I am pleased to be able to announce the launch of the Facebook page for an upcoming journal, “Beyond Borderlands: A Critical Journal of the Weird, Paranormal and Occult”. I’ll be editing it along with a talented group of individuals and we hope to be open to submissions around April.
The link to the page is here:
The shocking, yet playful take on the theme of memento mori in Laurie Lipton’s work is unmistakable. There are no lack of skeletons in Lipton’s closets, dance halls, funerals, school photos, subways and doll houses, and indeed, every other place common in life.
In stark black and white tones we see a group of officials standing around ruins, looking quite satisfied with themselves in “Collateral Damage”, reminding us that there is more than one kind of death in life.
The only living people in her pictures that I’ve seen so far, aside from the officials, tend to be old women, missing teeth and exuberant, people looking death in the face, or the recently deceased. In this way she plays games with life, and while the macabre element is undeniable, I feel a great yearning for life in these works.
For More Information:
To counteract the rampant progress in my previous post, I felt that a contrary internet find was in order. I stumbled upon this adorable monstrosity when look for images by the Spanish artist Salvador Dali.
The beast was unveiled on the nineteenth of September 2008 in Cambridge by Stephen Hawking.
It was created by the inventor John C. Taylor. With two hundred craftspeople and one million pounds of funding, he took five years to construct the Corpus Clock, which features a large gold-plated stainless steel face that was shaped from a single piece of metal using highly accurate underwater explosions in a “secret military research institute in Holland”.
The inscription beneath the clock reads mundus transit et concupiscentia eius “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”, and above it all is the Chronophage, a demonic grasshopper who eats time minute by minute. The creature serves a double purpose, being a highly decorated “grasshopper escarpment” that helps to regulate the machine, and, on the other hand, it is a jaw-snapping, time-eating symbol of the regular yet random, arbitrary, and ultimately finite nature of life itself.
Yet interestingly enough, the clock’s construction was partly inspired by the work of the English clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776). Harrison developed the first clocks accurate enough to measure time at sea, and thus to determine longitude, perhaps an uninteresting point until one considers the number of ships lost at sea because of navigational errors. Harrison’s story was made into a book and movie some years ago, but what is just as interesting is the story of what happened to some of the first clocks he made to demonstrate his skill. One of them (K2) was on the ill fated HMS Bounty, whose famous mutiny on April 28th 1789 caused such a stir in the British Empire. The clock ended up on the isolated Pitcairn Islands where the mutineers settled (after a brief stop in the Philippines to pick up wives). K2 was only recovered generations later when a passing sea captain traded some practical goods for the then redundant clock.
More than anything, it seems to me, this fascinating, and macabre tale is the best thread connecting Harrison’s clocks to its most recent, and monstrous child.
The cultural currency held by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft can be seen no more clearly than in the industries that have been built around parodying them. Cthulhu for President? Christmas Cthulhu? The plush Cthulhu I gave to the son of a professor friend of mine? There seems to be no end to it. Yet as banal as it sounds, these running gags of ours may tell us more about ourselves than we have ever imagined.
For your own Cthulhu:
The alien worlds and demonic vistas of Wayne Barlowe were another serendipitous internet find of mine in recent months. Barlowe’s dedication to depicting bizarre lifeforms and nightmares spans an impressive career path from the demonology of the Grimoire of Honorius, to Babylon 5, Hellboy, Harry Potter, Avatar and the Discovery Channel.
Despite the surreal quality to much of his work, there is also the delightful element of realism that seems to originate, at least in part, in the artistic inspiration provided to him by his parents, both of whom were artists interested in the forms and figures of natural history. For instance, “Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials” reads much like a field guide for naturalists, and his “Expedition: Being an Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV” is an aesthetic tour de force uniting a conservationist theme with studies of fantastical ecologies and creature. In doing so, it nevertheless manages to treat its subject with an exacting, evolutionary care and attention to detail.
When not looking through the kaleidoscope that takes the place of the naturalist’s binoculars, Barlowe’s demonic imagery strikes me as having much in common with the Russian artist Serge Sunne, particularly in the disturbing play on questions of identity that are manifested therein. Faces are everywhere, it seems, except where they should be, and when they do acquiesce to something like the human form, there always seems to be something so off kilter as to make them even stranger than the others.
Here is the first installment of my second “mural” piece. The actual story features footnotes and a brief introduction by the translator. I’ve been told that this was necessary otherwise the audience would have no idea what I was talking about. This assessment maybe fair, but there is something about inviting your readers to look things up that I think has been generally under-appreciated in contemporary writing, particularly since the advent of the internet has made this so easy. For the audio version I decided to skip these asides since it would be too jarring on the continuity of the piece, and I hope the atmosphere nevertheless shines through.
The epic of Albert Einstein’s brain is a macabre and yet captivating tribute to the cultural impact of “the father of modern physics”.
The story began in 1955, seven hours after Einstein’s death. The attending pathologist who was scheduled to perform the autopsy, Thomas Stoltz Harvey, looking over the body of the embodiment of genius in the 20th century, decided, it is said, that it would be a greater gift to posterity if he took the brain without the family’s permission. While he was at it, he also gave Einstein’s eyes to the physicists optometrist.
Certain that the brain would provide endless opportunities for scientists to look into the stuff of brilliance, Harvey eventually lost almost everything in his efforts to keep it in his possession: his job, his marriage, his house. Striped of these potentially stabilizing factors, he began traveling around America with the brain in the back of his car trying to find people who would appreciate his “gift to science”.
This fact was not widely known until 1978 when a journalist “broke” the story and interviewed the now aged pathologist.
Today a part of Einstein’s brain is in Ontario, most of it was returned to Princeton, but Harvey sent samples to over a dozen different specialists during the time when he was its keeper.
While we don’t often admit it to ourselves, the contemporary fetishization of knowledge has allowed the organ of the intellect to take on an uncanny quality, at once grotesque, and yet captivating. The greater we value the intellect of the person, an associate that intangible quality with the meaty substance of the brain, the grater power the messy physicality of their brain takes on in our imagination. Harvey’s seemingly irrational actions can be seen in this light to be an extreme manifestation of the cult of scientific genius that evolved around Einstein and his accomplishments, and can not be separated from the same impulse that has motivated generations of Catholics to preserve the relics of their own saints.
Not seen in these saintly terms, Harvey died in 2007, and his brain, to the best of my knowledge, was laid to rest with him.
For More Information:
Paterniti, Michael. 2001. Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein’s Brain. Dial Press Trade Paperback.
Carolyn Abraham, Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain.
(For another scientific relic, see Galileo’s finger: http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo/finger.html)
I know very little about the artist Serge Sunne. He is Latvian, but I don’t think he’s gained a wide enough circulation yet to attract the kind of theorizing and speculation given to more popular artists.
Since discovering his works I have quickly become enamored with their strange depictions and surreal sense of the uncanny. Sunne seems to enjoy playing with concepts of identity, otherness, and time in his works in ways that I have not seen before.
“Another Holy Mother”, the title of the above picture combines an unsettling union of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus with an entirely unworldly subject whose motherly embrace is a nightmare of its entangled, strangely disproportionate limbs. The contrast is made even more complete by the addition of the halos around the two figures, whose pale, almost feeble light contrast so sharply with the darkness of their bodies.
Then there is the question raised by many of his pieces: When will the future get old? One example can be seen in the derelict ghost spaceship at the bottom of this post. Few artists I know have really focused on a little explored theme in science fiction: when the new gets old, then ancient, the half-forgotten. Sunne’s “Abandoned Space Port” is another example of this lovely juxtaposition of an almost unfathomable futurity clashing with some sense of deep time.
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