Thursday, June 24, 2010

Custom Creature Taxidermy Arts

When I first read about the art of Naturalist Sarina Brewer I have to admit I had mixed thoughts. Mainly due to the fact I am a cat owner and I couldn't imagine of my pets' body parts being used to create a curious creature. Then I read her bio and began to get a better understanding if not appreciation of this morbidly creative work. After all I did consider buying a stuffed and framed fruit bat from the Evolution Store and I do have a cat's skull that came from a carcass of dead cat I had found. So it would be rather hypocritical of me to criticize. Also I have to admit there is something of a Lady Frankenstein about this, creating something from the remains of multiple dead animals into one final creation. I found it eerily fascinating.

As I read more about Sarina Brewer in her introduction it became apparent that she does have a respect for animals and only utilizes road kills and donated animal remains. She is a proponent of wildlife conservation and seems to have full awareness that her work is rather disturbing to the Western World. But as her introduction points out that mummifying remains were done not only in Ancient Egypt but the Catholic Church displaying the remains of Saints and in the Victorian age with mourning jewelry that contained a locket of a deceased beloved's hair or teeth.

Sarina Brewer sees the cycle of life in the natural world and also sees beauty in death. Hence she creates morbidly beautiful creations and with her fascination with cryptozoology. In her hands the remains of dead animals become griffins or even more fantastical creatures. Perhaps this fate is not so bad for a departed animal considering they would either become food for the flies or ground up into cattle feed or worse in the pot of some hillbilly mountain folk that played 3 stringed banjos.

I still have to admit though that some of her exhibits I do find disturbing such as her esodermy collection. I have to keep reminding myself on viewing that this was done to dead animals and there is a scientific slant to it. I mean after all wasn't the real human corpse in Bodies, the Exhibition that toured the United States not too long ago a huge event?

Sarina Brewer says about her work, "I call it art, you can call it whatever you want." I have to agree with her.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Professor Blomberg Vampire Killing Kit

Recently a reported authentic Professor Blomberg Vampire Hunting Kit sold at an auction for $14,580. That is a huge chunk of change considering that the kit later turned out to be a forgery. Michael De Winter came forward and admitted that he was the creator of the Blomberg kits. Although I do admire De Winter for his creativity and ingenuity, he is still a faker.

There are other creators out there that construct such kits like AlexCF, but do not do it under the pretense of authenticity. That is because AlexCF is an artistian, not a forger. This is AlexCF's Werewolf Specimen Hunting Kit, you can tell the kits that AlexCF constructs are a labor of love and though wonderfully eccentric, they are art. He also doesn't hide under the deception that these kits are real, but an imaginative recreation of what could have been. Many of his kits deal with Lovecraftian themes and cryptozoids of his own creation which he sculpts himself from a fevered imagination.

One of my favorite pieces is his Necropathic Spectregraph. Though not a kit it is one of many devices that he has constructed that has drawn much attention from the Steampunk audience. These whimsical devices are elaborate in design and seem to fit perfectly in a Victorian era gone mad with arcane science. Now this is called artistry, not forgery.

But do not despair, if you are in search of an authentic vampire hunting kit to slay that Metro-sexual annoying Edward there is hope, Ripley's museum has them. According to their curators Ripleys contains at least 26 vampire kits that were collected abroad in Europe and date back to the mid 1800's.

Believe it or Not.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Danvers State Insane Asylum

During the mid 1840's Physician Thomas Story Kirkbride brought forth a revolutionary idea in treating the mentally ill based on a philosophy of Moral Treatment, in other words humane treatment for the insane. Before the 1840's the mentally ill were kept in jails, locked away in basements or hidden away in the attics of private homes, the later I am sure inspired H.P. Lovecraft's tale The Shuttered Room. Kirkbride sought to change not only society's perception of mental illness but also wanted to create a therapeutic environment where patients would have curative surroundings. Thus came about the Kirkbride Plan and also the Kirkbride Buildings.

The buildings follow a simple plan, the central building with wings stretching out on either side also referred to as bat wings. These wings would house the patients and the central building would house administration. Each wing would be subdivided by wards and the more excitable patients would be kept on lower floors further away from the administration. The more docile patients would dwell on the upper floors.

The novel approach that Kirkbride intended was to offer the patient a soothing landscape away from urban life and a calmness where the ill could convalesce. Hence many of the Kirkbride buildings had rich landscaping and some even had farmland that patients could work. There was only one problem, they costs a fortune to maintain.

Although Kirkbride's original intention was noble in the late 1800's budget cuts, under staffing and overcrowding of patients brought about a different rein in what once was a benign ideal.

Which brings me to Danvers State Insane Asylum. This haven for the insane shifted attitudes by the 1920's with rumors of lobotomies, illegal shock treatments and straight jackets becoming the predominate method of treatments not to heal, but to control, which contradicted the practices of the superintendent in the 1890's, Dr. Charles Page, who declared that restraints were unnecessary for the treatment of the patients. The 20th Century slowly seem to work a demise on what started out to be a sanctuary for those that suffered mental illness. In 1992 Danvers closed its doors...but was forgotten, for a time.

Rumors of hauntings, supernatural occurrences and just odd accidents seem to plague it. Once it was going to be renovated into an apartment complex and soon after a fire of an unknown origin broke out. Now hardly anything stands of Danvers and yet it still draws attention from various paranormal groups. Whether if it is haunted or not, its history has a darkness that still hovers about the grounds.

I first became aware of Danvers State Insane Asylum when I viewed the psycho~supernatural thriller, Session 9. The film centers on an asbestos abatement crew that has been hired to remove the deadly substance for renovation. It was filmed on the center hub of Danvers that was still standing at the time. A very atmospheric piece that is chilling at moments and Danvers stands looming as the central character. I highly recommend it if you have a curiousity about the Old Kirkbride buildings.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Datamancer, Steampunk Wizardy

Richard Nagy, known also as Datamancer, has taken the tradition PC and reverted it back to an alternate timeline known as Steampunk. Basically Steampunk is a Jules Verne World gone mad where arcing fingers of electricity flare from Tesla coils and steam powered machinations amble amok. For years Datamancer has been converting laptops, PC's, keyboards and practically anything else he can lay his hands on and personalizing them into works of functional art. Below is an example of a functioning laptop decked out in all its Steampunk glory by Datamancer.

Richard Nagy's work has garnered him a lot of attention. On the internet his keyboard and laptop conversions became such a sensation that naturally Hollywood would cast an eye over to see what the commotion was. Hence Nagy was commissioned to do the keyboard for the ScyFy series Warehouse 13. Nagy, or Datamancer has also converted keyboards for several businesses as well such as the art deco influenced one below.

To see a selection of Datamancer's keyboards click here.

If keyboards are not your Victorian cup of tea, perhaps a Steampunk Ray Gun by WETA is more to your liking.

A while back Gizmodo claimed Steampunk was dead. I say Gizmodo should concentrate on their cat fight with Steve Jobs and Apple and leave genre to the artists. Steampunk may just outlast them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Victorian Low Brow Art of Madame Talbot

Originally uploaded by Victorian Lowbrow
Low Brow was a term applied to underground art and comics that arose in the '70's in California. Madame Talbot takes the genre back further into the Victorian Era. Her work has a certain morbidity that is tongue and cheek and certainly a Bohemian flair. Working without any computer aid, she draws, inks and prints her work on an offset press keeping a uniqueness about her art.

Often her work deals with the ritual of death, frolicking skeletons, hearses and hand carved tombstones fill her repertory of macabre images. These pieces are most always embellished with elaborate border work and one would think if he were ambling down a gas lit alley in Victorian London one of her many posters would seem fitting to be adorning the brick walls.

Madame Talbot's love for the macabre atmosphere of the Victorian age also takes form in her other creations as well. Framed medical instruments, shrunken heads and apothecary bottles are loving displayed with calligraphy and art. Always disturbing but retaining a Charles Addams sense of twisted humor, her creations are definitely well sought after even by authors like Neil Gaiman. If you would like to see a collection of her framed curios click here.

She also has a series of death head dolls and mourning dolls that she has sewn by hand. Madame Talbot is a purist in the regard of keeping her work a craft and not a product of the Digital Age but more in keeping with the Victorian Era. Yet this sense of aestheticism lends a certain weight and definite charm to her work.

Mourning Dolls
Originally uploaded by Victorian Lowbrow

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Automatons of Thomas Kuntz

An automaton (plural: automata or automatons) is a self-operating machine. The word is sometimes used to describe a robot, more specifically an autonomous robot. An alternative spelling, now obsolete, is automation.

The history of the automaton reaches back through history to Ancient Greece and China and according to Jewish tradition even Solomon designed mechanical animals that would execute an rather intricate ceremony when he would ascend his throne. DaVinci was said to have created an automaton of a knight using a series of pulleys that would commit a a sequence of movements. In 850 three Persian brothers wrote the volume The Book of Ingenious Devices that described at least a hundred devices and their use and the principles of how they were powered.

When the Renaissance arrived the automaton became a fascination and a craze among the wealthy. Driven by elaborate clockworks these creations were court favorites and were even programmable in fact this ability to program the mechanisms can be seen in player pianos or the keypunch operations of computers in the '50's and 60's. Way before the advent of the diode, transistor or of today's silicon chip, the gear and spring were king. Below is an example of a programmable automaton created in 1810 by Henri Maillardet.

Today automatons would be a lost art if it weren't for creators like Thomas Kuntz whose wonderfully bizarre and often morbid creations have started a cult following. Below is one of his creations, The Alchemyst's Clock Tower.

Here is the same creation laid bare to see the series of gears and pulleys that drive the Alchemist.

The skill and talent to create these devices, let alone the time it would take to commit to such a project speaks of a sincere love for the craft of the automaton. Kuntz is a superb craftsman who began his career doing sculptures of Silent Film Movie Monsters, something he admits is not in huge demand but mirrors his love for the obscure as well as the grotesque. This make him somewhat of an enigma in todays society of digital media and CGI. But it is the true craftsman that can create something that can exists in the physical world and not only in a virtual one. It's quite refreshing to see such creativity in this world today and admirable for his passion to be devoted to a craft that by all accounts is a forgotten art form. I know that among the huge following in Steampunk, creators like Kuntz have a deep respect and recognition for his craft.

Here is an early interview with Thomas Kuntz in 1988 where he discusses inspirations and his early work as a sculptor creating model kits of Silent Film Monsters. Kuntz seems to have a love for the archaic and the obscure and is aware of how the themes and monsters of the earlier films laid the foundations for modern cinema. His work is a deep homage to the past and he is more than just an artist but a historian as well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Guild of Funerary Violinists

Before the advent of medical science bequeathed longer life spans for us mortals, Death seemed to be a prominent theme in society reminding our fore bearers that mortality was something to be embraced because of its ever present reality. Out of this came a deep romanticism with Death and Spiritualism. Seances were held in parlor rooms, rooms that families held wakes in often with the deceased posed with members in the early days of photography to be known as Postmortem Photography.

Images of the Grim Reaper were not uncommon either and adorned many a tombstone as well as in paintings, engravings and Death of course reared his head in literature. Memento Mori, Latin for "Remember Death" became a whispered motto reminding one that Death was always lurking near. So it is no small surprise that music would join in this dance of mortality.

The violin was at its peak as a versital instrument used either indoors or outdoors and with its haunting qualities it is no wonder dirges were played upon it during processions of the departed. Hence the Guild of Funerary Violinists was founded in 1580 during the Elizabethan Protestant Reformation and lasted until WWI and ended with the death of Niklaus Friedhaber its last official practicing member. It was not uncommon for the town coffin maker to double as the Funerary Violinist. Later in the 1800's dueling violinists would play, the winner was the one who elicited the most tears from the mourners.

Of late there has been a resurgence in the interest of this craft which re-created some of the most haunting melodies. Below is a recreation of a Funerary Dirge by Divine Hand Ensamble.

This is a particularly haunting funeral violin piece with fashion designer Marko Mitanovski using the dirge for a musical backdrop for his somewhat odd creation.

In all of this there seems to be a humbling respect and regard for Death, not so much as an end to all things but as the Gate Keeper to the unknown and so, Memento Mori, remember Death.

The above is a rendition of mine I did in 2008. I thought it fit. Note: It is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission. Prints are available.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Even those who are pure of heart, and say their prayers at night, can become a wolf, when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

Benicio Del Toro went to Universal with an idea, he wanted to do a remake of the 1941 Universal film "The Wolfman". What followed was a collaboration between he and makeup wizard Rick Baker to do homage to the original and I suspect a bit of a nod to the Hammer Horror Films of the '60's and '70's. Though at its release critics panned the film I found the movie surpassed my meager expectations and hence it now resides in my bluray collection.

I will be the first to admit the movie may not be to everyone's liking, especially the younger crowd that never experienced the original. This is a Victorian Gothic piece that is heavy on atmosphere and though it abounds with its share of gore and dismemberment, it is a homage movie to the classic horror and its roots. Even the creature design emulates Jack Pierce's original make up and this is where Rick Baker excels crafting practical effects melded with CGI to create eerie transformations. Del Toro combined with Baker's make up delivers us the classic tormented yet vicious werewolf that the original film built the foundation for.

Is it a great film? No, it does lack in plot at times but makes up for it with art direction. Is it a fun film for horror fans of old? Yes, a very strong yes.