Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Winners of Death: A Graveside Companion Art and Death Book Giveaway!

Thanks to all who entered our recent giveaway of three signed copies of our new book Death: A Graveside Companion, our new, heavily illustrated magnum opus documenting the variety of ways humankind has come to terms with, imagined, visualized and pictured death.

In the spirit of the book, we asked Morbid Anatomy readers to share an image of their favorite artwork or artifact illustrating the intersections of death and beauty, and to tell us about the piece and why they chose it. 

It was very difficult to choose between all the wonderful and imaginative entries, but above are the three images we chose, submitted by--from top to bottom--Instagram user @dagger_of_the_mind, J. Moriarty and Lynn Duenow.

The first image is "Revelation: The Vision of Death," one of 241 illustrations created by Gustave Doré for a deluxe illustrated bible known as La Grande Bible de Tours in 1866. This image was chosen by @dagger_of_the_mind, who said of it "The Artist's command of contrast, the human form, and the inhuman realize the myths that comprise the human condition. And it's badass"

The second image--"Humana Fragilitas (Human Frailty)", painted by by Salvator Rosa in 1656, was sent in by J. Moriarty. Of the piece, the entrant commented "with its many symbols of human mortality scattered throughout, this painting deeply illuminates the fact that the strands of death are as naturally woven into the fabric of our days as are the threads of life. Death here is at once terrifying and beautiful, perfectly capturing the ambivalent relationship we humans with it have. A enchantingly poignant work by such a profoundly bereaved artist, it demonstrates that Death can be a catalyst for the beauteous as much as for the destructive."

The final image was sent in by Lynn Dueno. Lynn did not share any information about the provenance or creator of the piece but we were very much drawn by its folk/tribal aspect which evokes a Kachina Doll. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the crown is composed of illustrations of moulages, while other seemingly abstract patterns are comprised of golden insects and other macabre symbols. Click the image above to see for yourself!

Thanks so much to all who entered! And congratulations to the winners!

You can find out more about the book--and get a copy of your own--here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

RIP Mervyn Heard: Friend, Scholar, Showman

We are very sad to report the death of the wonderful Mervyn Heard. A rare pairing of scholar and showman, he was a genius of the magic lantern, ghost shows and phantasmagoria, and was a contributor to our recent book Death: A Graveside Companion.

He was also a friend and will be sorely missed.

This video by the über-talented Ronni Thomas captures he and his passion exceptionally well. RIP, Mervyn. You shall be missed and remembered.

Monday, November 13, 2017

GIVEAWAY: Win a Signed Copy of our New Book Death: A Graveside Companion

We are delighted to announce a give away of three signed copies of our new book Death: A Graveside Companion, a nearly 400 page compendium of 1,000 images and 19 essays exploring a variety of ways in which humankind has come to terms with, imagined, visualized and pictured death.

In the spirit of the book, we are asking Morbid Anatomy readers to share an image of their favorite artwork or artifact that illustrates the intersections of death and beauty, and to tell us--in no more than 3 sentences--about the piece and why they chose it. 

Entries must be received by midnight on Sunday, November 19th; the three winners will be picked and announced here soon after. PLEASE NOTE: Due to shipping costs, contest only eligible to those in the USA.

There are three ways to enter this contest.
  1. Share in the comment section of this Facebook post
  2. Post on Instagram with the hashtag #deathbookgiveaway
  3. Send it via email to morbidanatomylibrary [at] gmail [dot] com.
Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Images: From FrizziFrizzi review of the book to be found here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Happy Birthday to "Death: A Graveside Companion:" New Book on Art and Death by our Founder Joanna Ebenstein

We would like to wish a festive happy birthday to Death: A Graveside Companion--the new book by our founder Joanna Ebenstein--whose official US release date is today!

You can order a copy of this epic book which explores, via over 1,000 images and 19 essays, humankind's attempts attempts – mythological, scientific and popular – to imagine, respond to, or find meaning in the mystery of death here.

Image from the book: Ivory Memento Mori by an unknown maker from c. 1640. In the 16th century, the memento mori--or objects created to urge the viewer to contemplate their mortality--moved from the church or the cemetery to the home, with the creation of artworks and objets d’art such as this one. It shows a skeleton standing among symbols of earthly glory, highlighting the futility of vanity and worldly pleasures.

More on the book follows. Hope you enjoy!

Death: A Graveside Companion
Edited by Joanna Ebenstein, Foreword by Will Self
Featuring the Richard Harris Art Collection
Thames and Hudson, October 24, 2017
368 pages, 1,000 illustrations in color and black and white
Available here

A one-of-a-kind art history, Death: A Graveside Companion is a captivating treasury of images that serves as a testament to humanity’s quests—metaphysical, mythological, scientific, and popular—to imagine, respond to, and come to terms with our own inescapable end.

From the hour of death to the afterlife, seven themed chapters exhibit a staggering range of artworks, artifacts, trophies, and keepsakes from around the world and throughout the ages, counterbalanced by nineteen insightful essays, accessible yet scholarly, from contributors across a broad arc of disciplines and perspectives.

In catacombs, crypts, and bone-pits, readers will find reliquaries, embalmings, and mummies; see somber rites and customs morph into the celebrations of Halloween and Day of the Dead; and behold the great artistic traditions—Memento Mori, Vanitas, Danse Macabre—juxtaposed with vernacular tokens, found photography, and curios from bygone rituals in exotic lands. The majority of the images—which range from fine art to scientific illustration to pop culture ephemera—are drawn from the largely unseen collection of Richard Harris, who has amassed over 3,000 objects related to death.

“Today, it is deemed morbid to view images related to death or contemplate death,” says Joanna Ebenstein, founder of Morbid Anatomy, who edited DEATH: A Graveside Companion. “The abundance of images in this book proves that this attitude is by far the exception rather than the rule. This book, I hope, will help provide a balance in our one-sided view of death, in which we tend to avoid it or consider it impolite to speak about despite the fact that it will inevitably happen to each of us, and will restore these forgotten and reviled images to a place of dignity and appreciation as important artifacts of humankind’s attempts to make sense of its most profound mystery.”

Rich in never-before-published material, Death: A Graveside Companionis a book like no other, brimming with morbid inspiration and macabre insights to take to the grave.

Essays (In order of appearance):
  • Medusa and the Power of the Severed Head - Laetitia Barbier, Morbid Anatomy Library
  • Poe and the Pathological Sublime - Mark Dery, Cultural Critic
  • The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death - Bruce Goldfarb, Medical Examiner's Office, Baltimore
  • Art, Science and the Changing Conventions of Anatomical Representation - Michael Sappol, former historian at National Library of Medicine
  • Anatomy Embellished in the cabinet of Frederik Ruysch - Bert van de Roemer, Historian
  • Anatomical Expressionism - Eleanor Crook, Anatomical Artist
  • Playing with Dead Faces - John Troyer, Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath
  • The Power of Hair as Human Relic in Mourning Jewelry - Karen Bachmann, Master Jeweler and Art Historian
  • The Anatomy of Holy Transformation -  Liselotte Hermes da Fonseca, Art Historian
  • The Dance of Death - Kevin Pyle, Artist
  • Eros and Thanatos - Lisa Downing, University of Birmingham
  • Collecting Death - Evan Michelson, Morbid Anatomy Library Scholar in Residence
  • Death in Ancient and Present-Day Mexico - Eva Aridjis, Filmmaker
  • Playing dead – A Gruesome  Form of Amusement - Mervyn Heard, Magic Lantern Scholar and Performer
  • Theatre, Death and the Grand Guignol - Mel Gordon, author of Grand Guiginol and Voluptuous Panic
  • Death-Themed Amusements - Joanna Ebenstein, founder of Morbid Anatomy
  • Art and Afterlife: Ethel le Rossignol and Georgiana Houghton - Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press
  • Holy Spiritualism - Elizabeth Harper, Independent scholar
  • Spiritualism and Photography - Shannon Taggart, photographer and independent scholar

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NEW BOOK: SÉANCE: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm: All Souls Day Guest Post by Shannon Taggart

To celebrate All Souls Day today, I asked former Morbid Anatomy Museum artist and scholar in residence Shannon Taggart to write a guest post about her long term project documenting spiritualism, a religion in which devotees attempt to communicate with the souls of the dead.

Shannon is working on a book showcasing this body of work now; titled SÉANCE: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm, it will feature her own photographs along with many incredible antique spiritualist photographs. The foreword will be written by actor Dan Aykroyd (creator of the movie Ghostbusters and fourth-generation Spiritualist) and it will contain essays by artist Tony Oursler (author of the incredible Imponderable), writer Constance DeJong and cultural critic Erik Davis.

To find out more (and pre-order a copy of your own), click here. Shannon also wrote a chapter about spiritualism and photography for our new book Death: A Graveside Companion. More on that can be found here.
Spiritualism is an American-born religion that believes we can communicate with spirits of the dead. In 2001, I began photographing Lily Dale, New York, the town which is home to the world's largest Spiritualist community. The residents of Lily Dale soon introduced me to ‘spirit photography’, a practice excluded from the photography text books I studied from. I was shocked to learn of this hidden history. These absurd, outrageous and oddly tender photographs blew me away. I became particularly fascinated with the images of female mediums excreting phantom forms—phenomena known as ‘ectoplasm.’ These were the most uniquely unsettling images I had ever encountered, and I desperately wanted to de-code their meaning. I wanted to understand what ectoplasm was.

Ectoplasm–Spiritualism’s iconic symbol–visually signifies the belief that life and death remain connected. For Spiritualists, ectoplasm is a paradoxical substance that is both spiritual and material. It is described as a fluid that emanates from the medium’s body, comes to life, and then morphs into shape. The word is taken from the Greek words ektos and plasma, meaning ‘outside formed’. The French physiologist and Nobel Laureate Charles Richet, who coined the term in 1894, observed it as ‘a whitish steam, perhaps luminous, taking the shape of gauze or muslin, in which there develops a hand or an arm that gradually gains consistency. This ectoplasm makes personal movements. It creeps, rises from the ground and puts forth tentacles like an amoeba.’ Spiritualists say ectoplasm is soft, soggy, and light sensitive, much like the activated surfaces of photographic materials.

Spiritualism and photography developed at a time In the 19th century when scientific advancements were exposing a variety of forces operating beyond human perception. Disease causing bacteria could be photographed through microscopes; the vastness of the universe was glimpsed through astrophotography; electricity was made visible when placed in contact with photographic materials; X-rays revealed the body’s interior. What else, people wondered, could photography uncover? Spiritualism and photography were brought together in an attempt to create scientific proof of the spiritual dimension, an endeavour that ultimately revealed the complicated relationship that both Spiritualism and photography had with truth.

Spiritualism became the first religion to create an original iconography through the medium of photography. Since the dissemination of early spirit photographs, ectoplasm has taken a place in culture’s visual vocabulary. Like many, I first heard the term ectoplasm via the movie Ghostbusters, co-written by Dan Aykroyd—a fourth-generation Spiritualist. In the fine art world, ectoplasm appears within the work of artists Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler and Zoe Beloff. A painting by the visionary artist Paul Lafolley refers to ectoplasm’s metaphysical meaning, stating— ‘ectoplasm unites life with death.’

Today, a small number of Spiritualist mediums (mostly male, from Europe and the United Kingdom) continue to present ectoplasm. The experience of witnessing these séances is like watching the Victorian spirit photographs jump to life before your eyes. The German medium Kai Muegge even blogs the photographic documentation of his ectoplasmic manifestations alongside the vintage images that resemble his acts.
The forthcoming book, SÉANCE: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm, will present my 16 year-long project on contemporary Spiritualism. Part documentary, part ghost story, SÉANCE will present hundreds of original photographs taken in séance rooms around the world, as well as historical imagery related to attempts to capture spirits on film. Spiritualism's photographic past contains some of the most bizarre, absurd and uniquely unsettling images in the history of photography. SÉANCE is a next chapter.
Images, top to bottom:
  1. Barbara McKenzie, Stanley de Brath, Miss Scatcherd and the spirit extra of Gustave Geley, William Hope, 1924. Barlow collection, British Library, London.
  2. Unidentified sitter, Ada Deane, c. 1922. Barlow collection, British Library, London.
  3. Unidentified sitters (2 women), Ada Deane, c. 1922. Barlow collection, British Library, London.
  4. The spirit guides ‘Stella’ and ‘Bessie’with Mrs. Barlow, Fred Barlow, Violet and Ada Deane, (by) Ada Deane, 1920. Barlow collection, British Library, London.
  5. Kate Goligher with ectoplasm and speaking trumpet, W.J. Crawford, 1920.  Cambridge University Library, Society for Psychical Research.
  6. The medium Eva C. with materialization of a women’s face, Albert Von Schrenck-Notzing, 1911, Institute für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, Freiburg im Breisgau. (left) Medium Kai Muegge with ectoplasm (materialization of a man’s face), Cassadaga, NY, Shannon Taggart, 2013. (right)
  7. A student medium enters a trance, Montcabirol Center for Physical Mediumship, Mirepoix, France, Shannon Taggart, 2014.
  8. Medium Kevin Lawrenson in trance, Montcabirol Center for Physical Mediumship, Mirepoix, France, Shannon Taggart, 2014.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Happy All Saints Day with a the Corpus Sanctus of Saint Victoria, Rome

In commemoration of All Saints Day, we share with you one of our all-time favorite pieces of Catholica related to the cult of the saints. Called a Corpus Sanctus, it is a life-sized effigy of Saint Vittoria (or Victoria ) crafted of wax with human hair and a wreath of flowers. It contains relics related to the saint in the form of her teeth and finger bones. Relics like these are believed to have miraculous powers, usually related to healing.

This piece can be seen today in Rome's Santa Maria della Vittoria, directly across from that Bernini's masterwork The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa.

Photos by our founder Joanna Ebenstein.