who are mainly British, American and German soldiers.

Hogancamp is married to a woman named Anna, but Dejah Thoris, the Belgium witch of Marwencol, competes for his love. She even took him back in time (in her time machine) before he met his wife, but his love for Anna prevailed. Hogacamp is well liked in his bar and around Marwencol but every so often the SS storm through the town and kill or torture people. Even Hogancamp was taken captive and beaten in the town church but was saved by pistol waving babes who shot all the SS except for the division leader who was dragged through the streets of Marwencol and kicked by the townspeople before being shot. The law of the land is that everyone gets along. If it is breached, it is eye-for-an-eye Hammurabi's code.

Mark Hogancamp is a real guy but he was never pummeled by the SS. The fact is, he had the shit kicked out of him by five guys outside a bar. He was beaten so badly that he went into a coma and his face required reconstructive surgery. When he came to, he had to relearn how to do everything; eat, walk, talk...His brain damage was so severe that he lost every single memory prior to the attack.

The Marwencol, Belgium that Hogancamp knows is actually in his yard in Kingston, New York. The buildings and the people (dolls) are 1/6 scale. Dejah Thoris' time machine?...Hogancamp made it from a junk cell phone, an mp3 player stand and a VCR that ate one of his best porn tapes. As Hogancamp explains, he had no other choice but to sacrifice the machine to save the film.

Marwencol is a documentary by Jeff Malmberg about Hogancamp and the pretend world that he maintains as his mental therapy for dealing with what happened to him and his physical therapy for restoring his fine motor skills.

What makes Hogancamp's situation remarkable and takes it beyond being a tragic victim to the realm of artistry is that he photographs every detail of his played out imagination.

The looping adventures in Marwencol create an endless narrative, which Hogancamp records in countless photographs. The images masterly display Hogancamp's intense involvement and belief in his imagination. It is as if he works less as a man with a camera telling a story and more like an embedded photographer recording everything he sees.

The magic happens in the photographs. They act as a kind of proof that this world exists beyond his mind. This is an interesting concept because the pictures Hogancamp drew prior to the attack were used in court as evidence to show the affect of the beating. So while his life and consuming pastime seem delusional, his visual narrative is so strong that it pulls the viewer into his world as only the best directors, artists, writers and musicians can successfully do.

Hogancamp's 1/6 scale reality is not a schizophrenic trap. It is a social blueprint for a fuller life. His unhealthy obsession is actually an incredibly sane desire, to be liked and have purpose. His doll interacts with dolls that have been made to resemble the people in his life but in Marwencol, Hogancamp is much more engaging.

For this reason, the details of his world are made as realistic as possible. The tiny guns have functioning triggers and clips. The soldiers bags are not simply stuffed with cotton, but carry small grenades and military caboodle. When four characters jump in a Jeep for a ride, he makes sure they are carrying enough fire power to come out of an ambush in one piece.

One of the reasons why Hogancamp has Jeep rides is because the model vehicles he gets from a hobby shop or in the mail have new tires. He complains about their newness so instead of distressing them with sandpaper and dirt, he put hundreds of miles on them, which he calculates as thousands of miles at the smaller scale.

This patient documentary is a work of art. It is brilliantly crafted to take the viewer into Hogancamp's world. While Hogancamp is dressed in normal attire for most of the film, we learn that he also occasionally dresses in WWII outfits. That is not too hard to imagine.

A scene of him sunbathing ends with a closeup on his left foot; his toenails are painted and he wears a toe ring. This segues to a scene of him opening up a closet with 218 pairs of "women's essence," high heels. The shoes were all given to him by women but more than having a shoe fetish, Hogancamp is also a cross dresser. He was before the attack. In fact, the beating happened because he told some guys at the bar that he was a cross dresser, which they took as cue to bring him outside to "teach him a lesson."

Hogancamp's private world is actually quite public. He frequents a local hobby shop, talks to neighbors and has a job a few days a week at a local restaurant. The people in his life know they are characters in his fictional life too. A photographer named
David Naugle eventually saw him pulling his Jeep along the road. It sparked an artworld fascination with Marwencol. With the help of Tod Lippy, editor of Esopus, Hogancamp had a show at White Columns in New York in 2006. It was a big decision for Hogancamp. The documentary shows him thinking it over while making meatballs and looking at three of the dolls he has on a small bench beside him: Anna, one of himself and Dejah Thoris. Despite their presence, it is a very lucid scene. He speaks aloud and talks about how it is something that will take courage:

"Women want to meet the artist. They don't want to hear that the artist couldn't make it...I am still afraid to go to the city but that's were courage comes in. Courage, I was taught, that courage is to face the thing to do the thing...even though I have such great fear of doing it."

Hogancamp deliberates what he should wear for the show. Perhaps a suit, though he would rather wear a dress. He settles for men's casual and asks the film crew on the day of the show "Do I look like a beatnik artist?" Fidgeting, he complains "fuck'n man's shoes." As the opening of the show winds down, Hogancamp laments to a woman at the show that he would rather have worn a pair of stilettos and she responds that it is not too late. With almost everyone gone and the gallery floors being mopped, he changes into them and walks out of the gallery.

Hogancamp's success in the artworld is reassuring but at the same time that acceptance falls short of real, healthy relationships. What one would hope to be a reconnection with a former life actually seems to spiral away from that. His conversations at his opening about putting on high heels and being married to a doll do not go over well, and the documentary ends with Hogancamp's doll needing to create a miniature reality in order to deal with his SS beatings. As Hogancamp remarks before revealing his women's shoe collection, "It gets stranger by the moment, doesn't it?"