Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Few Remaining Tickets for "Congress for Curious People: A Festival of Spectacular Cultures" London, 30 August - 8 September

There are still tickets available for a few of the events comprising this year's Congress for Curious People, organized by Morbid Anatomy, Strange Attractor and Preserved! with the support of The Wellcome Trust.

Bearing that in mind, does anybody fancy an illustrated lecture on ‘Shows of London: Illegitimate Entertainment and Shop Shows in London 1800 to 1900’ by Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive (Monday, 2 September, above image)? Or an evening dedicated to ‘Amazing Anatomies’ at the Old Operating Theatre with talks by John Troyer and Anna Maerker and drawing lessons with Art Macabre (Tuesday, 3 September)? Or perhaps you might enjoy a spectacular, immersive phantasmagoria show presented by “Professor” Mervyn Heard accompanied by the music the The Real Tuesday Weld (Wednesday, 4 September)? Or, if you crave more substantial fare, perhaps our epic ‘Reclaiming Spectacle’ two-day symposium (!!!) at the Horse Hospital--with panels on collecting the spectacular, non-human spectacle, extraordinary bodies and religion and ritual (Saturday and Sunday, 7 and 8 September)--might appeal? Or, for the very adventurous among you, maybe you'd like to join us for an overnight excursion to the faded Victorian seaside resort of Blackpool, complete with walking tour and a viewing of the famous illuminations (This Saturday, 31 Aug)!

Details and ticketing information for each event follows; You can find more about all events by clicking here. Hope very much to see you there!
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Saturday 31st August – Sunday 1st September
Thrills in Blackpool!

Free of charge,
but please send an e-mail to Jessica Dain, j.dain [at] if you want to attend.
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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Monday 2nd September
‘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)
Free of charge, but please send an e-mail to Jessica Dain, j.dain [at] if you want to attend.

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.
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)
Tickets are priced £8, click here to buy.
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.
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.

Image source: The British Library; more here

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Physica Sacra," Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer, 1731: Guest Post for The New York Academy of Medicine "Books, Health and History" Blog

In the run-up to the New York Academy of Medicine's upcoming Wonder Cabinet and Medical History Festival (co-curated by Morbid Anatomy and Lawrence Weschler; more here) I have been invited to write a series of guest posts for NYAM's "Books, Health and History" blog about the treasures and curiosities I have found in the Academy's vast historical collection.

I just finished the first post in that series, dedicated to one of my all-time favorite books: Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer's enigmatic and fascinating Physica Sacra, a large-scale, 4-volume high baroque extravaganza of art, science, mysticism, and all worldly knowledge. You can see one of my favorite, extremely Ruysch-esque images from that book above; you can find out more about this image, see many others, and learn more about this curious book on NYAM's Books, Health and History" blog by clicking here.

On a related aside: I am currently working on a new project with some lovely folks who have just purchased for our nascent collection a full, 4 volume, 1st edition Physica Sacra with a provenance tracing back to 18th century prime minister of Denmark Ove Høegh-Guldberg (!!!). Stay tuned for more very soon on that book and project!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blaschka Glass Flowers! Jeweled Skeletons! Taxidermy! Medical Wonder Cabinet! LA Death Salon! Reliquary Dolls! Day of the Dead! Upcoming Morbid Anatomy Events in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Mexico

We are Morbid Anatomy are very excited about a number of upcoming events, workshops, symposia and spectacles coming up in New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico.

This Tuesday--August 27th--we will be welcoming Jenny Brown-- collection manager of the legendary Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at Harvard University (above)--who will tell us about  to tell about this amazing collection, with its 847 species created between 1887 and 1936 by the Blaschkas' German studio.

Onwards and upwards, we hope to see you at a our newly announced Wonder Cabinet and Medical History Festival at The New York Academy of Medicine on October 5th (more on that soon;) a Los Angeles-based weekend symposium devoted to to discussions of mortality with programming by Morbid Anatomy, Atlas Obscura, and The Order of the Good Death (October 18-20); A Jeweled skeletons book party with Dr. Paul Koudounaris, author of Empire of Death (October 11) as well as upcoming workshops in chipmunk taxidermy (September 15), European Starling taxidermy (September 22) and wax reliquary dolls (October 26)!

Full info follows on all events; Hope to see you at one or more!
The Glass Flowers: Marvels in Art and Science
Illustrated lecture by Jenny Brown, Collection Manager of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at Harvard
Date: Tuesday, August 27th
Time: 8.00
Admission: $8
Presented by Morbid AnatomyLocation: Observatory, Brooklyn (543 Union Street (at Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11215)
The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at Harvard University, more popularly known as The Glass Flowers, is often described as “an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art.” The collection was commissioned to aid in botanical instruction and serve as the premier botany exhibit in what is now the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The models were made from 1887 through 1936 by Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf (1857-1939) Blaschka, father and son glass artists who lived and worked in Hosterwitz, Germany near Dresden.
Prior to making the Glass Flowers, the Blaschkas established a very successful business supplying collections around the world with glass models of marine invertebrates such as sea anemones, jellyfish, and squid among many other species. Like these marine animals, plant specimens were difficult to preserve and display in a compelling fashion. Once-vibrant colors would fade and forms would be flattened when mounted on a herbarium sheet or become distorted if preserved in liquid. Glass, in the highly skilled hands of the Blaschkas, provided a medium from which lifelike models of plants could be made for study and public display. The Glass Flowers are complex items to categorize, straddling art and science, regarded as teaching tools and exemplary works of art glass. This lecture will share the fascinating history and creation of this truly singular collection.

Jenny Brown
is the Collection Manager of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at Harvard University, better known as the Glass Flowers. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science from Pratt Institute and a BFA in Interrelated Media from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has done cataloging, archiving, and collection management work for the estate of abstract painter Doug Ohlson (NYC) and in the studio of glass artist Toots Zynsky (Providence, RI) where she also worked as a studio assistant and gained valuable experience handling fragile artworks. Jenny brings a love of natural history, the organizational skills of a librarian, and just the right mixture of confidence and caution to her position managing the Glass Flowers.

Anthropomorphic/Naturalistic Chipmunk Taxidermy Class with Divya Anantharaman
Date: Sunday, September 15th
Time: 12:00 – 5 PM
Admission: $120
Tickets at
This class is part of the Morbid Anatomy Art Academy
Location: Observatory, Brooklyn (543 Union Street (at Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11215)
Perfect for beginners, this hands-on class will examine the nutty ways of the chipmunk! Students will create a fully-finished chipmunk mount in the naturalistic or anthropomorphic style of their choice. Students will learn everything involved in producing a finished mount - from initial preparation, hygiene and sanitary measures, to proper technique and dry preservation. The class will teach a few methods of creating a form to suit a small animal, and students will have the option of selecting which technique they would like to use for their piece. The use of anatomical study, reference photos, and detailed observation will also be reviewed as important tools in recreating the natural poses and expressions that magically reanimate a specimen. A selection of naturalistic and anthropomorphic props will be provided, however, students are welcome to bring their own bases and accessories if something specific is desired. All other supplies will be provided for use in class.
Each student will leave class with a fully finished piece, and the knowledge to create their own pieces in the future.
Divya Anantharaman is a Brooklyn based artist whose taxidermy practice was sparked by a lifelong fascination with natural mythology and everyday oddities. After a journey filled with trial and error, numerous books, and an inspiring class (Sue Jeiven's popular Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy Class at Observatory!), she has found her calling in creating sickly sweet and sparkly critters. Beginning with mice and sparrows, her menagerie grew to include domestic cats, woodchucks, and deer. Recently profiled on Vice Fringes, the New York Observer, and other publications, she will also be appearing in the upcoming season of Oddities-and is definitely up to no good shenanigans. You can find out more at
Also, some technical notes:
  • We use NO harsh or dangerous chemicals.
  • Everyone will be provided with gloves.
  • All animals are disease free.
  • Although there will not be a lot of blood or gore, a strong constitution is necessary; taxidermy is not for everyone
  • All animals were already dead, nothing was killed for this class.
  • Please do not bring any dead animals with you to the class.

European Starling Taxidermy Class with Divya Anantharaman
Date: Sunday, September 22
Time: 12:00pm
Admission: $185
This class is part of the Morbid Anatomy Art AcademyLocation: Observatory, Brooklyn (543 Union Street (at Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11215)

In this class, students will create a fully finished mount from a European starling (also known as the common starling). This beautiful bird is an invasive species-60 birds were brought to America from Europe in 1890, and have multiplied to number over 150 million today! The birds coloration changes by season-from glossy black with iridescence to black with spots, to greyish brown, with beaks going from bright yellow to black.
This class will cover introductory basic techniques used for small bird taxidermy. Each student will begin with their own bird, which they will proceed to skin, flesh, and mount in the pose of their choice. A selection of anthropomorphic and naturalistic props will be provided, although attendees are also welcome to bring their own, allowing the student to customize their bird. Students will create forms and poses using the technique of wrapping (a very traditional method of creating forms for small animals). We will also discuss the various methods of maintaining feet, beaks, and the delicate nature of grooming feathers.  Reference images will be provided, though students are more than welcome to provide their own props and inspiration. We will also discuss federal and state bird laws, as well as the MBTA (a copy of which will be provided).
Each student will leave class with a fully finished piece, and the knowledge to create their own pieces in the future.
Divya Anantharaman is a Brooklyn based artist whose taxidermy practice was sparked by a lifelong fascination with natural mythology and everyday oddities. After a journey filled with trial and error, numerous books, and an inspiring class (Sue Jeiven's popular Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy Class at Observatory!), she has found her calling in creating sickly sweet and sparkly critters. Beginning with mice and sparrows, her menagerie grew to include domestic cats, woodchucks, and deer. Recently profiled on Vice Fringes, the New York Observer, and other publications, she will also be appearing in the upcoming season of Oddities-and is definitely up to no good shenanigans. You can find out more at
Also, some technical notes:
  • We use NO harsh or dangerous chemicals.
  • Everyone will be provided with gloves.
  • All animals are disease free.
  • Although there will not be a lot of blood or gore, a strong constitution is necessary; taxidermy is not for everyone
  • All animals were already dead, nothing was killed for this class.
  • Please do not bring any dead animals with you to the class.

Day Long "Wonder Cabinet and Medical History Festival," New York Academy of Medicine
Date: Saturday, October 5, 2013
Time: 11.00 AM - 7.00 PM (Open-bar after Party from 7-9PM)
*** OFFSITE AT The New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029)
Admission: Free and no registration necessary except for classes and party; click here to register for those
This all day, open-to-the-public "Wonder Cabinet and Medical History Festival" will include lectures, workshops, behind-the-scenes tours, demonstrations and, at the end of the day, an after-party featuring medical films from the National Library of Medicine, the music of DJ Friese Undine, and an open bar.

The event will feature over a dozen speakers--among them neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, cultural critic Mark Dery, Portraits of the Mind author Carl Schoonover, the National Library of Medicine's Michael Sappol, media historian Amy Herzog, historian Daniel Margocsy, medical illustrator Marie Dauenheimer and Cranioklepty author Colin Dickey--expounding on topics including (but not limited to!) 18th century wax anatomical models; Books bound in human skin; Charles Wilson Peale and the first American museum; "Cranioklepty" or the stealing of famous skulls; Reflections on death and the art of the tableau; Pre-modern neuroscience; and "artist of death" Frederik Ruysch.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to make their own Dance of Death linoleum cuts, draw from real anatomical specimens and/or animal skeletons, try their hand at the arcane art of carbon dust medical illustration, witness a demonstration of medical wax moulage, and learn about the musculoskeletal system via an "anatomy performance" using a live model.

They will also have the opportunity to explore the fantastic inner spaces of this incredible (see above) and under-seen New York landmark.

Image: Coller Rare Book Reading Room, New York Academy of Medicine.
Heavenly Bodies – Jeweled Sacred Skeletons of the 16th Century
Illustrated lecture and book party with Dr. Paul Koudounaris, with music and artisinal cocktails by Friese Undine
Date: Friday, October 11
Time: 8:00
Admission: $8
**Copies of Heavenly Bodies will be available for sale and signing
Location: Observatory, Brooklyn (543 Union Street (at Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11215)

Tonight, Dr. Paul Koudounaris--author of Empire of Death, the definitive book on ossuaries--will present a heavily illustrated talk based on his new book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, the story of skeletons discovered in the Roman Catacombs in the late sixteenth century.
These largely anonymous skeletons were presented as the remains of Early Christian martyrs, and treated as sacred. They were sent to Catholic churches and religious houses in German-speaking Europe to replace the holy relics that had been destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Here, the skeletons would be carefully reassembled and richly adorned with jewels and precious costumes by teams of nuns. Intended as flamboyant devotional items, they are now considered some of the finest works of art ever created in the medium of human bone. As time passed, faith in these sumptuously decorated skeletons--once an important part of the spiritual life of many people--wavered, until finally they were cast out during the Enlightenment as remnants of a superstitious and embarrassing Catholic past.

Largely forgotten in the annals of religious history, Dr. Koudounaris gained unprecedented access to religious institutions where the surviving decorated skeletons are held. His photographs are the first that were ever taken of many of them, and the images which will accompany his lecture are bizarre, moving, and beautiful.

Dr. Paul Koudounaris
holds a PhD in Art History (UCLA) and has taught classes at numerous universities and published in magazines throughout the world. He is the author of The Empire of Death, the first illustrated history of charnel houses and religious sanctuaries decorated with human bone. Named one of the ten best books of 2011 (London Evening Standard), it has garnered international attention for its combination of unique historical research and stunning photography.

Photo: Photo by Dr. Paul Koudounaris, tonight's speaker, from his new book "Heavenly Bodies."

Death Salon, Los Angeles, California
A weekend symposium devoted to to discussions of mortality and its cultural implications with special programming by Morbid Anatomy and The Order of the Good Death
Dates: October 18 - 20
Full info and registration her
Friday, October 18, 2013
8:00 PM
The Order of the Good Death

Death Salon Cabaret
Bootleg Theater
2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

Death Salon Cabaret with talks, music, and short films hosted by Lord Whimsy with speakers including Paul Koudounaris, Author of The Empire of Death; Bess Lovejoy, author of Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses; Lindsey Fitzharris, Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellow; and Sarah Troop, host of The Cabinet of Curiosities Podcast. There will also be  musical performances by Jill Tracy and Adam Arcuragi. More details can be found here.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Morbid Anatomy
11 AM-6 PM
A one day, open-to-the-public Morbid Anatomy pop-up event which will explore the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture with screenings, a mini-symposium, a lecture on fin de siècle Parisian death themed cabarets with recreations of their classic drinks, and a panel on saints and mortification of the flesh.

11-1: Morbid Anatomy Anthology book panel of mini lectures, Midnight Archive screenings and panel discussion moderated by Lord Whimsy featuring:
1-2: Lunch
2-5:  Obliterated Bodies, Dissected Souls: Panel Moderated by Colin Dickey
Mortification of the Feminine Flesh: Elizabeth Harper
From the fatal anorexia of St. Catherine of Sienna to St. Rose of Lima's hidden crown of nails, self-inflicted pain has become part of a well-worn path to holiness for many Catholic women. However, these shocking acts become comprehensible and even logical when seen as a response to the transformation of the Church from the egalitarian early Christian church to the strict patriarchy of the Catholic Church as we know it. This change, coupled with Catholicism's unique views on death and martyrdom have lead many holy women to believe that to perfect a woman's soul, her body must be destroyed.
The Annihilated Saint: The Signifying Body of Bartholomew: Colin Dickey
Colin Dickey discusses images of torture in the cult of Christian saints, particularly Saint Bartholomew, who was flayed alive and who is regularly depicted holding his own skin. Inverting the traditional relationship of torturer and powerless victim, Christian imagery turned the act of torture into empowerment, where specific methods of torture became iconically associated with specific saints. As the cult of the saints waned, these images of torture began to filter into European consciousness in bizarre and fascinating ways, as Bartholomew's singular torture found its way into the lexicon of Renaissance anatomy textbooks, creating a new relationship between the sublime body and the dissected corpse.
Bringing Out the Dead: The "Anatomy Art" of Gunther von Hagens: Allison de Fren
Filmmaker/media scholar Allison de Fren discusses the corporeal displays of controversial German anatomist Gunther von Hagens. Using examples from both his traveling exhibition of human cadavers, Bodyworlds, and his UK television series Anatomy for Beginners, she will show how von Hagens recycles the visual motifs of Renaissance anatomy theatre and art to resuscitate the practice of public dissection for contemporary audiences
 5-6: ”Cabarets of Death” : Lecture followed by fin de siècle Parisian death-themed cabarets cocktails from original recipes with Mel Gordon
Highly illustrated lecture with reprints of the Cabaret du Néant’s menu and a recreation of their classic drinks from original recipes.
Reliquary Wax Doll Workshop with Artist and Ceroplast Sigrid Sarda
Date: Saturday, October 26th 
Time: 11:3 – 6:30 PM
Price: $350
Must RSVP via sigrid.sarda(at) to sign up.
This class is part of The Morbid Anatomy Art Academy
Location: Observatory, Brooklyn (543 Union Street (at Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11215)
Wax artist Sigrid Sarda has returned for a special 2 day class teaching the art of doll making. This class will revolve entirely on the creation of a wax doll in the image of the student’s chosen saint with the relic of their choice.
The wax doll represented as a human figure has always fascinated man. In early times these dolls were connected to witchcraft, magic, exorcisms for priests, and effigies. For this class they represent talismans and reliquaries for the student’s own personal interpretation of the saint’s meaning. The doll then becomes an object of prayer and veneration.
Each student will receive a handmade wax doll by Sigrid, either male or female and in turn will learn to set eyes, root hair, color the skin tone and add special physical quirks the saint may have, an example being stigmata or a particular wound. The student will then realize their own decorated costumes for the saints using patterns in the art of Victorian paper clothes making for dolls.
This class will consist of:
  • short talk on the history of the wax doll and everyone’s chosen saint and what it
  • means to them.
  • inserting glass eyes
  • rooting hair
  • Lunch break
  • rooting hair, beginning of skin coloring and adding any special physical quirks.
followed by
  • finish up skin coloring and quirks
  • insert / add relic
  • lunch break
  • make and decorate clothing for doll
  • dress doll
Materials are included though the student is expected to bring their own relic. The relic can be a lock of hair, a fingernail, bone, anything that has meaning to the student. The trims, spangles and paper for the costumes are either antique or vintage as are the glass eyes.
The dolls will be approx 6"-8".
Sigrid Sarda is self taught in the art of ceroplastics. She has been featured on such programs as The Midnight Archive, TV's Oddities, and has exhibited in London and NYC. She has an upcoming residency at The Gordon Museum in London, recreating the Black Dahlia for NoirCon 2014 and will be giving a demonstration in the art of medical wax moulage for The New York Academy of Medicine this fall.

SOLD OUT!!! Death in Mexico: A Special Field Trip to Mexico for Day of the Dead, Obscure Macabre Museums, and other Sites Important to the History of Death in Mexico October 31 - November 4
A 4-day trip to Mexico focusing on sites influential to the Mexican history of death, organized by Mexican writer and scholar Salvador Olguín and Morbid Anatomy
Dates: October 31  -  November 4 2013 (**Must reserve by July 20)
Includes: Two Day of the Dead Festivals; Special tours of The Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum), The Museo Nacional de la Muerte (National Museum of Death), and The José Guadalupe Posada Museum, and a visit to historical Hidalgo market in Guanajuato, the Zacatecas Cathedral, the Temple of the Jesuit Order and other beautiful places.
Cost: $600.00 USD (Includes all hotels, luxury ground transportation, museum admissions, and breakfasts; airfares not included)
PLEASE NOTE: non-refundable down payment of $250.00 required by July 20 to reserve) Email info [at] with questions.
This Halloween season, why not join Morbid Anatomy and Mexican scholar Salvador Olguín for a very special 4-day, 4-night trip to Mexico for our favorite holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead?
With Mexican writer and history of death in Mexico scholar Salvador Olguín as our guide, this tour will introduce attendees to some of the of lesser-known macabre destinations in Mexico holding unique gems associated with the culture of death. Our journey will take us to two off-the-beaten-track Day of the Dead celebrations, special tours of obscure museums, markets selling Day of the Dead and Santa Muerte artifacts, churches, cemeteries, and, throughout, great regional cuisine (and drink!) and luxury transportation.
Departing from Monterrey, the trip will take us to the beautiful, historical colonial cities of Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes to experience an area traditionally described as wild and untamed within Mexico. This region of Mexico is uniquely important to the history of death in Mexico in that it was the home of both José Guadalupe Posada and Joaquín de Bolaños, author of the first official Mexican biography of Death La Portentosa Vida de la Muerte published in 1792.
Attractions include:
October 31
We recommend arriving in Monterrey on the evening of Halloween, October 31. We will have a Halloween celebration, Mexican style, and we will depart to our first destination early in the morning of November 1st.
November 1st  - Monterrey/Guanajuato
We will convene in Monterrey, Mexico at 7:30 in the morning, and leave for the city of Guanajuato by bus. Mexico’s Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum) makes the small Colonial city of Guanajuato the star of this tour. The Mummy Museum has been displaying the naturally mummified bodies of people buried in the local cemetery for almost 150 years. A combination of dry weather, a mineral-rich soil, and a potent concentration of minerals in the water makes every person who has lived and died in Guanajuato a potential mummy, according to local lore. The museum itself is a wonderful combination of the macabre and the kitsch. You can visit the actual cemetery and see real mummies, but you can also visit the ‘modern’ Halloweenesque section of the museum, and eat charamuscas, a sugary candy shaped like a mummy.
November 2nd – Zacatecas
Zacatecas, another small Colonial city in Northern Mexico, was the home of Joaquín de Bolaños, author of the first official Mexican biography of Death. La Portentosa Vida de la Muerte was first published in 1792, and was quickly condemned by the literary elites and some prominent officers of the Inquisition. The book managed to survive, and nowadays the City of Zacatecas honors Bolaños, its prodigal son, with a festival named after him around Day of the Dead.
November 3rd – Aguascalientes
Aguascalientes was the birthplace of José Guadalupe Posada. Posada’s Calaveras have become icons of the festivities around Día de Muertos. In this city, we will visit the José Guadalupe Posada Museum, which houses original illustrations by Posada and other engravers of the time. The tour includes an exclusive visit of the Museo Nacional de la Muerte (National Museum of Death.)
We will be back in Monterrey by November 4 after 5:00 p.m. Please consider this for your traveling arrangements. For more information, contact  info [at]
Cost: $600.00 USD - airfares not included, non-refundable down payment of $250.00 required by July 20 to reserve . Email info [at] for questions.
The $600 fee covers land transportation in a luxury bus, traveler insurance, lodging (double rooms at hotels), taxes, breakfasts, guided tours, tickets to all museums, special visits to some of the sites, and special treats.
Full list and more information on all events can be found here. More on the Morbid Anatomy Art Academy can be found here.

The image above was provided by Mike Sappol from his talk for the October 5th Wonder Cabinet and Medical History Festival at the New York Academy of Medicine; caption reads: “The purkinje vein figure,” Das Leben des Meschen 5 (1931), 61. Artist: Alwin Freund-Beliani. National Library of Medicine.

Photo found here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A la Ronde, Eccentric Ladies Home, Devon, 18th Century

Quirky 18th-century house with fascinating interior decoration and collections
This unique sixteen-sided house was described by Lucinda Lambton as having 'a magical strangeness that one might dream of only as a child'.

-- National Trust website
On a recent road trip through Devon and Cornwall, we decided to stop, on the suggestion of Evan Michelson, at the charming and eccentric National Trust property A la Ronde. This lovely and fantastical 18th-century sixteen-sided, twenty roomed house was the life's work of "the Misses Parimenter:" the adventurous and artistically inclined Jane Parminter and her her younger orphaned cousin (and ward) Mary. 

Upon returning from an all-ladies Grand Tour in the 1780s embarked upon with Jane's invalid sister (!) and a friend from London, the cousins commissioned this eccentric house--allegedly based on the Basilica of San Vitale at Ravenna, which they had seen on their travels--and began a life's work of crafting it into into the perfect home, an inhabitable objet d'art, via the painstaking and artistic application of feathers, shells, cut paper, stones, objects, artworks, artifacts, paint, curiosities and artfully arranged mementos. In the end, they created the ultimate setting to showcase the mementos and impressions collected on their Grand Tour.

The home is best known today for what is probably the cousin's great masterwork, an epic shell gallery or grotto said to contain nearly 25,000 shells. Sadly too fragile for visitors to traverse, it is, thankfully, fully explorable via video screens in the home (bottom image). Is is also, as the guidebook explains "regarded as the most accomplished of its kind to have survived in Britain, particularly on this scale [and utilizes] shells, feathers and cut paper... supplemented by lichen, glass, mica, pottery, stones, bones and paint..." ADDENDUM: You can click here to virtually explore the shell gallery on your own; well worth the click! (Thanks so much, Lisa Wood!)

Other highlights of the home include the library, containing the Misses Parimenter's intact "cabinet of curiosity" (top image) stuffed full of aesthetically arranged shells, watercolor paintings (2nd image down), and assorted mementos (3rd image down); The drawing room with its special friesework crafted by the cousins from the feathers from native game birds and chickens artfully arranged and stuck down with isinglass (swirly looking tiles on image 6th and 7th image)," ingeniously designed chimney-boards... comprising a watercolor of St. Michaels's Mount surrounded by its own seaside collection of shells" (7th image down) and cousin-crafted specimen tables inset with stones, cameos, and shells (second from bottom). Also lovely was the central octagonal room topped by tantalizing glimpses of the shell grotto, with its unusual wall design thought to be meant to evoke "a seaweed covered undersea cave lit by the shell grotto above"and hung with gilt-framed family portraits (8th image down).

If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend a visit; the place is truly an inspiration. suggesting the possibilities of beautiful living and a life dedicated to inhabitable aesthetics. It is also headily evokes the 18th century romance of the cabinet and the Grand Tour in an especially poignant and visceral way.

You can find out more about A la Ronde by clicking here; All photos are my own; click here to see more.