Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Introducing "Observatory" and An Upcoming Morbid Anatomy Event Therein

I know that I have already informally done so (recent post here) but I would like to take this opportunity to formally introduce a new project undertaken by 6 like-minded folk and myself.

Observatory, as we are calling it, is a small room located between Proteus Gowanus Interdisciplinary Gallery and Reading Room, the Cabinet Magazine headquarters, and the Morbid Anatomy Library at 543 Union Street on the lovely Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York. The collaborators include myself, the inscrutable G. F. Newland, Michelle Enemark and Dylan Thuras of the Curious Expeditions blog, Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile, Herbert Pfostl of Blind Pony Books and Paper Graveyard, and video and book artist James Walsh. Plans for Observatory are broad and many (as you can imagine, what with 7 people involved!), and thus far include lectures (such as the one you are about to read about), screenings, exhibitions, book-release parties, classes, symposia, and spectacles of various other kinds. The very-soon-to-be-launched website will soon be perusable (and sign-upable!) at observatoryroom.org; stay tuned for more on that front. But now, here is information about an upcoming event that Morbid Anatomy is presenting at Observatory. Hope to see you there!

Morbid Anatomy Presents at Observatory
"Reveries of Sleeping Beauty: Slumber and Death in Anatomical Museums, Fairground Shows, and Art "
Kathryn A. Hoffmann, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Tuesday March, 24th at 7:30 PM (Door open at 7:00)
Free of Charge

This illustrated talk will follow the paths of sleeping beauties: lovely young women who lie on silk sheeted beds in glass cases in anatomical museums and fairground shows, who recline on sofas in Belgian train stations, and sometimes in the middle of streets. Often the women were nude. Sometimes they were adorned with a piece of jewelry or a bow, and sometimes they wore white dresses. One breathed gently in a glass case on a fairground verandah for nearly a century. Others lay quietly in caskets under flowers. Some were wax, some were real, some were dead, and some merely pretended to be dead. Sometimes, in the imagination of artists like the surrealist Paul Delvaux, they got up and walked about; pretty somnambulists wandering through natural history museums, arcades and streets, through modern cities and ancient Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rhodes.

Using photographs, posters, advertisements, and paintings, the talk will follow models known as “Anatomical Venuses” through one of the great wax anatomical museums of the world (La Specola in Florence) and an extraordinarily long-lived popular museum that traveled the fairground routes of Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Pierre Spitzner’s Great Anatomical and Ethnological Museum). It will take side trips into some of the visual worlds the Venuses drew from or helped inspire, including fairground sleeping beauty acts, morgue shows, mortuary photography, reliquary displays, and art. In the paths of the sleeping beauties, it is clear that death and slumber, pedagogy and entertainment, science and reverie long shared strange borders.

Kathryn A. Hoffmann is the author of books and numerous articles on the body, including “Sleeping Beauties in the Fairground.” She is Professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she teaches courses on anomalous bodies and the histories of medicine and the fairground. She has received awards for her writing, and lectures frequently for associations, libraries, and museums in the fields of the history of medicine, literature, and art.

Practical Details
"Reveries of Sleeping Beauty: Slumber and Death in Anatomical Museums, Fairground Shows, and Art "
Kathryn A. Hoffmann, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Tuesday March, 24th at 7:30 PM (Door open at 7:00)
Admission: Free
Observatory, 543 Union Street (at Nevins) Brooklyn, New York 11215
Entry via Proteus Gowanus Interdisciplinary Gallery and Reading Room; go through back door of gallery, then take a left to find event. Directions here or call 718.243.1572.
Feel free to email me at morbidanatomy@gmail.com with any questions. Note: I have seen Hoffman speak on this topic, and I can assure you--this is a lecture not to be missed!

Image: from "Anatomical Theatre;" click here to see full online exhibition. Image details: “La Specola” (Museo di Storia Naturale) : Florence, Italy; "Anatomical Venus"
Wax wodel with human hair and pearls in rosewood and Venetian glass case; Probably modeled by Clemente Susini (around 1790)


Anonymous said...


I just came across Elizabeth Hallam's new book 'Anatomy Museum: Death and the Body Displayed' (http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/book.html?id=326) - probably you already know it, but I thought I'd drop you a line!


JE said...

Hi Marion

I heard about this, but didn't know it was out yet. Have your read it? What are your thoughts?