Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Lost Museum Symposium: Providence, Rhode Island, May 6-8, 2015

We are very excited to announce an upcoming conference taking place at Brown University and The Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island from May 6-8 on the topic of "Lost Museums."

Speakers will include Morbid Anatomy Museum creative director Joanna Ebenstein with "Notes on a Speculative Recreation of the Lost Cabinet of Dutch Anatomist, Moralist, Museologist and Artist Frederik Ruysch; UCL's Petra Lange-Berndt with "Pedagogy of the Ruin: Mark Dion’s Academy of Things, Dresden 2014; former Coney Island Museum director Aaron Beebe on "Enthusiasm, Wonder, and “Stuff” in the New Dime Museum;" and a keynote by Rosamund Purcell. 

Tickets, which appear to be free, can be found here. Details and full schedule follow; you can find out more here. Hope very much to see you there!
Held in conjunction with the year-long exhibition project on Brown’s lost Jenks Museum, the symposium addresses the history of museums from a new direction: not their founding, but their disappearance. We know a great deal about how museums are born and how new collections come into being, but not nearly enough about how these fragile institutions pass out of existence, how artifacts decay and disappear as times and interests change.

What happens to a collection when once-prized objects are no longer seem valuable? Or when ethical standards shift, as in the movement to repatriate cultural artifacts to the peoples or nations from which they were taken? How and why are specimens and artifacts deaccessioned or traded away? How do changing ideas about the evidentiary, educational, and research values of artifacts affect what seems worth saving? How do wars, natural disasters, and other cataclysmic events shape collections and impact institutions of heritage, preservation, memory, and knowledge production? What can we learn from museums that have been forgotten and then revived in a new cultural context? Is permanence a virtue, or might we embrace notions of ephemerality in museums?


TALK and RECEPTION @ Edna Lawrence Nature Lab
5:00 – 6:00 P.M. Andrew Yang | Gleaning New Meaning: Reintegrating Collections with the Expanding Ecology
6:00 – 7:00 P.M. Reception


LIGHT BREAKFAST Pastries and fruit provided
8:30 – 9:00 A.M. 
SESSION 1: COLLECTING THE EPHEMERAL @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
9:30 – 11:15 A.M.
  • Eric Crosby | Uncollectable: Walker Art Center Commissions
  • Hanna Holling | On the Relative Duration of the Impermanent and the Aesthetics of Change in Museums
  • Anthony Marcellini and Emily Zimmerman | The Museum of Obsolescence
  • Christine Delucia | Fugitive Collections in New England Indian Country: The Afterlives of an Early American Museum at Yale College
KEYNOTE @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
11:30 A.M. – 12:15 P.M.
  • Elizabeth Merritt 
LUNCH Lunch provided 
12:15 – 1:00 P.M.
SESSION 2: SOCIAL CHANGE and REVOLUTION @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
1:00 – 2:30 P.M.
  • Jenelle Davis | Filling the Void: Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art and the Struggle for Recovery in Post-Conflict Sarajevo
  • Eloisa Dodero | The Musaeum Kircherianum at the Roman College in Rome: A Lost Idea of a Museum
  • Petra Lange-Berndt | Pedagogy of the Ruin: Mark Dion’s Academy of Things, Dresden 2014
2:30 – 3:45 P.M. 
SESSION 3: AUTHENTICITY @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
3:45 – 5:30 P.M.
  • Crystal Ngo | Original Copy: Museums and the Economy of Authenticity
  • Ruth Horry | Henry Wellcome’s Lost statues of Babylonian Gods: Undisciplined Objects and Loss of Value in the Museum
  • Joanna Ebenstein | Notes on a Speculative Recreation of the Lost Cabinet of Dutch Anatomist, Moralist, Museologist and Artist Frederik Ruysch
  • Allison Loader | A Short Stop before the Exhibitionary Complex
PUB SESSIONS @ American Flatbread
6:30 – 8:00 P.M.
  • Aaron Beebe | Enthusiasm, Wonder, and “Stuff” in the New Dime Museum
  • Gigi Naglak and Hannah Sisk | Peale’s Museum: An Interactive Curatorial Experiment
  • Otis Nemo
  • Laurel Waycott | The New York Aquarium: A Case Study 


LIGHT BREAKFAST @ John Carter Brown Library Select pastries and; fruit provided
8:30 – 9:00 A.M. 
KEYNOTE @ John Carter Brown Library
9:00 – 10:00 A.M.
  • Rosamund Purcell
SESSION 4: PRIVATE/PUBLIC MUSEUMS @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
10:15 – 11:45 A.M.
  • Andrew McClellan | Death and the Museum: The Case of Edmond de Goncourt
  • Mary Terrall | Delusions of Permanence: The Life and Legacy of Réaumur’s Natural History Collections
  • Courtney Fullilove | The Hair of Distinguished Persons in the Patent Office Building Museum
LUNCH AND 2 SHOWS @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology Sandwiches provided
12:00 – 1:30 P.M.
  • Emily Avera and Bryan Markowitz | Reanimating Phenomenal Others: How to Bring Museum Artifacts Back to Life
  • Maia Wright and Kate Jarboe | The George W. Bush Library and Museum Museum
SESSION 5: LOST IN THE MUSEUM @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
1:30 – 3:00 P.M.
  • Mirjam Brusius and Kavita Singh | A Philosophy of Deep Storage
  • Sean Silver | The Kineton Valley Medal, Lost and Found
  • Amy Kohut | More than Birds: Collection Narratives and Cultural History at NMNH 
3:00 – 3:15 P.M. 
SESSION 6: USING COLLECTIONS @ Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology
3:15 – 5:00 P.M.
  • Ethan Lasser | The Case of the Walrus Tusk: Circulating Specimens and Harvard’s Lost Museum
  • Judy Gradwohl | Intentional Impermanence: Building a National Teaching Collection
  • Maria Zytark | “Overdue Notice: Please Bring Back the Mummy’s Hand”: America’s First Circulating Museum
  • Victoria Cain | The Weight of the Image: Lantern Slides, Education and the American Museum
CLOSING PERFORMANCE @ Edna Lawrence Nature Lab
6:30 – 7:30 P.M.
  • The Jenks Society
  • Hollis Mickey

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"George's Arms" : A Guest Post by Evan Michelson, Morbid Anatomy Scholar in Residence and Star of TV's Oddities

Following is a guest post by Evan Michelson, Morbid Anatomy Library scholar in residence and star of TV's Oddities. Here, she tells the fascinating story of "George's Arms" (seen above), her contribution to our current Collector's Cabinet exhibition, which closes March 29th.

You can see Evan speak in person about objects in her collection at our closing party on March 29th, on which more here; you can also purchase a full color, illustrated exhibition catalog with texts written by the collectors (only eight dollars!) here.
Antique and vintage prosthetics are uncanny, beautiful objects. They are almost always anonymous, whatever stories they have to tell being limited (at best) to a name inked or carved into the wood. This particular pair of prosthetic arms, however, comes not just with a name, but with an inspiring tale of survival, courage and human resilience. They belonged to Mr. George Hunlock of Danville, PA, a brakeman for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The railroad carried both freight (primarily coal) and passengers along a busy route from Pennsylvania to upstate New York. These arms date to the turn of the 20th century, but Mr. Hunlock’s horrific accident occurred a bit earlier, sometime in the 1880s. At that time, George Hunlock’s job as railroad brakeman was one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

In the early days of the railroad brakes had to be gradually, manually engaged on each individual car. This meant that the brakeman had to jump from car to car on the roof of a moving train (often braving the bitter cold and dangerous, icy conditions). On freight lines the brakeman usually rode in an open cabin on the outside of the car; sometimes he simply clung to a ladder, or even rode on the roof. In the summer the brakeman baked in the sun, in the winter he froze in snow and ice. When it rained, he was drenched. It was dirty, exhausting work. The brakes were engaged using heavy wheels or levers; it was a gradual process that involved repeated trips back-and-forth along the length of the train. It was not uncommon for brakemen to be mangled or killed on the job (one early report estimated that 10 brakemen died every day in the US in the performance of their duties). Brakemen were very poorly paid, and the job was often allotted to the illiterate and uneducated (presumably because such people were considered to be the most expendable). In the 19th century the railroad companies were shielded from lawsuits, and the costs associated with injury were often not compensated: even if a brakeman survived his accident, his family was still facing financial ruin.
There is no detailed record of the accident itself, but George Hunlock (like so many before him) apparently slipped underneath a moving railroad car, and his arms were crushed (or possibly severed altogether). Such an accident would be catastrophic today, but in the late 19th century survival itself would have seemed nearly miraculous. Antiseptics, anesthesia and the sterilization of instruments in surgical amputations were still relatively primitive procedures, and pain killers were opiate derivatives that eventually caused addiction. Mr. Hunlock undoubtedly benefitted, however, from advancements made during the recently-concluded American Civil War, which had brought about a revolution in the science of limb amputation.

It is extraordinary, then, that George Hunlock did not just survive his terrible ordeal - he thrived. He was given another job at the railroad, where he served as a watchman at crossings, using his wooden arms to wave a lantern to warn of oncoming trains. His arms (provided by J.Condell and Son) are heavy by today’s standards - stiff, wooden affairs - and the fingers (with the exception of a spring-loaded thumb) are not fully articulated. Despite this lack of prosthetic dexterity, George Hunlock mastered his new limbs: he could eat, light his pipe and (most incredibly) he developed handwriting that was “clear and distinct.” Contemporary newspaper reports say that he wrote “better with his wooden hand than most men can with their natural hands.”

George's prosthetic arms were found at a house sale many years ago, packed in a wooden box labeled “Dad’s Arms.” They were accompanied by newspaper articles detailing Mr. Hunlock’s bravery. Also in the box was all his correspondence with the limb manufacturers, and a stack of old ledgers (signed “George Hunlock”) from George’s second career as a tobacconist. The account books contain neat, precise handwriting that span several years. The dealer who bought the arms was told by a family member that the writing (incredibly enough) is George’s very own.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Help Artist Mark Fairnington Reveal the Horniman Museum’s Hidden World!

Our friend Jo Hatton--Natural History keeper at London's excellent Horniman Musuem--has just alerted me to a wonderful looking project they are attempting to fund via Kickstarter. Your support will also win you a number of lovely rewards including art prints and photo books. Following is a description of the project; for more information, visit the Horniman's Art Fund page, Twitter feed, or website. Please consider supporting this unique and worthwhile project!
We want to stage an exhibition of Mark Fairnington's paintings alongside their inspiration, our collection's hidden taxidermy treasures.
We need your help to fund Mark Fairnington’s autumn exhibition at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, where we will display his paintings alongside the specimens that inspired them. The objects will be presented as they are in storage, evoking the wonder Mark experienced when he found them for the first time. 
Mark Fairnington is a British painter whose work explores the lineage of animal and plant painting, and its relation to how humans understand the natural world. He has been exploring the natural history specimens at the Horniman over the past five years; looking into hidden spaces in our collection and painting the objects he has found. Like many museums, most of our collection is not on public display – thousands of objects are kept boxed and wrapped in storage. These storage depots are full of peculiar, breathtaking and surreal images: taxidermy specimens wrapped in transparent plastic sheets, skeletons perched in wooden boxes, a small pet dog lying in a nest of tissue paper. 
Please help us raise the money so that we can show you more of Mark’s stunning work and reveal the secrets of the Horniman store. In return for your donation, you will receive one of a number of wonderful rewards. These include limited-edition postcards, prints and bags, as well as a chance to meet Mark behind the scenes.

About the artist 

Mark Fairnington has shown extensively in museums and private galleries in the US and Europe. His practice is founded on painting as a primary method of research, and his pictures – which are drawn from many sources, particularly photography – combine obsessive surface detail with sensuous precision. They examine how painting, as a meticulously constructed surface, can interrogate and re-present an image. The subjects of Fairnington’s paintings are made more singular through being painted. He has worked with the Imperial War Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Horniman Museum and Gardens and the Wellcome Collection. Fairnington’s most recent solo exhibition Unnatural History was a retrospective at the Mannheimer Kunstverein and Galerie Peter Zimmermann in Germany. 

Image list
  1. Mark Fairnington. Monkey Face. 2012
  2. Mark Fairnington. Nest. 2012.
  3. Mark Fairnington. The Night Watch. 2007
  4. Mark Fairnington. Zebra. 2004 
  5. Horniman. e-flyer

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Phantasmagoria: An Ancestry Of Fear : Guest Post and New Film by Film Maker in Residence Ronni Thomas

Below, film maker in residence Ronni Thomas--director of The Midnight Archive--explains his attraction to 18th century phantasmagoria magic lantern shows, as explored in his first "Morbid Anatomy Presents" film, starring Mervyn Heard, author, of Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern. You can view the film above; Stay tuned for more episodes which will premiere monthly on our new You Tube channel, which can be found here! P.S.  Happy Birthday, Mervyn Heard!
I confess... In fact, I am proud to admit... When the lights go out, and my family are all safely tucked away to sleep, I scour the internet endlessly searching, in the dark, for... scary videos (what will the neighbors think?). In fact, ever since I was able to change the channel, I would click through ways to put myself through some sort of emotional torment. From 80s slasher flicks, to stories of demonic possession, to forcing myself to go into my basement with all the lights off to find the boogeyman  -I was obsessed with trying to amuse myself with fear as both the protagonist and antagonist. And apparently I was a member of a historical legacy of fear-seekers...
It may surprise you (though it doesn't surprise me), that our ancestors were as addicted to terrifying themselves as we are here in the "enlightened" age. In this film, Mervyn Heard, a historian of the 'Magic Lantern', tells us about the Phantasmagoria shows of the early 1800s. Our 200 year old ancestors would subject themselves to total darkness, floating skeletons and demons, drugs, electrical stimuli and many more sensory abuses, all for a cheap thrill. Preceding cinema by almost 100 years and serving as some of the earliest form of stage magic, the Phantasmagoria shows set out to not only bewilder audiences, but to terrify them, and in big style. Why do we consistently seek out ways to put ourselves through some sort of existential hell? Perhaps, the thrill of fear, is a necessary part of our emotional evolution... Or, perhaps we just like a good scare! The film is the first of the new Morbid Anatomy Museum Presents film series.