Wednesday, 26 April 2017

V = Votives... not the glowing kind

Admittedly, I wasn't raised in a religious household, but I had no idea that a votive isn't just a little candle in a schmancy holder of some type. 
I did not know that the word votive is derived from vow, and so is used to describe an object or an act offered up to honour or thank a god. Now I think about it, that makes perfect sense — all those candles on altars are lit as vows, votives. 
Back 2500 years ago, the Etruscans were more hardcore about their conversations with the gods. Not prepared to risk their vows being snuffed out or lost in the afterglow, they made thousands of votives from long-lasting terracotta and apparently left so many of them lying and hanging about temples and holy places that pits full of them have been uncovered. 
And the most common of those votives are body parts. The academic jury is out about how these clay bits and pieces worked. Or didn't.

Perhaps they were a request for help, with a statue of the bit needing the most attention in case the deity got confused and answered the wrong prayer: "Please help me overcome these splitting headaches. And here's a replica of my head to help you find your way to me through the white-noise of the clamouring throng. Please, don't worry about my cleft chin. I can live with that."

Or, votives may have been a way of saying something less seriously medical in nature: 'Thanks for my awesome dandruff-free curly hair. I gave it a run at the Full Moon Feast last night and was the envy of every flaky-skulled centurion in Rome".

Or, they may even have been a sort of pre-emptory strike, a symbol associated with a completely non-health related request: 
" Oh great gods, it has been decreed that I must sit beside Dullius Volumnius at the Forum next month. Please help me to ignore the boring droning old fart, and give me the strength to speak up against his daffy old-fangled notions."

A tray of Etruscan penis votives.
 Image credit: Wellcome Library
Here's a museum tray of what, at first glance, appears to be fossilised lumps of doggy-doo. 
But of course it's not. 
In fact, this carefully labelled storage drawer leads me to speculate that, perchance, many votives may have been little more than bad Etruscan selfies. 
Well, not selfies so much as pecker pics. 

Fashioning an effigy of a boy's bit out of clay is not a quick process, I'll grant you that, but... like...well... you know... graffitiing on the side of a chariot with ... you know mosaics takes... like literally a lifetime. 
An Etruscan lad's gotta do something for a giggle.

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

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

U = Uncomfortable underwear

"Could you pass the water, please?"
How would you feel if the person on the other side of the dinner table responded to your polite request by handing you this antique hand-decorated jug?
Look closely.
It's a picture of a guy giving another guy an enema with what looks to be one of those vintage pump-action fly-spray thingamyjigs, or perhaps only marginally less distressingly, one of those whatsits you use to blow up balloons.
Almost as uncomfortable as the poor bloke on the receiving end of the implement, who appears to be attempting to hang onto the tiniest thread of dignity by not baring his butt cheeks.
But it'd be hard to know where to put your fingers, wouldn't it? On the jug I mean. 
And let's not think even think about drinking the contents.

While we're at the dinner table, ladies, have you ever succumbed to the devil that is the wearing of Spanx to flatter and smooth your shape for that special function? You will no doubt have found yourself standing pretty much all night
French  illustration of the non-benefits of corset-wearing
because the moment you bend, the many squooshy bits being confined into a space that's way too small for them become unflatteringly unsmooth and either bulge out over the top or press uncomfortably on your wee-bag. 
Am I right? 
Plus, you have to pretend that you're not really hungry or have allergies that prevent you doing anything other than nibble on a single hors d'oeuvre because there just isn't enough space for anything else.

Well, spare a thought for oh-so-many of your sisters from yesteryear. 
How comfortable do you reckon a brass corset would have been?
Talk about pinch-in the waist!

Image credit: Wellcome Library
So now, what's this pinchy-looking thing, all neatly tied with a bow? 
A napkin ring perhaps? Or a ponytail keeper?
Think again.
This, my friend, is a 'Four-pointed urethral ring'.
Say what?
That's right, this device was designed to encircle a penis.
A human penis.
With the aim of discouraging the nasty undesirable habit of masturbation.
Are you fully uncomfortable now?

And here is a close-up of just such a device on display. Clearly a technological advance on the one in the illustration, this beastie is a clip-on version, with an expanding ring in the middle, which seems to allow a slightly more realistic space for... shall we say... swelling... before the organ makes contact with the spiky metal bits. (I can't bring myself to call them teeth.)
I imagine this model was readily adjustable, rather than one size fits all.
It's not as pretty as the one with the bow, though, is it?

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, 24 April 2017

T = Tattoos

You may need a magnifying glass to read the print on this screenshot,
or you could just take my word for it. But the Wellcome Image website
home page actually has a link to take you directly to 'Tattoo designs".
It's the one with the image on the right.
Awesome, yes? Told you this was not your average museum.
I once read a really cool article about tattoos  prepared for by an archaeologist, so it totally has street cred. 
It suggests that tattoos pretty much began as a female thing in ancient Egypt. Women had constellation-like tattoos on their stomachs as protection from evil. The pattern would expand with their bellies during pregnancy, encircling the unborn child, keeping it safe. I love that idea. That article created an image that has stayed with me. 
Not so much that I would ever let anyone imprint a constellation on my person with a needle and ink though. 

Historical tattoos can be seen in the Wellcome Collection. Yes, actual pieces of human skin that bear drawings. Not photos of the tattoos, the tattoos. Diembodied. 
The museum entry about them explains: 
The tattooed skin was purchased by one of Henry Wellcome’s collecting agents, Captain Johnston-Saint, in June 1929 from Dr Villette, a Parisian surgeon. Villette worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the autopsies of French soldiers. In the late 1800s, tattoos were often seen as markers of criminal tendencies, or ‘primitiveness’. Medical men tried to interpret common images and symbols. Tattoos were also used as a tool for identification, a practice that continues today.

What do you think we can surmise about a soldier who chose
to have a sailor and a flower tattooed on his bicep?
That bothers me. 
What Dr Villette did bothers me. 
Surely, these soldiers chose tattoos that represented something of significance to them, something that formed part of their sense of self, something that became integral to their identity. Didn't they?
Then, after they died, Dr Villette saw fit to cut those images from their bodies and send his patients off to the afterlife with patches of exposed flesh where their tattoos should have been. Stripped of identity.
Or am I being over-sensitive? 
Are tattoos just permanent jewellery?

Back at letter S, I mentioned that Michael C Hall (the actor who plays Dexter) has a tattoo. Long story short, I was sitting in the front row at a recent performance of Lazarus (in which he stars as the aged Man Who Fell To Earth) and Michael C had bare feet for much of the production. 
The play is suitably mind-bendingly-David-Bowie-esque. With fab songs. But I found myself fixated on Michael C's foot. More specifically, on the tattoo on Michael C's instep. It's sort of like an Egyptian eye and a pyramid. 
I even did a crappy drawing of it in the notebook I carry everywhere in case I run into a celebrity with a tattoo I need to draw.
What is that thing?

At the time, unravelling the mystery of the symbolism of Michael C's Egyptian-looking sun and pyramid tattoo didn't detract from the enigmatic show, it seemed a sort of bonus conundrum. 
But now it's bugging the shit out of me.
What IS that thing?
And why would Michael C Hall have it tattooed on his foot?

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

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.