In the seventh episode of Bizzarro Bazar: the tragic and startling story of the Sutherland Sisters; a piece of the Moon which fell to Earth; a creature halfway between the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. [Be sure to turn on English captions.]
In this post I would like to address three different discoveries I made over the years, and their peculiar relationship.
∼ 2009 ∼
I had just started this blog. During my nightly researches, I remember being impressed by the work of an Italian photographer who specialized in still life pictures: Guido Mocafico.
I was particularly struck – for obvious reasons of personal taste – by his photographs inspired by Dutch vanitas paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries: the pictures showed an outstanding, refined use of light and composition (they almost looked like paintings), but that was not all there was.
In this superb series, Mocafico represented many classic motifs used to symbolize transience (the homo bulla, man being like a soap bubble, but also the hourglass, the burning candle, etc.) with irreproachable taste and philologic attention; the smallest details betrayed a rigorous and deep preparation, a meticulous study which underpinned each of his photographs.
I went on to archive these fascinating photographs, promising myself I would talk about them sooner or later. I never kept that promise, until now.
∼ 2017 ∼
Last year Taschen published a somptuous, giant-size edition of Ernst Haeckel‘s works.
The German scientist, who lived between late 19th century and early 20th century, was an exceptional figure: marine biologist, naturalist, philosopher, he was among the major popularizers of Darwin’s theory of evolution in Germany. He discovered and classified thousands of new species, but above all he depicted them in hundreds of colorful illustrations.
Taschen’s luxurious volume is a neverending wonder, page after page. An immersion into an unknown and alien world – our world, inhabited by microorganisms of breathtaking beauty, graceful jellyfish, living creatures of every shape and structure.
It is a double aesthetic experience: one one hand we are in awe at nature’s imaginative skills, on the other at the artist’s mastery.
I’ll confess that going through the book, I often willingly forget to check the taxonomic labels: after a while, human categories and names seem to lose their meaning, and it’s best to just get lost in sheer contemplation of those perfect, intricate, unusual, exuberant forms.
∼ 2018 ∼
London, Natural History Museum, a couple of weeks ago.
There I am, bewildered for half an hour, looking at the model of a radiolarian, a single-celled organism found in zooplankton. In the darkened room, the light coming from above emphasizes the model’s intricate craftsmanship. The level of detail, the fragility of its thin pseudopods and the rendering of the protozoa’s translucid texture are mind-blowing.
This object’s peculiarity is that it’s made of glass. It’s one of the models created by 19th-century master glassmakers Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka.
And this is just one among thousands and thousands of similar masterpieces created by the two artists from Dresden.
The Blaschkas were a Bohemian family of glass artisans, and when Leopold was born he inherited the genes of several generations of glassmakers. Being especially talented from an early age, he created decorations and glass eyes for many years, until in a short span of time he happened to lose his wife, his son and his father to cholera. Shattered by grief, he took sails towards America but the ship was stopped at sea for two week due to a lack of wind. During this forced arrest, in the darkest period of his life, Leopold was saved by wonder: one night he was looking at the dark ocean, when suddenly he noticed “a flashlike bundle of light beams, as if it is surrounded by thousands of sparks, that form true bundles of fire and of other bright lighting spots, and the seemingly mirrored stars”. He observed those sea creatures in awe, and took sketches of their structure. Since that night, the memory of the magical spectacle he had witnessed never left him.
Years later, back in Dresden and happily remarried, he began creating glass flowers, as a hobby; his orchids were so perfectly crafted that they caught the eye of prince Camille de Rohan first, and then of the director of the Natural History Museum. The latter commissioned twelve sea anemones models; and thus Leopold, remembering that night on the stranded ship, began to work on scientific models. Soon Blaschka’s sea animals – and glass flowers – became famous; Leopold, with the help of his son Rudolph, collaborated with all the most important museums. After his father’s death, Rudolph continued to work developing an even more refined technique, producing 4.400 plant models for Harvard University’s Herbarium.
Together, father and son crafted a total of around 10.000 glass models of sea creatures.
Their artistry attained such perfection that, after them, no glassmaker would ever be able replicate it. “Many people think – Leopold wrote in 1889 – that we have some secret apparatus by which we can squeeze glass suddenly into these forms, but it is not so. We have tact. My son Rudolf has more than I have, because he is my son, and tact increases in every generation”.
∼ Convergence ∼
Some of our interests, at first glance independent from one another, sometimes turn out to be actually correlated. It is as if, on the map of our own passions, we suddenly discover a secret passage between two areas that we thought were distinct, a “B” spot connecting points “A” and “C”.
In this case, for me the “A” point was Guido Mocafico, the author of the evocative series of photographs entitled Vanités; whom I discovered years ago, and guiltily forgotten.
Haeckel was, in retrospect, my “C” point.
And I never would have thought of linking one to the other, before a “B” point, Blaschka’s glass models, appeared on my mind map
Because, here is the thing: to build their incredible glass invertebrates, Leopold and his son Rudolph were inspired, among other things, by Haeckel’s illustrations.
And you can imagine my surprise when I found out that all the best photographs of the Blaschka models, those you can see in this very article, were taken by… Guido Mocafico.
Unbeknownst to me, during the years I had lost sight of him, the photographer dedicated some amazing series of pictures to the Blaschka models, as you can see on his official website.
I always felt there was a tight connection between Haeckel’s fantastic microorganisms and my beloved vanitas. Their intimate bond, perhaps, was sensed by Mocafico too, in his aesthetic research.
A wonder for the creatures of the world is also the astonishment in regard to their impermanence.
At heart, we – human beings, animals, plants, ecosystems, maybe even reality itself – are but immensely beautiful, yet very fragile, glass masterpieces.
Mostri e freaks di ogni sorta in comode pillole di celluloide
Diamo il benvenuto al nostro primo guest blogger, Daniele “Danno” Silipo, direttore e amministratore del sito Bizzarro Cinema (notate l’affinità elettiva?). Daniele curerà per Bizzarro Bazar una serie di “percorsi” nel cinema weird per farci scoprire i mostri più assurdi, gli esseri più strani e deformi del cinema mondiale.
di Alex de la Iglesia (tit. or. Acciòn Mutante, Spagna, 1992)
Un’organizzazione di terroristi handicappati (ci sono gemelli siamesi, gravi ustionati e mutilati) si batte – con metodi illeciti – per ottenere il riconoscimento politico e far valere i diritti degli esclusi e degli emarginati…
B-movie cosciente e smaliziato, bulimico nelle sue mille contaminazioni e, quindi, visivamente ricco, caratterizzato da un’ambientazione punk, decadente e variegata. Fantascienza fracassona e fumettoide ma anche commedia nera da criminali pasticcioni e, se vogliamo, profezia sull’alienante consumismo estetico del mondo che verrà. L’esordio di Alex de la Iglesia è un film massiccio, sempre in movimento e dalla forma indefinita: un’azione mutante. Non per tutti, per fortuna. (Daniele “Danno” Silipo)
THE CALAMARI WRESTLER
di Minoru Kawasaki (tit. or. Ika resuraa, Giappone, 2004)
Sul ring, due lottatori di wrestling se le stanno dando di santa ragione. Flash di fotografi, telecronaca incalzante, pubblico in delirio. Il vincitore riceve la tanto ambita cintura, lasciandosi andare in un urlo liberatorio. Ma succede qualcosa: qualcuno è salito sul ring. Cazzarola, è un uomo calamaro, e sembra proprio intenzionato a combattere!
È in questa maniera che inizia il film Calamari Wrestler, dotato di uno dei soggetti cinematografici più scoppiati degli ultimi anni, reso ancora più folle dalla totale impassibilità di cui si circonda. Nessuno, nel film, sembra sconvolgersi più di tanto nel constatare l’esistenza di un mollusco antropomorfo in tenuta da lottatore. Neppure il regista/sceneggiatore Minoru Kawasaki: pochi cenni (neanche troppo chiari) per far capire le origini del lottatore tentacolato e un gustosissimo mascherone – in perfetto stile mostrone giapponese, di quelli che si vede “la plastica” anche a chilometri di distanza – per renderlo ancora più (in)credibile. (Daniele “Danno” Silipo)
Slok è uno scimmione mangia-banane rimasto inattivo per milioni di anni. Ora, più sveglio e affamato che mai, si appresta a seminare panico e terrore nella provincia americana…
Molto prima di Animal House e The Blues Brothers, John Landis, a soli ventuno anni, scrive, dirige (e interpreta) Slok, mendicando qualche spiccio a familiari e amici e dimostrando subito la sua capacità in termini di stile, ironia e ingegno. Giocando più che agevolmente coi cliché del genere horror, parodiando classiconi come King Kong e 2001 Odissea nello spazio, il giovane regista ci regala un b-movie coloratissimo e sconclusionato, demenziale e politicamente scorrettissimo: come si fa a restare impassibili di fronte alle mirabolanti capocciate di Mindy – giovane ragazza cieca – che va sbattendo a destra e a manca in ogni angolo della casa? Una telecamera, quattro amici, pochissimi soldi e tante buone idee ma, soprattutto, John Landis dietro la macchina da presa: se è vero che tutti possono fare un film, è altrettanto vero che non è da tutti fare un film così! (Alessandra Sciamanna)
Walmor Corrêa è un artista brasiliano che dipinge tavole anatomiche di esseri immaginari di sua invenzione. Le tavole, dagli splendidi colori, si rifanno alle vere illustrazioni dei libri di biologia, e spesso descrivono dettagliatamente l’anatomia interna di questi ibridi fantasiosi. Ondine, mostri, commistioni di umano e animale sono dipinti come fossero stati ritratti durante una dissezione. Accurate descrizioni etologiche rendono conto dei particolari comportamenti di questi animali. Corrêa ha anche creato diorami, orologi a cucù e carillon a partire da scheletri animali modificati. Se volete conoscere l’anatomia di una sirena, Corrêa è l’uomo giusto a cui chiederlo.