Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 12

Eli Bowen “the Legless Wonder” with his family welcome you to this new batch of oddities and news from around the world! Let’s start!

  • Could there be a solution to appeal vegans, vegeterians and meat lovers? It’s called post-animal bio-economy, and among other things it involves growing laboratory meat from stem cells.
    A totally painless method for animals, who could at last lead their happy lives without us giving up a steak, a glass of milk or a poached egg. These would note be alternative products, but the same products, developed in a much more sustainable way in respect to linear agriculture (which has proven problematic for the quantity of land, chemicals, pesticides, energy resources, needed water and work, and emissions of greenhouse gases).
    Take the highly controversial foie gras: in the near future it could be produced from the stem cells gathered from the tip of a duck’s feather. It might seem a bit sci-fi, but the first lab foie gras is already here, and this journalist tasted it.
    There are just two obstacles: on one hand, the costs of lab meat are still too high for large-scale production (but this shouldn’t take too long to fix); on the other, there’s the small detail that this is a cultural, and not just agricultural, revolution. We will find out how traditional farmers will react, and above all if consumers are rady to try these new cruelty-free products.

  • The city of Branau am Inn, in Austria, is sadly known as the birthplace of a certain dictator called Adolf. But it should be remembered for another reason: the story of Hans Steininger, a burgomaster who on September 28, 1567, was killed by his own beard. A thick and prodigiously long set of hair, which turned out to be fatal during a great fire: while escaping the flames, mayor Hans forgot to roll his 2-meters-long beard and put it in his pocket, as he usually did, tripped on it and fell down the stairs breaking his neck.
    As in the 1500s there was no such thing as the Darwin Awards, his fellow citizens placed a nice plaque on the side of the church and preserved the killer beard, still visible today at Branau’s Civic Museum.

  • But if you think silly deaths are an exclusively human achievement, hear this: “due to the humidity in its environment and how slowly a sloth moves, plant life will grow in its fur. This, combined with poor eyesight, leads to some sloths grabbing their own arms, thinking it’s a tree branch, and falling to their deaths.” (via Seriously Strange)

  • Furthermore, there’s the genius rodent who slipped into a 155-years-old mousetrap on exhibit in a museum. Slow clap.
  • You’re always so nervous and depressed, they said.
    Why don’t you learn a musical instrument, just to chill out and amuse yourself?, they said.
    It served them well.

  • The Flying Dutch of the 20th Century was called SS Baychimo, a cargo ship that got stuck in the Alaskan ice in 1931 and was abandoned there. For the next 38 years the ghost ship kept turning up and was spotted on several occasions; somebody even managed to board it, but each time the Baychimo successfully escaped without being recovered. (Thanks, Stefano!)
  • The terrible story of “El Negro”: when collectors of natural curiosities didn’t just ship animal skins back to Europe from the Colonies, but also the skin of human beings they dug out of their graves during the night.

  • Since we’re talking about human remains, the biggest traveling mummy exhibit was launched eight years ago (featuring a total of 45 mummies). You never got to see it? Neither did I. Here are some nice pictures.
  • Japanese aesthetics permeates even the smallest details: take a look at these two pages from a late-XVII C. manuscript showing the different kinds of design for wagashi (tipical pastries served during the tea ceremony. Ante litteram food porn.
  • Some researchers form the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland created music specifically studied to be appealing to cats, with frequences and sounds that should be, at least in theory, “feline-centric“. The tracks can be bought here even if, to be honest, my cats didn’t seem to be particularly impressed by the music samples. But then again, those two are fastidious and spoiled rotten.
  • An article published two years ago, and unfortunately still relevant today: transgender people have a hard time being recognized as such, even when theyr’e dead.

“Almost ready dear, let me put on some pearls and we can go out.”

  • Among the most bizarre museums, there is the wonderful Museum of Broken Relationships. It consists of objects, donated by the public, that symbolize a terminated relationship: the pearl necklace given as a gift by a violent fiancé to his girlfriend, in the attempt to be forgiven for his last abuses; an axe used by a woman to chop all of her ex-grilfriend’s furniture into pieces; the Proust volumes that a husband read out loud to his wife — the last 200 hundred pages still untouched, as their relationship ended before they’d finished reading the book. Well, can a love story ever last longer than the Recherche? (via Futility Closet)

In closing, I’d like to remind you that on Saturday 17 I will be in Bologna, at the library-wunderkammer Mirabilia (via de’ Carbonesi 3/e) to launch my new book from the Bizzarro Bazar Collection. You will also get to meet photographer Carlo Vannini and Professor Alberto Carli, curator of the Paolo Gorini Anatomical Collection. I hope to see you there!


Dimitri Tsykalov è un artista russo. Utilizza diverse tecniche di scultura per trasformare oggetti comuni in opere d’arte stupefacenti e metaforicamente stimolanti.

Ha cominciato costruendo alcune installazioni che ricreano completamente in legno oggetti che normalmente sono composti di altri materiali: in questo interno di una camera, ad esempio, tutto, dal cuscino alle coperte, al computer, al lavandino, al WC, ogni cosa è interamente scolpita nel legno.

In seguito, ha costruito una Porsche a grandezza naturale, ancora in legno. Le sue sono opere d’arte che ci spingono a guardare diversamente certi aspetti della realtà. Deperiscono velocemente di fronte agli occhi degli spettatori: in un certo senso, offrono delle forme vuote e biodegradabili, come se tutta la nostra tecnologia fosse votata alla distruzione. Questa Porsche non è altro che un segno, riconoscibile, ma il materiale di cui è composta ci rende visibile il suo destino ineluttabile. Basterebbe un po’ d’acqua per rovinarla completamente, e prima o poi la sua struttura si disintegrerà, distruggendo contemporaneamente il simbolo con tutti i valori che ad esso sono connessi.

Stesso discorso vale per gli organi umani in legno: sembrano fissi ed eterni, ma esibiscono anche una fragilità che conosciamo bene, anche se raramente ci soffermiamo a rifletterci.

Per rendere ancora più chiaro il concetto, Tsykalov è poi passato a scolpire teschi ricavati da vegetali: la “vita” di queste opere è ancora minore. Risulta chiaro che le sue non sono altro che moderne vanitas, destinate a ricordarci la futilità delle nostre esistenze.

Ma è con la sua ultima opera che Tsykalov ha davvero creato qualcosa di unico e impressionante. Intitolata MEAT (“carne”), la serie ci mostra i corpi nudi di diversi modelli che impugnano armi fatte di carne, indossano elmetti scolpiti a partire da bistecche e insaccati, sono imprigionati da catene di salsicce.

Queste fotografie toccano alcuni punti precisi del nostro sistema simbolico. Da una parte, ammiccano alla (con)fusione di carne e metallo che gran parte ha avuto nell’iconografia post-moderna. Dall’altra, mostrano una guerra fatta di carne e sangue, in cui l’avanzata tecnologia non appare più fredda e metallica, ma costruita con le stesse logiche del macello. Inoltre, l’utilizzo di hot-dog, hamburger e altre forme di consumo della carne, riporta tutto all’idea del cibo. La bellezza dei modelli contrasta con le macabre situazioni in cui sono coinvolti.

La rappresentazione di Tsykalov mira a mostrare l’essere umano per ciò che è veramente. Un’accozzaglia di bellezza e putridume, violenza ed estasi, bisogni animaleschi e illusioni razionalistiche. Ed è proprio sui simboli che Tsykalov lavora più efficacemente: vedere una bandiera (che potrebbe essere qualsiasi bandiera) completamente composta di carne macellata non può che far riflettere.