Link, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 29

All set for the refreshing summer version of our weird links roundup!

And let’s start right away with a quiz: what is the mystery object in the picture below?
(The answer at the end of the post).

  • First, a couple of links for those who know Italian. Il Podcast della morte is a nice project put together by some former students of the Master in Death Studies at the University of Padua: they interview in each episode a lecturer from the master’s program (the chat with yours truly is in the second episode) and the topics are really wide-ranging, confirming once again that to talk about death is to talk about life, with all its infinite facets.

  • Another tip, if you are interested in these topics, is to subscribe to the newsletter Appuntamento con la morte, created by the talented Sofia: with very accurate scientific and medical insights, she addresses poisonings, head transplants, rigor mortis, cadaver dogs, and much more.
  • Two delights for Edgar Allan Poe lovers: The Raven illustrated by Gustave Doré, and some of his stories read by Iggy Pop, Jeff Buckley, Christopher Walken and Marianne Faithful.

  • The Church of Abuna Yemata Guh, above, gives literal meaning to the concept of mystical vertigo: to access it, one must climb a steep rock face for two hours. A spectacular video here.
  • A couple of animal & nature-themed links: in this video we discover the incredible basket star, a kind of miniature Cthulhu.
  • Here’s the guide-animal for people who are intolerant of routine and who find it hard to stay in one place all the time: the armored catfish, whose occasional itch is to… cross a desert!
  • Finally, below, a Nephentes attenboroughii inflicts the worst of death penalties on a rat:

  • Sunken lanes are paths or roads naturally sunk lower than the surrounding ground level. Some are very old, others are formed in as little as twenty years; several theories have been proposed to explain their origin (erosion, water, herd passage, etc.) but none is entirely convincing. The only thing certain is that the tunnels created by the vegetation are wonderful, as you can see in these photos.
  • Another unsolved archaeological mystery: the stone spheres of Costa Rica.
  • Even ants in their own little way get into trouble. (Thank you, Roberto!)
  • If you want to cry, here is the letter that the famous physicist Richard Feynman wrote to his dead wife; proof that even the most rationally inclined mind is capable of poetry and feeling.

  • How does one earn the appellation Boulgaroktónos, that is, “The Bulgar Slayers?” You take 14,000 soldiers as prisoners, divide them into groups of 100, arrange them in single line tied with a rope; then, for each group, you gouge out both eyes of 99 men and only one eye of the first in line, and send them all back to their homeland, with many tributes to the Czar.
  • Have you gone through any diets to pass the bikini test? Have you gobbled down bars, studied food plans, weighed carbohydrates and proteins, heroically given up ice cream? Pffft. Whatever deprivation you have endured pales in comparison to the diet imposed on King Sancho I aka the Fat!
    From the Italian Wiki page: “The doctor then became even more stringent: depriving Sancho of his freedom he had him locked up in his room bound hand and foot, and to ensure that he could no longer eat excess food he had his mouth sewn shut, leaving just enough space between his lips for the insertion of a straw with which to drink. This extreme treatment proved effective, however, partly because of the violent rejections Sancho often made of the food given to him, which then led him to lose even more weight. He was also forced to take longer and longer walks in the courtyard of the caliph’s palace, often being dragged with a rope; he also had to take hot baths and saunas to stimulate sweating and receive painful massages ro promote the reabsorption of excess skin.” (Thanks Roberto!)
  • The backlash of the blustering alchemist.
  • Published a couple of years ago, this by Valentina Tanni remains one of the most comprehensive articles (in Italian) on the internets mythology of Backrooms, eerie liminal spaces where reality and simulacrum merge.
  • Museum objects we like: eighteenth-century dildo with pump to simulate ejaculation.
  • Beautiful article on the first talking androids and the pioneers of mechanical artificial language.

In closing, as promised, here is the answer to the quiz: the mystery object contains a Goa Stone.
But what exactly is it?

Surely some of you are familiar with bezoars, those solidified, petrified balls of food or hair found in the intestinal tract of some mammals. At one time bezoars were thought to be a panacea that could cure all ills: they were worn as talismans, rubbed, grated, and made into decoctions.
Here is a photo I took of a bezoar ready to be dipped into your five o’clock herbal tea:

But bezoars were in short supply. Fortunately, here came to rescue the most classic Italic inventiveness, namely the art of counterfeiting.
In the mid-sixteenth century a Florentine Jesuit, who was living in Goa (India), invented these miraculous stones from scratch by mixing hair, fossilized teeth, shells, resin and crushed gems. Before long the business took off, and for two centuries the Jesuits held a monopoly on the Goa stones.

That’s all, happy and weird vacations!

The Sicilian Fairy

On April 12, 1824 at his Westminster residence, Carlton House, King George IV was receiving visitors. Lo and behold, introduced by the famous physician Sir Everard Home, a tiny little figure, dressed in a richly embroidered gown, suddenly came forward before the king: a little girl, 9 years old but no taller than 50cm.
Her high-pitched voice and extraordinary features very much amazed the sovereign, who “expressed great pleasure at her appearance.

Reporters, equally astonished, were unable to talk about the child except by relying on the fantastic register, describing her as some kind of pixie:

Only imagine a creature about half as large as a new-born infant; perfect in all parts and lineaments, uttering words in a strange, unearthly voice, understanding what you say and replying to your questions; imagine, I say, this figure of about nineteen inches in height and five pounds in weight,-and you will have some idea of this most extraordinary phenomenon. […] Her effect on the viewer is deeply unsettling. So astonishing is her appearance that he cannot quite believe what he is seeing: she challenges both logical expectations and rational inquiry. […] Her size so flouts the ecpected categories of humanity that she cannot be classified as such. She is […] somehow not quite real: a ‘tolerable sized doll’, a ‘creature’ perfect in all parts and lineaments, uttering owrds in a strange unearthly voice . Here is the fairy of your superstition in actual life […]. The pigmy of ancient mythology brought down to your own day.

(Sights of London, Literary Gazette, 1824)

The “Sicilian Fairy” (this was her nickname) was actually named Caroline Crachami.
Sir Everard Home had seen her for the first time a few days before, presented to the curiosity of the audience for a shilling-two, if one wanted to go on stage to examine her closely and play with her a little.

Home, as a surgeon and anatomist, was very interested in Caroline from a scientific point of view, so he had returned to the show several times. The physician had been immediately noticed by the individual exhibiting the child, a certain Dr. Gilligan, who had wasted no time in circumventing him; taking advantage of his colleague’s high connections, he had quickly succeeded in introducing his Sicilian Fairy to the court. It was this lust for success (and the gains it would bring) that decreed Gilligan’s downfall and, unfortunately, sealed little Caroline’s fate as well.

The Carlton Palace appointment had indeed caused a stir, and the London press began to take an interest in the “smallest dwarf the world had ever seen.” All this attention, however, did not play in Gilligan’s favor: journalists began to notice that something was not quite right.

The doctor claimed to be the child’s father, boasting of Italian origins; too bad he had a heavy Irish accent. Already someone in the audience had exposed him, shouting, “Does the Palermo you say you were born in happen to be in the County of Cork?”

When even in the newspapers people began to question Gilligan’s authorship, he was forced to publish a pamphlet entitled A Brief Memoir of Miss Crachami, the celebrated Sicilian Dwarf.
According to this publication, Caroline was born in Palermo on November 15, 1815, to parents of normal stature. At birth she weighed only one pound (450 g) and measured between 18 and 20 cm in length. Her father, Luigi Emanuele Crachami, was a theater musician like his wife. The couple had three other adult children, all of normal size; once Caroline was born, they had shown her to the Duchess of Parma and other nobles to seek financial support, but without luck. In any case, they had always refused to exhibit her for money. They had then moved to Ireland, where they had another child of normal height.

The pamphlet glossed nicely over Dr. Gilligan’s equivocal role: how come he was now exhibiting Caroline in London? What did he have to do with it? How had he obtained her parents’ permission?

In any case, the crowds eager to see this latest mind-blowing novelty grew larger and larger, and the shifts for the poor child became exhausting. Every day, despite her failing health, Caroline sat on a small throne, dressed in lace like a doll; she had to satisfy the curiosity of spectators who tried to get a reaction from her by handing her shiny objects or inciting her to dance.

On June 3, 1824, after receiving more than 200 spectators in a single evening, Caroline Crachami died of exhaustion during the carriage ride to her quarters on Duke Street.
But her sad story did not end at all that day.

When news of her disappearance was published in the press, the dark secret behind the “Sicilian Fairy” finally came to light. Luigi Crachami, the child’s father who worked at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, learned of his daughter’s death from the very newspapers.
Some time before, given Caroline’s poor health, he had had her examined in Dublin by Dr. Gilligan; the doctor advised him to take the child to London where the climate, according to him, was better. The Crachamis, however, did not have the means to move; Dr. Gilligan had been so interested in the little girl’s health that he had offered to accompany her himself, free of charge, to the metropolis. To cover expenses, he had obtained the parents’ consent to expose Caroline occasionally, and only for the planned short stay.
In fact Gilligan, unbeknownst to the parents, had organized a full-scale tour, taking Caroline first to Liverpool, then to Birmingham and Oxford and finally landing in London.

Within days of Caroline’s death, therefore, Louis Crachami arrived in the capital, distraught with grief and anger but determined to take back his daughter’s corpse and bring it back to Ireland for burial. He turned to the magistrates to figure out how to reclaim the body and prevent it from being dissected and displayed in some anatomical collection; however, the task proved more arduous than expected, as the judge was unable to issue an order on the matter.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gilligan was busy squeezing the last money out of the little body: having loaded it onto a cart, he had gone to all the major medical schools. Fighting against time, Luigi Crachami also began making the rounds of all the universities, but he was evidently late: each time he heard that Gilligan had been there the day before trying to sell the little girl’s body.

Crachami finally arrived at Sir Everard Home’s door. Not knowing who was in front of him, Home immediately let slip, “Ah, you’re here about the dwarf’s body!” Once he realized that this Italian was the child’s father, Sir Everard evidently felt guilty, for it was he who had referred Dr. Gilligan to the Royal College of Surgeons.
He gave the distraught Crachami a check for £10 to appease him, and a pass to the Museum. Once there, however, the father discovered that it was too late: the anatomists and students at the College were so eager to examine the body that they had already begun.
According to the papers, the dissection was already well underway, and “the body of his darling progeny mangled in the most dreadful manner.” The articles went on and on (in the sensationalistic and fanciful manner of the time) describing the scene of the devastated father who, weeping bitter tears, clung to the dismembered little corpse while friends tried to persuade him to let go of the remains.
In the end Luigi Crachami was prevented from bringing the body home, and the father returned to Dublin empty-handed. Nothing more was heard of Dr. Gilligan, although it was rumored that he had fled to France after making a total of 1,500 guineas from the whole enterprise (when Caroline was alive, and then selling her corpse).

Annotation regarding the acquisition of the remains of the Sicilian Fairy in the Hunterian Museum Donation Book.

Not even at that point did the child’s body cease to be exhibited as a curiosity of nature.
After making casts of her face, arm, ankle and left foot, the Fairy was prepared by the College’s anatomists. Her tiny and fragile skeleton until recently was still on display at the Hunterian Museum in a glass case amid those of giants Charles Freeman and Charles Byrne.

Caroline Crachami’s story holds one last surprise, if possible even more heartbreaking.
From dental and bone analysis of the skull, it was determined that at the time of her death the child was not nine years old, but only three. Gilligan had therefore also lied about Caroline’s age: the audience would have been less impressed by her stature if they had known she was so young.

Shown for a shilling
Would be thy killing,
Think of Crachami’s miserable span!
No tinier frame the tiny spark could dwell in
Than there it fell in —
But when she felt herself a show — she tried
To shrink from the world’s eye, poor dwarf! and died!

(Thomas Hood, Ode To The Great Unknown, 1825)

Graveyard Bound

I am extremely excited to announce a project that at first glance might seem far from my usual sphere: on March 15 Graveyard Bound, the album I have been working on over the past year, will be released.

In fact, music for me has always been a fundamental aspect of the personal investigation that also inspired this blog. Those familiar with my work will find in Graveyard Bound some of the obsessions and passions that have always fueled my research: ecstasy, shadow, sacred violence, melancholy, old-time atmospheres, the marriage of cruelty and beauty, and death.

Graveyard Bound is meant to be a kind of strange blend of swamp blues, psych rock, ethnic sounds, and Gothic Americana. The album was initially conceived, during the pandemic isolation, as an experiment in remote recording, as the musicians (my old musical accomplices since we were teenagers) performed their parts while scattered in different cities across Europe. This resulted in a sound that was imperfect, sometimes shaky, brittle, creaky, but paradoxically more alive than if we had recorded together in the studio. We then mixed at the Production House in Milan, and the final mastering was done through an analog SSL mixer to give the tracks an even more vintage sound. Finally, I could not have hoped for a better album cover than the wonderful illustration signed by the great Swiss artist Thomas Ott.

The album will be released on all major streaming platforms, although by preference I suggest Bandcamp, which, by philosophy and mission, is somewhat its natural habitat, and where it is also possible to consult the lyrics of each track: the album will be available from March 15 by following this link.
On Bandcamp it will also be possible to support my work in two ways: by downloading the digital version of the album in high quality, which grants a bonus track entitled Ring-A-Round The Rosie; or by ordering the limited 12″ edition of the album printed on BioVinyl, an eco-friendly kind of vinyl, with lyrics on the inner sleeve.
With the occasion, I also opened an Instagram profile dedicated exclusively to music (you can follow it by clicking here), so as to keep blogging and music activities separate.

See you on the 15h, then: I am most curious to know what you think. Happy listening!

Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 28

Here is a new collection of trivia and oddities to start the year off right; enjoy!

  • Let’s begin with an extraordinary case reported in September 1988 in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology:

The patient was a 15-year-old girl employed in a local bar. She was admitted to hospital after a knife fight involving her, a former lover and a new boyfriend. Who exactly stabbed whom was not quite clear but all three participants in the small war were admitted with knife injuries. The girl had some minor lacerations of the left hand and a single stab-wound in the upper abdomen.

The laparotomy revealed two holes in her stomach, resulting from a single stab wound; the stomach was empty and no gastric fluid spillage was noted in the abdomen, so the doctors sutured the wound and the young patient fully recovered within 10 days.
The bad story seemed to be resolved when, precisely 278 days later, the girl came back to the hospital with sharp pains in her abdomen, and as soon as they saw her the doctors immediately understood that the young woman was pregnant and about to give birth. On closer examination, however, there came a surprise: although the uterus was contracting normally and the cervix was almost fully dilated, the patient had no vagina. Between the labia minora, below the urethral meatus, there was only a shallow skin dimple. The baby, a perfectly healthy male, was delivered by cesarean section, but at that point

curiosity could not be contained any longer and the patient was interviewd with the help of a sympathetic nursing sister. The whole story did not become completely clear during that day but, with some subsequent inquiries, the whole saga emerged.
The patient was well aware of the fact that she had no vagina and she had started oral experiments after disappointing attempts at conventional intercourse. Just before she was stabbed in the abdomen she had practised fellatio with her new boyfriend and was caught in the act by her former lover. The fight with knives ensued. [Subsequently] she had been worried about the increase in her abdominal size but could not believe she was pregnant although it had crossed her mind more often as her girth increased and as people around her suggested that she was pregnant. […] The young mother, her family, and the likely father adapted themselves rapidly to the new situation and some cattle changed hands to prove that there were no hard feelings. […] A plausible explanation for this pregnancy is that spermatozoa gained access to the reproductive organs via the injured gastrointestinal tract. It is known that spermatozoa do not survive long in an environment with a low pH, but it is also known that saliva has a high pH and that a starved person does not produce acid under normal circumstances. […] The fact that the son resembled the father excludes an even more miraculous conception.

  • Katharina Detzel (above) was committed to a mental hospital in 1907 for performing abortions and sabotaging a railroad line in political protest. While confined in the asylum, she constructed a life-size doll with male features, using straw from her mattress. The doll provided her with venting and comfort: she punched it when she was angry and danced with it when she felt happy.
  • In Atlantic City until the 1970s there was a show, dangerous and cruel, that was all the rage: diving into the sea from 18 meters high with horses. (Thanks, Roberto!)
  • Flash news: we have two noses.

  • The facial expression these young ladies are making is called ahegao, and many of you may know that it derives from Japanese hentai in which upturned/crossed eyes, stuck-out tongue and flushing cheeks are used to represent the height of sexual arousal. This pose, which is allusive while not being explicitly pornographic, moved from comic books to the Internet in a short time, becoming a widespread phenomenon on social media. Interestingly, tracing the history of the ahegao face reveals that it owes all its fortune to Japanese censorship.
  • Let’s stay in the Land of the Rising Sun: in 1803 some strange, UFO-like vessel ran aground on the shores of Japan. Inside was a beautiful red-haired teenager, dressed in strange clothes and unable to speak Japanese. The inhabitants, convinced that she might be a princess from a distant country, and wanting to avoid trouble with the local authorities, decided… to throw her back into the sea. Truth or legend?
  • An incredible resource for all artists, and more: J.G. Heck’s Iconographic Encyclopedia, published between 1849 and 1851, has been digitized in a new interactive form that includes more than 13,000 spectacular illustrations. (In each section, the “Plates only” button at the top allows you to exclude the text.)

  • Above is one of the small robots appearing in the science fiction film Silent Running (1972), capable of moving in a funny, almost human-like manner. A very thorough article reveals their “secret”: they were basically costumes operated by legless actors. Director Douglas Trumbull, who at the time was accused of being insensitive about employing disabled people, recalls in interviews that the four actors actually had a great time and were handsomely paid for their job.
  • Speaking of cinema, here is some utter genius at work. Starting in the 1930s, director Melton Barker made the same film, The Kidnappers Foil, more than 130 times, using the same script and largely the same shots. The subject was basic: a little girl named Betty Davis is kidnapped on her birthday; the town’s children, attracted by the reward put up by the missing girl’s father, organize several search parties; they finally succeed in rescuing her, and in the finale a big party erupts in which the children perform dances and musical numbers.
    What, then, was Barker’s gimmick? The film was played exclusively by the children residing in the town where he was staying at the time. Parents gladly paid a small fee for their children to be immortalized on film; within a few weeks of the filming being finished, the movie was ready to be shown in local movie theaters, to the delight of all the residents.
    In this way, moving from town to town across the United States, Melton Barker was able to sustain himself for 40 years. In 2012 the few surviving prints of The Kidnappers Foil were added to the National Film Registry for preservation as historically significant; you can see some versions of the film on this website.
  • In Lviv, during the Nazi occupation, many Polish intellectuals managed to avoid concentration camps and receive additional food rations by undertaking a singular job: louse-feeder. (Thanks, Roberto!)

  • The story of the leg of Santa Anna — a Mexican politician, general, dictator, and president — is almost as adventurous as that of its owner. The Generalisimo had been wounded in 1838 by cannon fire during a battle against the French, and had suffered an amputation below his left knee. He had initially buried the leg on his property in Vera Cruz. Once he became president of Mexico again in 1842, he had his leg exhumed and taken, in a luxurious ornate carriage, to Mexico City; there he had prepared an elaborate state funeral for his amputated limb, burying it in a small glass coffin. Two years later, the Santa Anna government was overthrown and a mob of rioters, in addition to destroying the president’s statues, dug up his leg and dragged it through the streets until there was nothing left of it.
    After regaining power, during the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847, Santa Anna was attacked by surprise while he was having lunch. Fleeing in a hurry, he left behind his wooden leg: it was collected as a trophy by U.S. infantry soldiers. That is why the prosthesis pictured above is still in the Illinois State Military Museum today.
  • And let’s talk about animals: in Brazil, in the small seaside town of Laguna, residents and dolphins have been joining forces to fish for 140 years. Only there is some doubt that it is the dolphins who have trained the humans.
  • News from last year but which for some reason I find touching: some archaeologists are hunting for the grave of Nancy, an elephantess who escaped from a traveling circus in 1891.
  • And finally, here is a spider doing a cartwheel (via Bestiale):

That’s all, see you next time!

Happy 2024!

In perhaps a somewhat snobbish way, I have always given little thought to established holidays or conventional subdivisions of the continuum into months, days, minutes; yet today, as I find myself in a phase of renewal, I am thankful that my fellow human beings invented New Year’s Eve!
Indeed the concept of moving forward, of changing, of a new beginning that this day symbolizes — all these ideas are especially comforting when one is in a time of transition.
And I really am off to a new start: the year that has just begun promises to be challenging, but dense with initiatives that I am excited about. Among the many projects on the horizon, some of which are already in the works, there is one that is especially close to my heart and which I will announce very shortly.

It’s off again indeed, and off again together: as always, the fundamental stimulus comes to me from the affection and enthusiasm you guys show me daily with messages, comments, e-mails etc., and it is the fantastic community created over the years, bringing together all of us weird and eclectic wonder-seekers, that gives me the real motivation to continue.

And while we are at it, this is not something I say often, however if you find my work interesting and would like to buy me a coffee or support me in a more concrete way, you might consider donating via PayPal. In fact, expenses are always heavy, even just to run this site, which is subject to significant traffic spikes and therefore needs large resources to stay up; any help is appreciated.

That said, I would like to thank you and wish you a very weird 2024: our usual appointment is at the edge of what is commonly known, to discover more strange, disturbing, surprising wonders… you know where to find me!

The fantastic visions of Steven Arnold

It is unfair and inexplicable that the figure of Steven Arnold, an eclectic and highly refined artist and influencer ante litteram, has remained so little known: it is only in recent years that people have begun to recognize his exceptional weight, from his visionary work to his central role in the cultural scene of the 30-year period from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Born on May 18, 1943, in Oakland, California, Steven showed a creative nature early on: as a child he spent hours locked in the attic of his home playing with puppets, for which he constructed elaborate costumes. In a sense he never stopped doing this until the end of his life, although by then, instead of puppets, he now had flesh-and-blood models and spectacular sets that he personally composed.
In high school Steven met Pandora (who was to become his muse, collaborator, and best friend), with whom he spent afternoons in his bedroom losing himself in reveries fueled by joints, mysticism, and playful cross-dressing.

In 1961, Arnold won a scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute. In the summer of 1963 he made a move to Paris, studying at the École des Beaux-Arts, but soon becoming bored, he moved to Formentera where he stayed for three months in a hippie commune. There he tried LSD for the first time, an experience that changed his life, as he later recounted: “this new drug was so euphoric and visionary, so positive and mind expanding. I ascended to another dimension, one so beautiful and spiritual that I was never the same.”

Upon returning to the United States, he devoted himself to his passion for filmmaking, and from the start the prospects were encouraging: his graduation short film, Messages, Messages, was screened at Cannes and other prestigious festivals
For the premiere in San Francisco in February 1968, Arnold decided that he would go big and, together with his collaborator Michael Wiese, rented the Palace Theatre for one evening; in addition to his short film, the evening included screenings of a number of French films selected by Arnold (including works by Méliès and Man Ray). The initiative was a resounding success, with 2,000 tickets sold, so much so that the theater managers suggested that Arnold curate a weekly film review.

Thus, a month later, the Nocturnal Dream Show was born, the very first example of a midnight movies review in history.
The themed evenings, complete with dress code, that Arnold organized at the Palace were not only a chance to see extremely rare films − such silent masterpieces as Metropolis, Betty Boop cartoons, old surrealist films, early twentieth-century pornography − but they soon became a cult phenomenon and a fixture for the Bay Area’s hippie counterculture.

The Nocturnal Dream Shows were also the moment when Steven Arnold’s ability to act as an “attractor” emerged, as he created crazy and colorful happenings, capable of bringing different worlds together: in the audience, among kids smoking pot or engaging in free love, it was not uncommon to run into actors, artists and writers of the caliber of George Harrison, Ellen Burstyn, Janis Joplin, Truman Capote or Tennessee Williams.

During those years Arnold, while staying out of the spotlight, had a major influence on fashion and visual culture: not only did he design some of the first rock posters for the famous Matrix nightclub (where the “San Francisco sound” was historically born), or invented the look that would be made famous a few years later by Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but he also gave for the first time the opportunity to perform on a stage to The Cockettes, a drag and psychedelic theater collective that immediately became a cornerstone of the San Francisco underground scene.

Meanwhile, Arnold also continued his directing career, signing in 1971 Luminous Procuress, an experimental and lysergic feature film that once again was acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival.
Two years later, Arnold met Salvador Dali at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, where the Surrealist painter was residing with his entourage. Dali, who was certainly not known for the generosity of his compliments, exploded into unprecedented enthusiasm when he saw Arnold’s work. He rented the hotel’s huge ballroom to screen Luminous Procuress; the entire New York elite, including Andy Warhol, attended the event.

From that moment on, Arnold became his protégé. He often sat at Dali’s feet like an adept before his guru, or by his side during dinner, and soon the two became inseparable. In the alternate reality they created together, they spent hours devising fantastical garments, dreamlike designs and surreal inventions
The following year Dalí invited him to Spain to work on the decorations of his Theater-Museum in Figueres. After attending the opening, he definitely became a favorite of Dali, who called him the Prince of his Court of Miracles — that is, the parterre of stars who revolved around him, from Amanda Lear to Marianne Faithfull, from Mick Jagger to David Bowie.

It was after his experience with Salvador Dali in the mid-1970s that Steven Arnold found his most congenial medium of expression: photography.
He rented an abandoned pretzel factory in Los Angeles, which he renamed Zanzibar Studios and turned into his laboratory. There he began shooting his extraordinary black-and-white tableau vivants, creating elaborate, baroque sets from the endless props and clothes he had collected over the years.

Steven Arnold’s photographs, to which he ascribed spiritual value and which he approached as meditation exercises, propose a veritable surreal cosmology in which reverence for the divine is diluted by a blunt camp humor. Here angelic and ethereal figures are depicted through a seductive, erotically charged carnality in a playful celebration of fluidity (ahead of its time). It is no coincidence that one of the deities Arnold was most fond of was Guanyin, the “drag” Buddha who is depicted in female form in parts of East Asia.

The density of the visual layout and the striking attention to detail also suggest an essential element of Arnold’s photography: even when he engages in ironic, queer reworking of religious icons, he shows no intent to shock the viewer. On the contrary, what emerges is the search for a language well-suited for his generation, capable of approaching mysticism and the sacred in a joyful and imaginative way. The images on which his pictures are based, in fact, often came to him in his dreams or during meditation; transposing these visions thus became a shamanic, almost priestly act, and at the same time theatrical, as if he was staging the unrepresentable.

From time to time inspired by his dream world, religions and Jungian archetypes, Arnold produced a vast body of photographs, sketches, sculptures and assemblages. At the same time he cultivated extensive social relationships, and his studio soon became a new hub for gatherings, daily parties and aperitifs attended by famous names and emerging artists.
Unfortunately, in 1988, just when he was at the height of his popularity, Arnold received the most dreaded diagnosis, that of AIDS.

In this excerpt from an interview with Ellen Burstyn, his close friend, we see him address the subject with the grace and irony that were his hallmarks.

After his death in 1994, Steven Arnold’s name and work remained relatively unknown to the general public for a long time.
Recently, thanks in part to the work of Vishnu Dass, director of the Steven Arnold Museum and Archives (and author of a documentary about the artist’s eccentric and unconventional life), his importance is beginning to be recognized — not only as a visual artist of great originality, but as a pioneering figure in queer culture as well. As Dass himself stated in an interview, “the things that he was really nurturing and fostering in his studio spaces are what people are fighting for in the culture at large today; and he had already made that a reality within the walls of his studios in the Sixties.”

Here is the wonderful Instagram page of the Steven Arnold Archives.

Miracles, Mysteries and Bleeding Polenta

In this new video: secret experiments, diabolical infestations and bloody miracles!

Three mysterious events that took place over seven centuries are linked by a surprising secret…

[Turn on English subtitles!]