Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Congress for Curious People: A Festival of Spectacular Cultures" London and Environs; August 29-September 8, 2013

I am delighted to announce the final line up for this years epic, eleven day (!!!) UK edition of The Congress for Curious People. This series of events, performances, field trips, walking tours, spectacles, illustrated lectures and a 2-day symposium will take place at such fantastic, under-seen spaces as Barts Pathology Museum, The Grant Museum, Swedenborg Hall, The Old Operating Theatre and The Horse Hospital. It has been kindly supported by The Wellcome Trust, and and was organized by Morbid Anatomy in tandem with our good friends at Strange Attractor and Preserved!.

Over the course of our eleven day investigation into spectacular culture, we will touch on topics such as (but not limited to!) the Victorian anthropomorphic kitten and bunny tableaux of Walter Potter; the human body on display; esoteric photography; the story of "The Fair"; spiritualism and the search for ectoplasm; Jesus' foreskin; flea circusesHuman "Freaks" at the Wellcome Library; ecstatic Voodoo rituals; and "taranatism" in southern Italy.

Participants will also have an opportunity to draw a real live anatomical Venus; take an overnight trip to the faded sea-side resort of Blackpool; see an antique magic lantern show evoking 18th century Phantasmagoria; go on a walking tours devoted to secret Bloomsbury; and take in temporary exhibitions of spirit photography and channeled spirit paintings.

Presenters will include Richard Barnett and Ross MacFarlane of The Wellcome Trust; scholars including Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive, John Troyer of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, Simon Werrett of UCL, Anna Maerker of King's College, James Kennaway of Durham University and tattoo historian Matt Lodder; Artists Eleanor Crook, Chiara Ambrosio, Brian Catling, Shannon Taggart and Tessa Farmer; Musicians The Real Tuesday Weld; Curators Bergit Arends (formerly of the London Natural History Museum), Subhadra Das of UCL Research Collections, Will Fowler of the BFI and Carla Valentine of Barts Pathology Museum; Authors “Professor” Mervyn Heard of Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern and Dr. Pat Morris of Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy; and Christina Harrington, director of London's iconic Treadwell’s Bookshop.

Full schedule follows; you can find out more about all events--and secure tickets!--by clicking here. Hope very much to see you at one or more of these terrific events!
The Congress for Curious People: A Festival of Spectacular Cultures; London and Environs
Eleven days of performances, lectures, tours, open huses and a 2-day symposium produced by Morbid Anatomy, Strange Attractor, The Coney Island Museum, and Preserved!
Dates: August 29-September 8

Times: Various
Admission: Varying
Kindly supported by The Wellcome Trust
*** More on all events and ticketing information here
The theme of the 2013 London edition of the Congress for Curious People is ‘Spectacular Cultures’ and will take place from August 29th to September 8th in multiple venues around London and the UK. Produced by Morbid Anatomy, Preserved! and Strange Attractor, and supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Congress will consist of a variety of lectures, performances, open houses and tours which aim to open up a discussion, entertain, and bring an audience to amazing spaces in London that deserve more attention.
The Congress will end in a two-day symposium on ‘Reclaiming Spectacle’, which will include panels of academics, museum professionals, rogue scholars and artists discussing the intricacies of collecting the spectacular, the politics of bodily display, non-human spectacles, religion and the occult. In conjunction with the events, The Horse Hospital will host ‘Ethel Le Rossignol: A Goodly Company’ an exhibition of stunningly beautiful channelled psychic artworks painted in the 1920s by the largely unknown medium and artist.
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Thursday 29th August
7pm, ‘Ethel Le Rossignol: A Goodly Company’

Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, WC1N 1JD (Map)
We’ll be opening the Congress with a visit to the above exhibition to view the beautiful paintings of this little known medium and artist. With an introduction by London-based writer and curator Mark Pilkington.
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Friday 30th August
7pm, ‘Spectacular Pathologies at Barts Pathology Museum’
Barts Pathology Museum, 3rd Floor, Robin Brook Centre, West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE (PDF map).
Tonight, join us for an illustrated lecture and medical sculpture demonstration by artist Eleanor Crook at Barts Pathology Museum, an astounding, rarely open-to-the-public Victorian pathology museum. Custom built in 1879, this Grade II listed building spans three mezzanine levels and houses over 5,000 medical specimens includes pathological pots relating to all areas of anatomy and physiology, including the skull of John Bellingham – the only person to assassinate a British Prime Minister.
This event is free and open to all. If you would like to attend it is essential that you book a ticket using this link.
(If you reserved a place before this link was available, we will contact you and ask you to book with the new ticket system).

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Saturday 31st August – Sunday 1st September
Thrills in Blackpool!
Join us for a trip to Blackpool, once Britain’s most spectacular seaside resort. Enjoy over 10 km of beach and promenade, the piers, fortune-tellers, the only surviving first-generation tramway of this country, fish and chip shops, the Blackpool Tower, Madame Tussauds, the attractions of the Pleasure Beach as well as an exhibition by artist Zoe Beloff,  “Dreamland: The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and Their Circle, 1926-1972”. Walk the city with local guide, Kelly Walker, for a tour taking in the Winter Gardens, Comedy Carpet, Town Hall, Central Library and North Pier, then stay overnight for the opening of the famous Blackpool Illuminations.
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Sunday 1st September: Open Houses and Walking Tours Around LondonA day of wonderful open houses and guided tours around some of London’s most fascinating buildings. We’ve plenty of suggestions for places for you to visit on your own and peruse at your leisure, or join us for some guided tours;

4-5pm, ‘Secret Bloomsbury: Spies, Sorcerers and Scientists’, with Mark Pilkington, writer and curator, and Ross MacFarlane, Research Officer at the Wellcome Library.
Click here for further information.
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Monday 2nd September
2-3pm, ‘Occult Atlas: Aleister Crowley at the Warburg Institute’
Meet at the main entrance of the Warburg Institute, University of London, Woburn Square, WC1H 0AB (map).
A private viewing of the Gerald Yorke Scrapbooks on Aleister Crowley at the Warburg Institute with librarian Philip Young and artists Suzanne Treister & Richard Grayson.
Click here for further information.

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‘Shows of London: Illegitimate Entertainment and Shop Shows in London 1800 to 1900′
7pm, Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building, UCL, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT (map)
Join Vanessa Toulmin, Director of the National Fairground Archive and Professor at the University of Sheffield, for a talk about the spectacular history of the fairground.
This event is free to attend but please reserve your place by emailing Jessica Dain,
Click here for further information.

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Tuesday 3rd September
8pm, ‘Amazing Anatomy: The Human Body as Spectacular Object’
Old Operating Theatre, 9a St. Thomas Street, SE1 9RY (map)
Tonight, make your way up the vertiginous winding staircase of the atmospheric Old Operating Theatre – the oldest in Europe, in the roof space of an English baroque church – for a night dedicated to Spectacular Anatomies. First, join Art Macabre for a drawing workshop in which you will have the opportunity to draw a real life Anatomical Venus. Drawing materials provided thanks to Cass Art (pencils, charcoal and drawing boards). Bring along a sketchbook/paper. Following, enjoy two illustrated talks on the human body as spectacular object with Anna Maerker, Senior Lecturer, History of Medicine, King’s College London and John Troyer, Deputy Director, Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath, who will give a talk entitled ’Spectacular Human Corpses: Looking at Death, Seeing Dead Bodies’.
Click here for further information.

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Wednesday 4th September
7pm, ‘Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern’
Apiary Studios, 458 Hackney Road, E2 9EG (map)
Tonight, join us for an illustrated lecture by “Professor” Mervyn Heard, author of Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern, on the largely untold story of phantasmagoria and seance-based entertainments in London in 1801. Following the leture, enjoy the  sights, frights and optical wonders of Heard’s “Grand Gothic Magic Lantern Show” with live music by The Real Tuesday Weld.
Click here for further information.

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Thursday 5th September
7pm, ‘Luminations: An Evening of Esoteric Photography’
Swedenborg House, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, WC1A 2TH (map)
An exploration of two of the more unusual directions taken by photographers, from Victorian spiritualism to the darkest hours of the Cold War. With Alex Murray, Assistant Librarian and Archivist at Swedenborg House;  Mark Pilkington, author of Mirage MenFar Out, and Strange Attractor overlord; artist Alison Gill (London, UK) and photographer/independent researcher Shannon Taggart (Brooklyn, USA).
Click here for further information.

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Friday 6th September
6.30-9pm, ‘Anthropomorphic Taxidermy: Walter Potter book release party’
Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, 21 University Street, WC1E 6DE (map)
Tonight, join Pat Morris, author of the new book Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy (Constable and Robinson, 2013) at The Grant Museum for a lecture on the life and work of the iconic Victorian anthropomorphic taxidermist and museologist Walter Potter. Following the talk will be a premiere of “The Walter Potter Suite” by musicians The Real Tuesday Weld, screenings of Potter related shorts, and a Potter slide show. Books will be available for sale as well as signing and refreshments will be served.
Click here for further information.

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Saturday 7th September – Sunday 8th September
‘Reclaiming Spectacle: A two-day symposium’
Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, WC1N 1JD (Map)
Tickets are £20 for the full weekend, £12 for one day. Click here to buy tickets.
The Congress for Curious People will draw to a close with this two day symposium addressing the concept of spectacle. Please see the full schedule below. To download a shorter programme as a PDF, please click here. For more information about each speaker, take a look at our participants page
Generally, the word spectacle refers to an event that is memorable for the appearance it creates. In nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship, spectacle has been frequently described as simultaneously enticing, deceptive and superficial, but above all as the domination of mass media, consumption and surveillance, which reduces citizens to spectators by political neutralisation. From this elitist view the audiences for spectacles have been described as passive consumers while the agency of those creating content is rarely addressed. We want to exactly challenge the very opposition between viewing (or writing about) and acting. How one can actively translate and interpret scientific spectacles and how can the boundaries between looking and doing be blurred: What can we learn from an encounter with performers, objects and spaces that create spectacles? Can counter-spaces and interventionist critiques be created?
10.00 Registration
10.30 Welcome address
Aaron Beebe (Coney Island Museum), Joanna Ebenstein (Morbid Anatomy), Petra Lange-Berndt (Preserved!), Mark Pilkington (Strange Attractor).
‘Spectacular cultures’ (moderated by Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy) 
11.15 Richard Barnett, Engagement Fellow, Wellcome Trust: ‘All the Fun of the Fair’
Richard Barnett’s talk will tell the story of the fair. This is a tale of fleeting encounters, vivid pleasures, and the (temporary) dissolution of the bonds of mundane life. We will get our feet dusty at medieval patronal fairs, gawp at Victorian freaks and strongmen, and savour the neon and candyfloss of contemporary funfairs. We will look for traces of a pre-Christian festival culture, and examine what this endeavour reveals about changing attitudes towards the very notion of tradition. And we will end by asking: Who are the true modern inheritors of the ferias spiritus?
12.00 Break
12.15 Panel discussion: ‘Being Spectacular, Collecting the Spectacular’
This panel will address a range of spectacular practices. Discussion will take place between artists who dabble in the spectacular and archival and museum professionals faced with looking after and caring for the remnants of spectacular practices and objects with, at times, challenging histories. Artist Brian Catling turns into a Cyclops using the special effects of latex rubber masks; artistic duo Claire and Bob Humm enjoy carnivalesque humbug such as the fertility rites of Hasting’s Jack in the Green; Will Fowler is curator of artists’ moving images at the BFI; Subhadra Das is curator of UCL’s biomedical Teaching and Research Collections; Carla Valentine works as curator of Barts Pathology Museum.
13.30 Lunch break
14.30 Simon Werrett, Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies, UCL: ‘Fireworks: Behind the Bang!’
There’s much more to fireworks than meets the eye. We use fireworks today for celebrations, but in the past fireworks had many different uses. This talk will show how fireworks were used for spectacular religious and political festivals in European history, as tools of empire on voyages of exploration, as polite parlour-games and as dangerous weapons for radicals and rioters. Spectacle served many ends. Along the way, fireworks inspired scientists, artists, and poets and provided models for all kinds of inventions that have become part of the modern world. The legacy of these spectacles remains in everything from home-lighting to space exploration.
15.15 Break
‘Extraordinary bodies’ (moderated by Matt Lodder, Art Historian)
15.45 Robert Mills, Lecturer, History of Art, UCL: ‘Talking Heads, or, A Tale of Two Clerics’
Around the year 1000, two churchmen, Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II) and his contemporary and one-time foe Abbo of Fleury became associated with tales of talking heads. Gerbert is the subject of the story, accused of manufacturing a head that magically issues prophesies and leads to his eventual downfall. Abbo is the author of the story, a narrative recounting the martyrdom of St Edmund of East Anglia, whose head miraculously announces its presence to the king’s subjects after its removal from his body by murderous Danes. This talk will use these stories as the starting point for an analysis of the phenomenon of talking heads in the Middle Ages, paying particular attention to the motif’s ambivalent associations. Located on the ambiguous borderland between magic and miracle, organic and inorganic, image and idol, medieval and modern, talking heads speak in many different voices.
16.30 Bill MacLehose, Lecturer in History of Science and Medicine, UCL: ‘Remnants of Jesus’ foreskin’
17.15 Break
17.30 Ross MacFarlane, Research Officer, Wellcome Library: ‘Tom Thumb and the Hilton Sisters: Uncovering the ‘Freaks’ of the Wellcome Library’
Exploitation or entertainment? Highlighting handbills and journals, postcards and posters, this talk will delve into the sensational world of the freakshow, as seen through the collections of the Wellcome Library.
18.15 End
‘Nonhuman Spectacles’ (moderated by Petra Lange-Berndt, Lecturer, History of Art, UCL)
10.00 ‘The Micro-Spectacular’
We will screen the films An Insidious Intrusion (2008) by artist Tessa Farmer, and Serenading to Spiders (2012) by artist Eleanor Morgan. While Farmer engages in stop motion animation of dead insects and uncanny skeletal fairies, Morgan tries to attract a living spider by singing to the animal.
Afterwards, Bergit Arends (Curator), Gavin Broad (Senior Curator, Hymenoptera, Natural History Museum), Catriona McAra (Research Fellow in Cultural Theory, University of Huddersfield) and Eleanor Morgan (Artist) will discuss the impact that creepy crawlies and parasites have on us and how artists have been addressing the micro-spectacular plane.
11.15 Tim Cockerill, artist and zoologist: ‘The Flea Circus: The Smallest Show on Earth’
‘All our fleas are harnessed. You don’t take any more out than you bring in yourself’ (From a sign in John Torp’s American Flea Circus, 1950s)
Roll up and see the world-famous performing fleas! For over 150 years, audiences have been paying their sixpences to be amazed by whole troupes of real, live, performing fleas. Believe it, or not? In this talk, Tim Cockerill will persuade you that the flea circus, until recently, was a 100% genuine spectacle, made up of live fleas pulling chariots, riding tricycles and even fighting duels with perfectly crafted miniature swords. Find out how the Flea Circus ‘Professors’ fed their fleas, which household appliance spelled the demise of the Flea Circus in the 1950s, and how a flea could make a Victorian lady take all of her clothes off. Tim will teach you how – once you have found your fleas – to harness and train them yourself, so you can start a flea circus of your very own! After several years researching the history and techniques of the flea circus, Tim has uncovered previously unseen footage and photos of the fleas in action. Tim has also tracked down the last remaining Flea Circus Professors, who have taught him the secret techniques of flea training. All of this and more is included in the talk you can afford to see, but cannot afford to miss!
12.00 Break
12.15 Dietmar Rübel, Professor of Art History and Theory, Art Academy Dresden: ‘Blobjects: Nothing can stop it!’
Spectacular B-Movie horror scenarios enable us to critically engage with anxieties in relation to liquid objects beyond human subjectivity. Rübel will consider the film “The Blob” from 1958, a horror film classic, in which a jellylike, life-forms-devouring mass from outer space is relentlessly growing and spreading. Out of this fictitious story in the past decades fascinating human-thing-hybrids have been developed: So called “Blobjects” push from the realms of art, design and architecture into public spaces and conquer our everyday lives. As one can hear in Burt Bacharach’s main title song: “Beware of ‘The Blob’, it creeps / And leaps and glides and slides / Across the floor / Right through the door / And all around the wall / A splotch, a blotch / Be careful of The Blob.”
13.00 Lunch break
‘Ritual and Spectacle’ (moderated by Mark Pilkington, writer and curator)
14.00 Chiara Ambrosio, filmmaker and visual artist: ‘Tarantism: Dance, Possession and Exorcism in Southern Italy’
Tarantism is a form of dance mania that illustrates the complex struggle between Pagnism and Catholicism in the South of Italy. Its journey and development – from Greek and Roman times, through the middle ages and renaissance, straight through to the modern day – traces a story that transcends the history of medicine and religion to embrace a vast and complicated conversation about the political and socio-economical identity of a land, and the continued fight for freedom and emancipation in an extremely volatile and difficult terrain, both physical and psychological. This talk will explore Tarantism as a ritualistic spectacle that, through dance and music, offers a form of resistance and continuation of specific local histories beliefs and identity.
14.45 Shannon Taggart, photographer and independent researcher,
‘Physical Physical Mediumship, Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm -

After learning the details of her grandfather's death through a medium, Shannon Taggart began a long term project on Modern Spiritualism. Through images made from 2001-2013, this talk will examine Spiritualist ritual, its uses of technology and its links with Shamanistic spectacle. The intrinsic connection between Spiritualism, photography, and the science of the invisible will be discussed. A comparison between the latent theater of physical mediumship and the literal theatrics of Haitian Vodou will also be explored.
15.30 Break
16.00 Panel discussion, ‘Practicing Occultism’
With Cecile Dubuis (artistic gothic librarian, UCL), Christina Harrington (Director of Treadwell’s Bookshop), Shannon Taggart (photographer/independent researcher), Robert Wallis (Professor of Visual Culture, Richmond University).
17.15 James Kennaway, History of Medicine and Disease, Durham University: ‘Psychiatry vs. Religion’
Over the past two hundred years many psychiatrists have taken a dim view of religion, and have attempted to portray it, and especially its more extravagant and mystical aspects, as essentially an expression of types of mental illness such as hysteria or schizophrenia. The lives of prophets, saints and religious leaders have been reinterpreted in diagnostic terms. Ecstatic and mystical religious experiences, from Voodoo ceremonies to Pentecostal speaking in tongues, have been diagnosed as pathological delusions. Discussions of Jesus as a paranoid schizophrenic and Mohammed as a psychopath abound. This talk will look at some of the strangest examples of this phenomenon and consider its causes, uses and limitations.
18.00 Final discussion
18.30 End
You can find out more about all events--and purchase tickets!--by clicking here.


Enric H. March said...

Great event!

(In catalan)

The Roca Museum History:

(In catalan)

Enric H. March said...

Good summer in London!