Saturday, September 29, 2007
"memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem revertis"
(remember man, that dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return)
Academia seems to be catching up with our interest in art and death. Case in point--the upcoming conference "Confronting Mortality with Art and Science," taking place October 18-20 in Antwerp, Belgium. The conference features a lineup of medical illustrators, scientific illustrators, artists and scientists (inluding myself) presenting lectures, films and artworks on the topic of mortality. Check out the complete schedule here and the work of contributing artists here.
Its a pretty dreamy lineup, including sessions like "Mortality and its Importance for the Artist," "Science as Art; Art as Science," "Unnatural Death: The ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ of Murder," and "'Tremendum et Fascinans': Mortality and Repetition as Object of Desire in the Work of Edgar Allen Poe." If you happen to be around Antwerp on October 19th, stop by--I will be exhibiting some photographs and presenting a lecture/slideshow entitled "Memento Mori: Pathological Portraits, Anatomical Visions, and Medical Museums of the Western World, right after the film Anatomy of Melancholy.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Play with Johan Remmelin's anatomical flap-book Catoptrum Microcosmicum (1619) on this ingenious interactive website produced by the University of Iowa library.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Skeletons and death are definitely in the zeitgeist at the moment, especially in the fine art world. First Damien Hirst's diamond skull, then Steven Gregory's show at Nicholas Robinson Gallery, and now this: I am as You Will Be: The Skeleton as Art, up at Cheim & Read through November 3rd. This group show features artworks which take the skeleton as subject, and inludes the work of artists as varied as Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Broodthaers, Salvador Dali, Paul Delvaux, Marlene Dumas, James Ensor, Damien Hirst, Edvard Munch, Alice Neel, Pablo Picasso, Félicien Rops, Andy Warhol, among many others.
Find out more about the show here. Special thanks to another wonderful artist working with skull imagery, Rob O'Neill, for sending this my way!
Monday, September 24, 2007
My friend Amy just turned me onto the work of artist Steven Gregory. The descriptions of the pieces are part of the fun. Example: Bone Orchid, 2007; Human bones, glass beads, plaster and wax (this applies to the bottom image) A modern day Frederik Ruysch? Above images from his solo exhibition Bone Stone Bronze, up till Novevmber 3rd at Nicholas Robinson gallery. Thanks, Amy!
Sunday, September 23, 2007
"A UNIQUE collection of 350 anatomical wax models which once travelled Europe as a carnival sideshow is expected to raise at least £300,000 at Christie's in London later this month."
--The Telegraph, December, 2001
"I saw men enter blind drunk and leave stone-cold sober."
--Lily Binda, remarking on her collection of anatomical waxes.
I think I am in love with Christie's Auction house. Today I came across an auction they hosted in 2001 called The William Bonardo Collection of Wax Anatomical Models, a private collection of anatomical waxes with a fascinating back story that amounts to a nice snapshot of the changing uses of anatomical waxes over time.
The William Bonardo Collection was originally assembled by Swiss Painter Leonce Schiffman in the early 20th century, and consisted of a variety of waxes covering topics from treppaning to syphillus and from childbirth to siamese twins, many of which were manufactured in Germany in the 19th century.This collection was later inherited by carnival freak show owner Lily Binda, who exhibited them at her show until legislation in the 1960s outlawed such displays. Binda then took her show on the road, creating an itinerant exhibition that toured the fairgrounds of Europe. Binda died 1980s; her husband put the collection, which had been stored at a warehouse in Switzerland, up for auction in 2001.
The collection looks like it was amazing, from what remains on the Christie's website and from the snapshots compiled on a website called "Corkscrew Balloon;" it is all the more remarkable for the fact that most popular anatomical artifacts were destroyed, seen as pornograpic or, at the least, unsavory, and this one appears to have survived intact and in excellent condition. I wonder where these objects now reside?
You can read more about the collection and its history in the Telegraph article Medical waxwork horrors come under the hammer. To read more about popular anatomy in general, check out Michael Sappol's amazing Morbid curiosity: The Decline and Fall of the Popular Anatomical Museum.
Friday, September 21, 2007
My friend Pam alerted me to the existence of artist Saul Chernick (see above), a contemporary artist working with old-school tropes. She happened upon it via the wonderful "Who Killed Bambi?" blog. Thanks Pam!
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I stumbled upon this image in Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud Volume 1: Education of the Senses. Kind of a nice Victorian take on the Memento Mori tradition. In the words of Peter Gay:
In posing a strapping young nude contemplating a skeleton her size, Wiertz vividly confronts the two fundamental forces, love and aggression, Eros and death, which, according to Sigmund Freud, unceasingly battle fr supremacy over the human mind.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
This wonderful website has a great overview of anatomy models read as cultural objects, with lots of great information, quotations, and images. It has been a great resource to me over the years, and I return to it again and again. Check it out!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
This wonderful 18th-century coffee service was brought to my attention by design history MA student Patty Edmonson. Thanks, Patty!
Here is her description:
This porcelain cup, saucer, and bowl cover were part of a coffee service exported to Western Europe from Jingdezhen, China during the 18th century. They most likely arrived in the Netherlands undecorated, where an anonymous artist painted the en grisaille anatomical images, probably during the 1760s. Though the print source remains unidentified, it has been suggested that the images could be based on the work of Danish physician Thomas Bartholin, whose work was published in London and Leiden. It has also been suggested that the unknown author "Pira," credited on the bowl cover, might have been a surgeon in the Dutch East India Company, copying anatomical works for the service.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
After writing a post last month on Parisian Morgue culture in the 19th Century, I came upon Vanessa R. Schwartz's wonderful book Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris.The book came up repeatedly in my google searches, and was also recommended by a Morbid Anatomy reader (thanks AH!) It features an entire chapter devoted to the topic of morgues as popular amusement and tourist attraction, a portion of which I quoted in my lecture for Anatomcial Theatre. Following is the portion I quoted; Image: Paris Morgue in 1883, via blog Squirm.
...the morgue transformed the banality everyday life by spectacularizing it. To us, looking at dead bodies seems at best an exercise in morbid curiosity. And some of the late nineteenth-century Parisian press did consider the attraction rather morbid. Yet, as cultural critic Jay Ruby argued [in his book Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America] , assuming morbidity as the impulse to represent death merely reflects "our culturally encouraged need to deny death." In fact, although the morgue clearly displayed dead bodies, the discussion of the popularity of public visits to the Paris Morgue generally placed it outside the death-related and morbid topics of its day: cemeteries, slaughterhouses and executions. Instead, the morgue was characterized as "part of the cataloged curiosities of things to see, under the same heading as the Eiffel Tower,Yvete Guilbert, and the Catacombs.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
My photography show Anatomical Theatre: Depictions of The Body, Disease, and Death in Medical Museums of the Western World opened in Birmingham, Alabama last Thursday. For the opening, I was asked to deliver a 45 minute lecture and slide show; I chose to speak (and show) about my travels, the travails of small medical museums the world over, and the history of "morbid" amusements, arts, and cultural practices before the 20th century sensibility of denial-of-death emerged to make such amusements SEEM morbid, such as memorial photography, memento mori, the danse macabre, popular anatomical museums, public executions, death masks, and, of course, the anatomical theatre itself.
The people who attended the lecture and the opening were much more receptive than I had dreamed they would be; they asked me many interesting questions after the lecture, and people stuck around for the reception and really looked at the photos, asked me yet more questions, and even seemed to read the wall text. I met a bunch of really interesting people, and I had a great time.
Thanks so much to historian and friend Emily Nelms, of Vulcan's Muse Blog, for so kindly supplying all the photos from the opening reception and lecture, featured here. You can view more images from the opening and lecture here, of the show itself here, and of the oddly positive Birmingham, Alabama press here. You can also read the press release here if you are so inclined.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Stumbled upon Dan Meinwald's great (and very nicely illustrated) online essay about memorial photography and 19th Century notions of death called Memento Mori: Death and Photography in Nineteenth Century America. I highly recommend giving it a read!You can check it out here.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
I am intrigued by this intriguing new blog called Specimen Years. Who is the author and at what medical museum do they work? Specimen Years author, if you are reading this, please, do tell!
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Some images from the books of Astley Paston Cooper, taken from that wonderful Christie's auction site, Anatomy as Art: The Dean Edell Collection.You can download a complete PDF of his 1840 book On the Anatomy of the Breast here.
Monday, September 3, 2007
A nice slideshow on the BBC website called Facing up to Death, featuring Memento Mori and other ways in which we have historically confronted (or avoided) death.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Yet more things you can bid on at Christie's this October 5th. See following post for more information. Thanks again to Jeremy Norman for sending this my way.