viernes, 27 de agosto de 2010

Halloween dreams...

Things start to go a bit nuts around here this time of year in preparation for my favourite day of the year... Halloween, I am attempting the ultimate bad-ass female villain; Mystique from the X-men comics.

Mystique is a shape-shifting super-villain with blue skin, red hair and yellow eyes. Her character is over 100 years old. 
 Mystique has a number of different looks ranging from fully dressed with light blue skin, to a fully scaled alien-looking naked mutant. 

I am going to be attempting her look from the X-men movie, where she is portrayed by Rebbecca Romijin. In 2009, Mystique was ranked as IGN's 18th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time.

This costume is going to be quite the under-taking involving copious amounts of body paint and  hairspray among other things, so I am getting started early.

I am still undecided on what material I am going to use for her's a toss up between liquid silicone, latex or fabric paint...or something else. If you have suggestions I'd like to hear them!

I'll keep you posted and be sure to reveal my results when the time comes, wish me luck!! ^_^

jueves, 26 de agosto de 2010

The Ringling Brothers Funundrum= Saddest show on Earth

As you may have gathered, I am crazy about circus and sideshow acts, therefore when I heard The Ringling Brothers Funundrum touring show was coming to town (or at least just outside the city limits), I rushed to purchase some tickets.

Thankfully I did a little research first and what I found is not looking good for the Funundrum. This show will no longer tour through my city because we are on the list of cities who have banned circuses featuring animal acts.

They have an extensive elephant act during which the animals sit upright, stand on their hind legs, and even stand on their heads. For me, this in and of itself is upsetting enough; I have no interest in seeing one of the most majestic, dignified and intelligent of wild animals forced to perform in captivity for human enjoyment. They also use tigers and zebras in the show.

I remember going to a circus as a child once, and enjoying the whole thing immensely...until the elephants came on. I was close enough to get a good view, and remember seeing so many whip marks on the skin of the elephant. In reality- the elephant skin is tough like a horse and they probably didn't feel any of those marks more than a tap- but looking into it's eye, it just looked beaten down and confused at why it was being asked to perform these illogical tasks.

After reading up on this issues from a number of sources, I've found that the Ringing Brothers are being investigated and on trial for animal abuse, specifically of their elephants.

The tools and methods used during trainings are coming into question, as well as the conditions in the boxcars, ventilation feeding and lack of adequate veterinarian attention are all on the table.

Do yourself a favour and don't youtube Ringling Brother's elephant training methods, lets just say my dreams about the state of this particular modern circus have been crushed forever.

A number of former Ringling employees have spoken out about these practices, including Frank Hagan, a Ringling Handler, who has signed an affidavit claiming that the death of his lion Clyde was a result of negligence, alleging that his repeated requests to stop the boxcar to check on Clyde during 109 degree heat were ignored because the circus was behind schedule.

A number of welfare groups including the Animal Welfare Institution are in a legal battle with the Ringling Bros and Barnum &Bailey.

This website has a nice detailing of all the U.S.D.A inspection reports for a whole list of circuses, for your reference.

My hope is that eventually the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus will catch on to the declining popularity of their animal acts and will omit them for good, so that I can go enjoy the show with a clean conscience. Although it's true this traveling show has a very long history including animals acts, times change and people must change too!

miércoles, 25 de agosto de 2010

Ruysch's anatomical curiosities

It is not that often you come across a truly bizarre man whose work accurately reflects what is going on on the inside.Weeping baby skeletons, elaborate trees constructed of human organs, injected with colourful substances, puppets constructed from human tissue being manipulated by a dead foetus, this is the mind of Frederik Ruysch.  

Human beings have been fascinated by the oddities of the natural world for thousands of years. Ancient Greek tales tell of one-eyed Gods; biblical characters appear in the form of giants and magicians. Objects which produce a sense of wonderment for their rarity, or for their curious unfamiliarity, will probably always be a source of intrigue and inquiry.

The engraving above shows the tableaux (or dramatic scenes) created by the anatomist Frederik Ruysch (1638 - 1731) and included in his wondrous cabinet of curiosities.
Ruysch discovered the recipe for a special coloured substance that, when injected into human organs, revealed the journeys taken by the blood vessels through the lymphatic system. 

He later included these injected body parts in his museum of curiosities: body part specimens in glass jars, baby skeletons, and preserved organs sat alongside exotic birds, butterflies and plants.

He thought of these exhibits as highly educational, but also felt that they should be decorated 'prettily and naturally'. So his daughter would prepare delicate cuffs or collars to be slipped on to severed arms or placed around necks. 

Ruysch turned other pieces in his collection into theatrical scenes. Small skeletons were positioned in 'geological' landscapes, crying into handkerchiefs, wearing strings of pearls, or playing the violin. The 'botanical' landscapes were also made up of body parts: kidney stones or tissue from the lungs would become bushes, grass or rocks.

The scenes were intended to work like plays or stories, representing particular themes or ideas - the idea that our life on earth is short for example, or that our love for the material things of this world is irrelevant given the enormous complexity of the universe. Clearly, Ruysch was as much an expert showman as he was a scientist.

Ruysch performing a dissection
His public dissections would be held by candlelight and accompanied by music and refreshments. And his curiosities, held open to public viewing in a number of Amsterdam houses, were known as the 8th wonder of the world.

In these instances the body has become a metaphor (or symbol) with which to tell a story and encapsulate a particular idea. It is a lifeless object to be put in a case like a jewel. Dead things are re-animated to become part of a fantastical cabaret. While we might now see these exhibits as macabre forms of entertainment, perhaps it is important to reflect on the different ways that other cultures and eras have looked at death.

From the late 1600s, thanks to advances in preservation techniques, there was a fashion for collecting and exhibiting body part specimens. The specimens were either submerged in alcohol, or injected with resins or wax and then dried. In either case, the body parts seemed chillingly lifelike – the dead seemed to be reanimated, and viewers were captivated.

There was a widespread craze for cabinets of curiosity during this period. These small exhibitions were displayed in the houses of wealthy collectors and would include strange, beautiful and outlandish objects.

Exotic shells and jewels, stuffed animals, preserved bodies, clockwork and scientific instruments would often be accompanied by the stuff of fairytales - mermaids, dragons, or the clothes or footsteps of giants. 

Collections frequently included examples of rare and misunderstood deformities. Among the curiosities of the Russian emperor Peter the Great was a two-headed sheep, a four-legged rooster, the teeth of a singer and a tablecloth maker (which Peter himself had extracted), and the bones of a giant footman.

There were also live exhibits: a hermaphrodite (a person with both male and female sexual organs) and a man with only two digits on each of his hands and feet.

Images and information from The British Library

martes, 24 de agosto de 2010

The wonderful Albertus Seba

Hullo my lovelies! I recently purchased this necklace, made by the lovely and talented local artist.  I'd often come across the meticulous illustrations of Albertus Seba, but never before knew anything about the man behind the vast collection.

Albertus Seba (1665-1736) was an avid collector of different specimens of the natural world. 

 He traveled all over the world collecting exquisite pieces from the East and West Indies, among these no less than 700 jars containing the rarest exotic animals and many particularly rare snakes.

 He also gathered beautiful and rare conch, the finest and most complete butterflies from the 4 corners of the Earth.

Seba commissioned artists to make meticulous drawings of these diverse objects from his collection.

He went on to publish these drawings, supplemented by commentary, in a four-volumed set entitled Loccupletissimi Rerum Thesauri Accurata Descriptio (abbreviated in the following as Thesaurus).

The large and magnificent work, incorporating an impressive total of 446 copperplates, was published between 1734 and 1765, after his death.

This pictorial record of Seba's unique collection is now available in reprint. For a better appreciation of this major publishing enterprise, it is necessary to take a closer look at the life and historical context of the man behind it.

By becoming an apothecary, Albertus Seba, who was born in 1665 in the East Frisian town of Etzel, chose a profession with close ties to natural history.

Doctors and apothecaries were pioneers of the empirical sciences, which had been growing significantly in importance since the Renaissance. Unlike today, medications were not synthetically made but mixed together from natural constituents.

A whole range of traditional recipes were available to those versed in the art of creating remedies from animal, vegetable and mineral ingredients. But many did not stop there.

They continued the search for new methods, collecting natural specimens from distant lands, studying them, and testing their potential uses. 

Their passion for collecting and researching often extended beyond immediate pharmaceutical applications. In many instances apothecaries started major natural history collections and contributed personally to the growing knowledge of nature. Seba's collection of natural specimens also went far beyond what was required for the normal exercise of his profession.

With his "Die Deutsche Apotheke" (German Apothecary's Shop), as he called his business, Seba rapidly earned an excellent reputation for himself. Even the Russian tsar Peter the Great trusted his pharmaceutical expertise, purchasing medicines from him for many years.

Financially, too, he was successful - something which would enable him to establish his comprehensive collection of natural specimens.

Not relying solely on casual customers who happened to pass by his apothecary, Seba actively sought them out.

He traded in drugs from overseas, advertising his prices in an Amsterdam newspaper. He supplied departing ships with cases of medicines and treated their crews.

Whenever a ship arrived in port, Seba would hasten down to the harbour without delay and administer his medicines to the exhausted sailors. Any natural specimens that they had brought with them he would then be able to purchase at a good price or accept in exchange for his medications.

In 1728 Seba had become a member of the Royal Society.  In 1734 Seba had published a Thesaurus of animal specimens with beautiful engravings.

The full name of the Thesaurus is, with a dual Latin–Dutch title, Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio — Naaukeurige beschryving van het schatryke kabinet der voornaamste seldzaamheden der natuur (Accurate description of the very rich thesaurus of the principal and rarest natural objects). The last two of the four volumes were published after his death (1759 and 1765).

Today, the original 446-plate volume is on permanent exhibit at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, Netherlands. Recently, a complete example of the Thesaurus sold for US $460,000 at an auction. In 2001, Taschen Books published a reprint of the Thesaurus, with a second printing in 2006.

Image sources: 1 2 3 4 5

miércoles, 18 de agosto de 2010

The Story of Juila Pastrana

A lovely friend of mine wrote a wonderful essay on sideshow history, the thesis being that the main driving force behind the incredible popularity of freaks shows in the 19th and early 20th centuries was the longing that people had and still have to feel that they are"normal" and "adequate" members of society.

According to this essay, what was really being sold to audienes at freak shows during this time was a sense of normalcy. In the case of Julia Pastrana, this rings very true. She was billed in her time as "The Ugliest Woman in the World."

She was an indigenous Mexian woman born in 1832, discovered and purchased from her family by a showman named Lent. She had hypertrichosis terminalis resulting in thick black hair growing on most of her face and much of her body. She had two separate rows of teeth in both the upper and lower jaws.

Many rumors were circulated about Julia, including the notion that she was not even human. Audiences could view her, with a renewed feeling of acceptence and adequacy, as well as a renewed distate and intolerance for those who were different.

Francis T. Buckland described her after a meeting in London in 1857, "Her eyes were deep black, and somewhat prominent, their lids had long thick eyelashes; her features were simply hideous on account of the profusion of hair growing on her forehead and her black beard; but her figure was exceedingly good and graceful, her tiny foot and well-turned ankle, perfection itself. She had a sweet voice, great taste in music and dancing, and could speak three languages. She was very charitable, and gave largely to local instituations from her earnings."
As part of her act she was taught to do some Spanish dances and would sing songs in a shy and gentle voice. Those who knew Julia speak of her sweet and calm nature, and her great generosity. She became very fond of Lent, placing great trust in him.

Julia traveled althroughout the Americas, England and Europe with Lent, making him a very rich a man over the years. Julia would wear a bright red dress, quite revealing for the time, to show off more of her skin (most of which was covered in hair). She would hold a small and delicate flower in her hand, to better emphasize the contrast with her features.
One day Lent asked Julia to marry him. There were rumors at the time that Julia had built up a considerable amount of savings in a trust fund, and that Lent was afraid she may one day ask for her money and part ways.

Others say that there were offers from other showmen wanting to take over managment of Julia's act. Whatever the case may be, Julia accepted,  reportedly saying "He loves me for my own sake" on the morning of her marriage.

After a time Julia became pregnant, and gave birth to a son in Moscow. The little boy had Julia's same features, he was covered with hair and deformed. In thirty-six hours he was dead. Juila died a few days later from childbirth complications, it was said she died from a broken heart. The year was 1860.

As tragic as this story is, unfortunately Julia Pastrana's  sad tale of exploitation does not end there and she would not find peace for many more years, and nor would her child even in death. Lent, having suffered a serious loss, whether emotional or purely financial, he came up with a way to continue the steady stream of profits.

He sought out Professor Sokoloff in Moscow, an expert in mummification and emblaming, and had Julia's corpse preserved for a continued tour billed as "The Emblamed Female Nondescript." Julia, dressed in a gaudy red gown, drew just as many crowds as before, possbily even more, as her dead child was exhibited with her, on little pedastol, dressed in a red velvet suit. The cost of viewing was just a shilling.

In 1862 Buckland accepted an invitation to view the exhibit in London, he wrote of his experiences viewing Julia, "The figure was dressed in the ordinary exhibition used in life. The limbs, the arms and chest retaining their former roundness. The face was marvellous; exactly like a good wax portrait, but it was not formed of wax, it was almost difficult to imagine that the mummy was really a human being, and not an artifical model."

Another writer, Hermann Waldemar Otto, a German authority on circus and sideshow personalities saw the mummy in Vienna. "It was with peculiar feelings that I stepped up to the glass 'coffin' in which the restless corpse was displayed," wrote Otto. "Strange thoughts went through my mind as I looked at the mummy. She stood there with the ghastly grin of the dead on her face. Next to her was her baby in an equally tawdry garment, on a bar, like a parrot. Outside the rain was streaming down, the wind whined and raged around the tent. I felt a deep, deep compassion for the dead woman, she however, could no longer hear nor see; she felt neither joy nor sorrow, neither lack of love nor my compassion. And I recalled that once she had said with a clear laugh, "He loves me for my own sake..."

Sadly Julia and her child would not come to rest for more than a century later. According to the Swedish press, the mummies were purchased by the owner of a Norwegian carnival. In 1972 they were brought to the United States and shown by Gooding's Million Dollar Midways. The tour was cut short in America due to public outcry and when Hans attempted to return to Norway – he was denied exhibition rights.

Undeterred, Hans rented the mummies to a Swedish traveling show until good taste arrived and the exhibition was banned there as well. Defeated, Hans placed the mummies in storage in 1973.
In August of 1976, the storage facility was broken into and the mummies vandalized. The child was badly damaged as its jaw and arm were torn off. His remains were thrown in a ditch outside and before it could be located – it was almost entirely eaten by mice – only scraps remained. Julia now stood alone.
In 1979, the storage facility was again broken into and this time Julia's remains were stolen, they were presumed to be lost for good.
Then, in February of 1990, a Norwegian journalist discovered the mummy in the basement of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Oslo. In 1979 there was a call to police from some children who had discovered a severed arm lying in a ditch.
A search of the area revealed the mummified body of Julia, badly mangled. Unsure of what to do or even what it was, the police brought the mummy to the institute where it remained in limbo.

Apparently it is still there – tucked away in some corner covered with a dusty blanket.

As for Lent, he eventually found another bearded woman with similar features, named Marie Bartels. He asked Herr Bartels for her hand in marriage, swearing that he had no intention of exhibiting her.

After the wedding Lent forbade Marie from shaving ever again and promptly took her on tour, naming her Zenora Pastrana, trying to pass her off as Julia's sister.
The couple became very wealthy and opened a waxworks in St Petersburg, Russia. Eventually Lent lost his mind, and was commited to a mental instituaiton where he died of brain disease in 1884, leaving a considerably wealthy widow, who lived out the rest of her days in comfort, marrying a man 20 years her junior and dying peacefully of old age.

Information adapted from the book Very Special People by Frederick Drimmer
and from The Human Marvels

Image Sources 1 2 3 4


lunes, 16 de agosto de 2010

El Orfanato

Those who know me know that it's Halloween year-round in my mind. So here is a review of one of my favourite haunted-house stories.

El Orfanato by Guillermo Del Toro is an atmospheric, astoundingly beautiful ghost story set in a massive colonial era Spanish Orphanage. The lavish sets in this film as well as the flawless casting of characters make it exquisite to watch.

The tale itself definitely raises the hair on the back of your neck, it's quite suspenseful, and has a very Guillermo-esque twist ending.

The main character, Laura (Belen Rueda) returns with her husband to her childhood home, the orphanage which has since been abandoned, with the intention of re-opening it to serve a few special needs orphans. The first resident is their adoptive HIV positive son Simon.

After a series of bizarre and creepy events in the old orphanage involving Simon, Laura slowly realizes that her family is not alone in the house and that there is some unfinished business that needs taking care of before she can uncover the truth and live in peace.

The film does a great job of building intensity and suspense throughout, and by the end you are really on the edge of your seat. It incorporates all of my favourite subjects; psychics, freaks, creepy haunted mansions, ghost stories, gory death scenes, and much more...

I am personally a hard person to really scare with films; I can count the number of films that have truly frightened me on one hand. By the end of most horror/suspense movies I am usually left wanting a good deal more, but this film uses the right amount of gore and horror for the overall tone, it's very fitting and has genuinely scary moments.

I highly recommend this film, make sure to turn out all the lights first...

Image source

sábado, 14 de agosto de 2010

The foolish man built his house upon the sand...

This was once the mansion of a local drug baron in Costa Del Sol, El Salvador. 

He was a powerful man and feared by the local community; hence when he declared he was going to build his house as close the sea-view as possible, no one dared to challenge him, and it was done; the house predictably sinking further and further into the sand each year. 

The house now sits in ruin, all of the roofing long gone, and quite a few trees having made themselves at home on the top floor.

The whole house is slanting dramatically, and it sits about 30 feet from the tide.

viernes, 13 de agosto de 2010

I think I'm in love...

Wandering around the town of Santa Ana, El Salvador, I happened upon this beauty covered in vines and ferns, just walls at this point, standing there in the very center of town. 

This was once the Town Hall of Santa Ana, but after repeated damage from both civil war and extreme weather, repair work on the building ceased altogether. Today it is still used as a school for Santa Ana orphans. 

                                                                    the view through the keyhole...

Visiting El Salvador was an incredible experience; it's people have endured tremendous suffering for so long, and I saw this structure as an interesting reflection of the current state of affairs nationally. 

The economy is still crippled from the war, and the currency switch, the poorest bearing the brunt of it all. 

It was described to me by a Salvadoran friend, that many people "will turn to the quickest ways to get money out of desperation" meaning the drug trade and gangs. 
The crime and violence resulting from such activity is certainly what makes it into newspapers, but I witnessed many people remaining in their country by choice, with the purpose of doing something good for El Salvador. 

There is a visible push happening for social change on many fronts; on every main road I saw billboards advocating for children to continue their education instead of working or entering gangs; to protect the environment by not eating turtles eggs ("come los huevos de tortuga es como el futuro") and many other social and environmental issues being addressed.

The ad-campaign that struck me the most, was an image of a tough-looking Salvadoran man, opening his shirt superman style, with the words "absolutamente nadie va a intimidar a El Salvador" emblazoned on the shirt beneath.

Under the weight of such horror and devastation from decades of civil war, massacre and abject poverty that sits on the shoulders of the Salvadoran people, I witnessed a quiet dignity, a strength and an enduring life-force that I found courageous and awe-inspiring.