Saturday, 22 April 2017

S = Slice

If you've been with me this far on my A to Z April adventure, you probably have the impression that I'm a fangirl for body horror and slasher pics.  I'm not. 
Mind you, I will readily admit that I have at times been possessed by the need to binge-watch Dexter with his strictly stoical attitude to dismembering humans and his boat with the snigger-worthy name "Slice of Life".
I recently saw Michael C Hall play the lead in David Bowie's last work Lazarus and have to admit it was a weensy bit like watching Dexter in a musical. Disturbing on so many levels. More on that tomorrow. 
Today is dedicated to the letter S.

Most of the cases in the Medicine Man Gallery — the one where lots of Sir Henry's quirky bits are permanently visible — most of the cases are lined with red. In none is the colour more ghoulishly complimentary than the selection of shiny blades. 
Surgical instruments. 

A glinting collection of cutlery specifically designed for slicing through human flesh ...or hacksawing through bone... in the removal of limbs and digits, it makes my mouth go a little bit dry.

 At certain blood-drenched moments in time, surgeons of varying skill and degree of sympathy for life, must have thought, 
" Hmmm, what I need here is a more efficient slicing device. This one is not pointy / long/ bendy/ thin/ sharp/ strong / scary enough for my purposes.
That bread knife in the scullery might do a better or job. 
Or perhaps a cross between that and the scythe that those chaps who harvest the corn use.
I think I shall pop down to the blacksmith and have him knock- up something more efficient, something specifically suited to my purposes. I'll have my friend Leo whip up a few rough sketches of what I have in mind to take with me."

And I'm almost certain there must be bad puns out there about orthopaedic surgeons not having a funny bone in their body.

I can't begin to imagine what sort of supremely sharp circular saw was needed to create these wafer thin slices of plastinated human being. 
But they're oddly beautiful and fascinating.
They just may be the ultimate example of slice of life.
And Dexter would love them.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

Friday, 21 April 2017

R = Reading room

The first time I wandered into the Reading Room at Wellcome, I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory.

Part art gallery, part library, part museum, part lounge room, part classroom: it's a cornucopia for the eyes and mind, an embodiment of the collection's catchphrase: the free destination for the incurably curious. You can take part in a pop-up event to learn more about the world, touch stuff, play games, write or draw your response to Wellcome and pin it up, interact with things and ideas; way more than reading goes on in there.

And if you DO want to read, you can go the conventional path and pull up a chair at a desk, or take up the invitation to plop on a huge cushion, lounge on a sofa, or even recline on a chaise. 
Reading Room Companion
Written and edited by Anna Faherty
I can easily lose an hour buried in the Reading Room Companion, 232 pages of fun facts and bewildering background about the plethora of paintings, sculptures, artefacts and manuscripts housed in the space.

I swear, nobody is paying me to say all this. 
Cross my heart.
I could seriously move into this place.

I'm going to enthuse about just one more thing before I leave you in peace: the mind-blowing bright red object in this photograph.

Fashioned of fake fur, it's called Closing Neural Tube Dress and it's a replica of one from a set of 27 dresses created as a collaboration between artist Helen Storey and her sister Kate, a developmental biologist. 

Each of the dresses represents a stage in the development of a life from the point of fertilisation to recognisably human form 1000 hours later. 

Science and art.
Art and life.
Life and death.
It's all in the Reading Room.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Q = Quite quirky and queer

Well, I guess I could save us all a bit of time and simply say that for evidence of queer and quirky things in the wonderful world of the Wellcome Collection, please refer to my posts for letters A through to P (with the possible exceptions of O and N). 
But there are far too many candidates for queer crying out for inclusion, too many examples of quirky tapping on my funny ha-ha and funny peculiar bones for me not to present just a small selection for your edification.

Starting with the what-the-? portrait of Sir Henry Wellcome as an insect.

Perhaps the fab hairy-caterpillar moustache inspired this. Or maybe Sir H was a bit of a pest.

Hundreds of thousands of these Pipes of Peace were sold in the early 1900s to people who suffered from asthma and bronchitis. Users inhaled a combination of water and the inventor  Hiram Maxim's own magical concoction, which he called Dirigo (pine, menthol and mint oils).

I took the long photo from behind the exhibit and the item is displayed at the top of a bookcase, hence all the ceiling lights in the pic... but you can still see 
how schmancy (and $£$£$£) some of the peace pipes were. Ironically, amongst Hiram's other hugely successful inventions is the first fully-automatic machine gun. 

A cord soaked in viper's blood was once worn as a necklace to provide protection from mumps. Ewwww... This one was purchased c.1800 from an apothecary in Venice by young Erik Piper on The Grand Tour — AKA The Georgian Gap Year.
I like to think Ez took it home as a gag gift for his dad. Cheeky funster.

Cited as Mr J Kay in the year 1820 and rendered in oil, this fellow is reputed to be suffering from 'a rodent disease'... possibly acquired during his Georgian Gap Year.

Cow pox is a disease transmitted by rats, but La grande verole — the great pox — was the preferred name for syphilis in polite society. 
And young Mr Kay's gnawed-looking nose, when coupled with his vampire-like incisors, suggests that he was afflicted with la grande verole (albeit of the congenital variety).
Mr J Kay... pffftsure
That's not his real name.
I reckon it's Mr JK — Just Kidding. 
Who'd sit for this portrait? 
Another slightly queer quirky thing about JK is that as I moved about in the gallery, attempting to minimise the reflection on the glass that protects the painting so I could take this shot, his eyes were definitely following me in that Disney-haunted-house kind of way. I think he may have known that my pet name for him is Rat Face. It could have been worse. I could have dubbed him Pox Head, but I'm too mature for that.

Amulet made from alabaster with bronze wings,
Pompeii, 100 BC - AD 100

Finally, because of the popularity of the running dick featured in letter K, and in no way because of my level of maturity, I bring you the flying dick.

Officially, it's Fascinus. 
An ancient god.
The divine phallus.
Protector against all evil.

I think several squillion women (and a few men) through history may beg to differ.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

P = Playing with perspective and perception

To state the bleedin' obvious, pretty much everything is a matter of perspective. 
Point of view.
How we perceive the world. 

Technically, perspective is the way we view the world through our experiences and beliefs. While perception is how we interpret the world through our senses.

The guy in the image, who looks frighteningly as if he has a sword plunged into his left eyeball is actually using some sort of 17th century way of measuring a copse. It's about focus on the copse (trees), not the corpse (dude with skewered eyeball). Perception.

But then, of course, if we're talking about representing the world in art, perspective can mean something altogether different. Then it's about angle, the literal point from which you see and the way things appear to us up close or far away, or from a different angle.

Engraving by T Cook in the style of W Hogarth.  Credit Wellcome Library, London.
The original engraving served as the frontispiece to Dr Brook Taylor's Method of Perspective Made Easy", 1754 
I absolutely love the image above. Look closely and you will see it's filled with crazy wrong things that happen when an artist's sense of  perspective is out of whack. It's like a Georgian version of Spot What. 
Can you find the:
  • dog improbably about to be hooked on fishing line
  • trees obscuring sign which is actually in front of them
  • man impossibly lighting traveller's pipe 
  • suicidal cow
  • problem with the engineering of the bridge.

Artists present unique perspectives of the world that can change the way we perceive it.
These fascinating gorgeous objects were specifically created to challenge our views of global health crises.

Fragile, glossy and to be absolutely honest, if they weren't carefully protected in glass cases I'm sure they'd be regularly touched ... because they are oh-so tactile, these are part of a series of amazing sculptures called Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram.  

Magnified to almost a million times their size, and rendered transparent, he gives us a look at swine flu, HIV, malaria, small pox and E-coli.

And I have had lots of fun photographing them from different angles and editing various shots in multiple ways. But I won't bore you with those.

I'm including this handsome wood engraving of an architect's perspective view and floor plan from 1852 for no other reason than the name of the building it represents.

This is the Asylum for Worthy and Decayed Freemasons. 
Not bothered by perceptions of political correctness back then, eh!

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

O = Obsession, opportunity, opposites and a dash of Oscar

In 1901, Henry Soloman Wellcome married Gwendoline Syrie Barnardo, daughter of the devout philanthropist couple Thomas and Elaine Barnardo, famed for their charities supporting vulnerable children (and still in existence today).

The entanglement began in Khartoum when Henry was occupied with organising the establishment of the Tropical Research Foundation. Miss Barnardo had taken a cruise on the Nile (as one did back then, because of course Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was part of the British Empire). 

Quite sensibly, the young lady preferred to be called by her middle name, Syrie, which had been her independently wealthy mother's nickname. Her own nickname was Queenie: Syrie harboured a passion for fashion and luxury— a tad problematic in her rigid religious family.

I say, 'quite sensibly...preferred Syrie' because as any lover of Oscar Wilde will be aware, The Importance of Being Earnest began amusing audiences in 1895. The name Gwendoline would surely have put people in mind of the feckless Miss Fairfax, and expected her to say things like: 'I never change except in my affections', and 'I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment's solitude.'  

Queenie, it seems, was a bold 'New Woman' of the turn of the century for it was she who pursued Henry, a known acquaintance of her father. Yes, rumour has it she took that cruise because she knew it was destined to be her Love Boat. Syrie intended to marry a wealthy man and escape to luxury. 

Syrie was twenty-one. 
Henry, a name which surely inspires every bit as much confidence as Ernest, was 26 years her senior.
And had a pretty damned impressive ~tache.

Two years later, despite the constant travel in search of ever more objects for Henry the obsessive collector of objects to own, their son Henry Mounteney Wellcome — Monty —was born.
Who had a pretty damned sweet set of cheeks.

Words such as cold, humourless and uncompromising are used to describe Henry. Not one to share his feelings or thoughts, he lived by his maxim: Never tell anyone what you propose to do until you have done it.

Syrie, on the other hand, is described as artistic, vivacious and social.
This photographer captured the relationship
Reports of the marriage as happy were extremely over-rated.
Henry insisted that his wife accompany him on his almost constant travels. Syrie suffered from extreme motion sickness.
Syrie shone at glamorous parties. Henry favoured formal business dinners where he was the focus.
Henry began to travel alone, taking the metaphorical cheque book and credit card with him.

Syrie said: '...the great part of our time has been spent in places I detested...sacrificing myself in a way I hated, both to please him and to gather curios.'

Objects. Obsession.

And so, after nine not-so-happy years, Syrie left.
Henry never spoke to her again.

Overbearing. Overshadowed. Overwhelm.

There are a couple of interesting post scripts to this sad-tale-dominated-by-concepts-beginning-with-the-letter-O.

Firstly, Syrie went on to spend the rest of her life with sensitive arty types. She married again and became Mrs Somerset Maugham. She also built an exceptional business of her own as an influential interior designer. Her statement look: the sparse all-white room. Of course it was. 
Secondly, and purely speculatively, the mystery of the band of green gems in the elderly Sir Henry's pocket at his death is solved to my satisfaction.

Emeralds were Syrie's favourite.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Monday, 17 April 2017

N = Nature now

One of the temporary exhibitions at Wellcome is about to change. The objects I've been featuring in my posts are mostly from the permanent exhibitions (I'm allowed to photograph those) but there are other displays that change regularly. 

Making Nature has been concerned with, among other things, the connections between human attitudes to the natural world and the way in which museums, zoos and circuses have exhibited nature for the past 150 years. It's challenging and often confronting stuff. 

I was particularly disturbed, for example, by a small tatty looking preserved platypus, its bill inexpertly removed. Apparently, the first British scientist to attempt to classify the unique creature back in the late 1700s thought his peers were having at laugh with him and had stitched together random bits of various critters. So he ripped its bill off trying to prove his theory.

Horrific though that is, his confusion about such an odd creature is understandable. The wonderful Robin Williams used to say that the platypus must have been designed by committee. Either that, or it is proof that God has a sense of humour: "OK let's take a beaver and put on a duck's bill. It's a mammal, but it lays eggs. Hey Darwin, kiss my ass!' 

But anyway, Wellcome has a new exhibition in the planning stage. They're calling it A Museum of Modern Nature and the exhibits will be objects, stories and ideas provided by members of the public. Great idea, huh!? So I went along to one of the early drop-in sessions when ordinary bods like me can have a chat with official museum types about our relationship with nature today.

Of course, I came away thinking about what I own that might fit the bill. And although I brought very few possessions with me from the Rock, there is something.

When I was very young, I would play bingo with my grandparents, Housie Lotto they called it. The tokens we used to cover each number as it was called were small round shells. One side, flat and smooth, featured a tiny spiral I loved to trace with my finger.The other was nobbly and unattractive. 

Our beach on The Rock
Nan kept them in a jar in the kitchen.

She told me my mother and aunt had collected these treasures on their beach holidays, many of which had been spent on The Rock. So, on family trips to those same beaches, I too would search along shorelines for these little discs. I learned they were not really shells at all, but something more like a lid that sealed sea snails into their homes. I called them trapdoor shells.

Actual sign from walkway to our beach.

I told my own children this story one day not so many years ago while we were wandering along what we call 'our beach' on the Rock, the beach where we have built our retirement home, the same beach where my mother and aunt played. I was holding some trapdoors in my hand, mindlessly running my finger in circles over their flat surface as I spoke. 

But I threw little discs back into the salty surf as we left. 
'Our beach' is now protected parkland the removal of anything natural is strictly prohibited. (I've written about that before.)

The following Christmas, however, I unwrapped the jewellery pictured. My children had found each piece at a different store, so the salty origins of these specific shells that are not shells is unknown, but the kids knew their gift would make me happy.

They knew that wearing those little spirals would remind me of what I love, that wearing and touching these little beauties would connect me to family and home.

What would you exhibit at Wellcome to illustrate what nature means to you?

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.