Monday, July 18, 2011

This Week and Next at Observatory: Carmina Burana, Mermaids and the People Who Love Them, The Politics of Taxidermy & Automatons, Live and in Person!

This Week and next at Observatory: “Theatrum Mundi” Production of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana;” Panel Discussion and screening on modern "mermadia"; New Orleans and its musicians after the deluge; the politics of 19th Century Taxidermy; and automatons from the world famous Guinness Collection live and in person!

Hope to see you at one or more of these fantastic events!

SCREENING: “Theatrum Mundi” Production of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”
Date: Monday, July 18th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $8
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

Carl Orff's Carmina Burana--full title Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis ("Songs of Beuern: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images")--was written not in the depths of the dark ages as one might assume, but in Nazi-era Germany, premiering to great acclaim in 1937 Frankfurt. The piece sets to music a selection of poems drawn from a subversive medieval manuscript of the same name which had been discovered at a Bavarian Benedictine monastery in 1803; primary themes include the popular medieval trope of the Wheel of Fortune (a literal example of which controls much of the action), the ephemerality of life, and the allure and peril of drinking, gambling, gluttony and lust.

Carl Orff 's original conception for Carmina Burana incorporated orchestral music, acting, dance, masks, costumes, and sets in a kind of "Theatrum Mundi" in which music, movement, and speech were equal and essential pieces of the whole. The few contemporary performances that have staged the production according to Orff's original conception have a fascinatingly uncanny, unsettling, Hieronymus Bosch-ian feel, as if something deep in our collective past were attempting to speak to us in a symbolic language beyond the reach of reason. By turns epic, bawdy, surrealistic, monstrous, bizarre and sublime--and always utterly compelling--these are very special productions not to be missed.

Tonight, join us for a screening of just such a production; The piece is performed in the original Latin but includes English subtitles, and will be broadcast over our astoundingly great new PA system.

Image: Codex Buranus (Carmina Burana) Wheel of Fortune (Schicksalsrad) Source: Wikipedia

Photo: Jason Falchook

Sirens & Society: Postmodern Mermaidia
A Screening & Panel Discussion featuring Prof. Amy Herzog, Mica Scalin, Ilise “The Lady Aye” Carter and Bambi the Mermaid
Date: Thursday, July 21st
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

Forget vampires, werewolves, and zombies! All across America--at least according to USA Today's Carol Memmot, who recently documented the explosion of high-profile books, blogs and movies devoted to modern "mermadia"--mermaids are emerging as "the next big thing.

Tonight's screening and panel discussion will investigate the new wave of mermaid imagery and lifestyle being created by individual artists and the culture industry at large. We will begin with a preview screening of the new documentary "Mermaids of New York," followed by a panel discussion featuring professor Amy Herzog, filmmakers Mica Scalin and Ilise “The Lady Aye” Carter, and practicing mermaid Bambi the Mermaid. The aim of the evening is to investigate the explosion of interest in these elusive mythical creatures expressing archetypes ranging from bright childhood whimsy to dark sexual intrigue, with an eye to discovering why these creatures? And why now?

Amy Herzog is associate professor of film studies at Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of Dreams of Difference, Songs of the Same: The Image of Time in Musical Film, which includes an extended study of Esther Williams and "water-based" musical cinema. She recently presented a new project on the history, aesthetics, and politics of underwater amusements and roadside attractions at this year’s Congress of Curious Peoples at Coney Island.

Filmmakers Mica Scalin and Ilise “The Lady Aye” Carter, the creators of the ongoing documentary video project "Mermaids of New York," which follows some of the truly amazing, beautiful and genuine mermaids that live on and around the island of Manhattan by weaving together anecdotes from some of New York's most renowned mermaids as a jumping off point to explore the connections between New York City, the individuals who choose to call it home and the water which surrounds it.

Bambi the Mermaid is a professional mermaid performer, acclaimed photographer and organizer of Coney Island USA’s Mermaid Parade whose art deals with pop culture, Americana and the strange places beauty and perversion meet.

Photo: Jason Falchook


Inaugural Event of the New Atlantis 2020 Series with Special Musical Guest Andy J. Forest
A Lecture, Performance, and Party hosted by
John Swenson, author of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans
Date: Saturday, July 23rd
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Night One of the New Atlantis 2020 Series
Books will be available for sale and signing

"In New Orleans, it was the culture of the city—its musicians, its second-liners and Mardi Gras Indians, its chefs and trumpeters and sissy bounce rappers—who asserted for the future more than any political leadership or economic imperative. It was the refusal of the artists to let go of the idea of New Orleans that saved the city. NEW ATLANTIS tells this remarkable story and does so clearly, with considerable detail and affection."
—David Simon, Producer of HBO's Treme

New Orleans is under siege from a lethal combination of natural and man-made disasters. The effects of the flood following hurricane Katrina in 2005 are still being felt throughout New Orleans, while the rapid destruction of the south Louisiana wetlands that protect the city from hurricane surges brings the threat of future inundations.

Musicians have been in the forefront of efforts to educate the public about how to combat this threat even before Katrina; they have also led the economic recovery of New Orleans after the flood by returning quickly to restore the city's cultural identity. Award winning author John Swenson's book New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (Oxford University Press) details the struggle musicians have undertaken to rebuild New Orleans and speak out for its future.

Tonight, join us for the inaugural event of the new Observatory series New Atlantis 2020; this series, curated and moderated by John Swenson, will feature live performances, readings and discussions that will explore the relationship between the musicians of New Orleans and the rebuilding of the city after Katrina. Tonight's event will will begin with a lavishly illustrated introductory lecture by Swenson, introducing us to the key themes and characters of the book. Next, award-winning New Orleans based musician and songwriter Andy J. Forest--who figures prominently in the book--will perform live at Observatory on guitar and harmonica. Following this performance, Swenson will moderate a Q and A with the musician, after which he will DJ a rich variety of New Orleans music while we enjoy some beer and wine.

John Swenson has been writing about popular music since 1967. He edited the award-winning website for Knit Media and has worked as an editor at Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Rock World, OffBeat magazine and been published in virtually every popular music magazine of note over that time. He was a syndicated music columnist for more than 20 years at United Press International and Reuters. Swenson has written 14 published books including biographies of Bill Haley, the Who, Stevie Wonder and the Eagles and co-edited the original Rolling Stone Record Guide with Dave Marsh. He is also the editor of The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide. In another role Swenson is a veteran sports writer who covered the New York Rangers for 30 years, writing pieces for outlets from Rolling Stone to the Associated Press. Swenson is also a veteran horseracing columnist and handicapper who covered the New York racing scene as a columnist for the New York Post and the New Orleans Fair Grounds meet for The Daily Racing Form. His profile on jockey Steve Cauthen, "Rise To Stardom, Fall From Grace" in Spur magazine was nominated for an Eclipse Award.

Swenson's account of musicians returning to New Orleans after Katrina, The Bands Played On, appeared in Da Capo's Best Music Writing 2007. His Every Accordionist a King won the 2008 Best Entertainment Feature award from the Press Club of New Orleans. Swenson's latest book, New Atlantis chronicles how musicians battled to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.


Shrinking and Other Acts of Sabotage
An illustrated lecture with Petra Lange-Berndt, University College London
Date: Thursday, July 28th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

Taxidermy is quite literally the incarnation of trophy culture; It is no coincidence that the 19th Century craze for taxidermy coincided with the emergence of the biological sciences, which were, themselves, strongly tied to colonial interests of exploration, exploitation, classification, and reorganization of the world.

Today, this violent story -- as well as the bulk of 19th Century decorative taxidermy, such as heads on shields, armchairs made out of whole bears, elephant footstools or lamp bases adorned with birds of paradise -- are largely absent from public collections and their institutionalized narratives. Also problematic for the serious student of the medium is that, like art conservators or the editors of texts, taxidermists are only successful if there is no visible trace of their work left in the final product.

Tonight's presentation by Petra Lange-Berndt, author of Animal Art: Specimens in Modern and Contemporary Art Practices, 1850-2000, will chase the stories that are woven into the textures of taxidermy by focusing on the fabrication of the nature/cultures in question, and by asking such questions as what kind of politics are attached to these stilled lifes? And how have the power relations encountered in public natural history collections been challenged by modern and contemporary artists?

Petra Lange-Berndt is a lecturer at the Department of History of Art, University College of London. She has published a book in German on Animal Art: Specimens in Modern and Contemporary Art Practices, 1850-2000 (Silke Schreiber, 2009) and just organised a conference on "Taxidermy and Colonial Practice" at the Natural History Museum, London. She likes all kinds of unpopular arts and B-cultures and was co-curator of an exhibition in three parts on "Sigmar Polke: We Petty Bourgeois! The 1970s" at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg (2009-10); her new research is concerned with artists' colonies and communes.

Image: Photo from Natural History Museum of Nantes (France), by Julie N. Hascoët

 “Mechanical Singing Bird Jardiniere,” made by the firm of Bontems, Paris, France, circa 1880 & recently restored

Living Dolls: The Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum
A live automata demonstration and
illustrated lecture by Jere Ryder, Conservator of the Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum
Date: Friday, July 29th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $10
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

The Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey is one of the finest collections of automata--or moving mechanical toys popular in the 18th Century and 19th Centuries--in the world. Compiled over 50 years by heir to the Guinness beer fortune Murtogh D. Guinness (1913-2002), the collection features scores of immaculately preserved historic automata--many of them produced in 19th Century France--with subjects ranging from snake charmers to magicians, singing birds to anthropomorphic monkeys, Cleopatra in her death throes to a waltz-playing Mephistopheles; it also includes a number of mechanical musical instruments and a variety of programmed media ranging from player piano rolls to pinned cylinders.

Earlier this year, Observatory brought a group to visit this collection in person; for those of you who were unable to join us--or who are hungry more!--we are bringing the automata closer to home. Tonight, we invite you to join Jere Ryder, Conservator of the Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata at the Morris Museum, for a live demonstration of antique automata drawn from both the Guinness Collection and his own personal collection. Mr. Ryder will detail the history of these bewitching toys with an illustrated lecture on their history, show an introductory video, and demonstrate and describe the mechanics that bring them to life.

Bio: As Conservator of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata, Jere Ryder brings a lifetime of involvement within this specialized field. A keen interest developed after being introduced to them by collector parents, whom Mr. Guinness had encountered in the 1950s. He became a family friend, and served as mentor and inspiration for later study within the field. With no specialized teaching institutions dedicated to this particular realm, it was Jere's father, Hughes M. Ryder, who introduced he and his brother to major European families, collections and related museums, assisting his ability to enter into studies/apprenticeships to surviving, established field masters, modern manufacturers and successors of original firms dating to as early as 1800. Throughout junior high and high school he received objects for repair from regional dealers and distributors. He and his brother Stephen created a business partnership in 1973 and since have repaired, restored, appraised and advised for some of the finest collections, acquiring objects on behalf of state and privately-owned museums worldwide, and are internationally renowned for research projects and the ability to source rare instruments offering new paths of study.

To find out more about these events--and to keep up to date on new ones--click here. You can get directions to Observatory--which is next door to the Morbid Anatomy Library (more on that here)--by clicking here. You can find out more about Observatory here, join our mailing list by clicking here, and join us on Facebook by clicking here.

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