Wunderkammer Reborn – Part II

(Second and last part – you can find the first one here.)

In the Nineteenth Century, wunderkammern disappeared.
The collections ended up disassembled, sold to private citizens or integrated in the newly born modern museums. Scientists, whose discipline was already defined, lost interest for the ancient kind of baroque wonder, perhaps deemed child-like in respect to the more serious postitivism.
This type of collecting continued in sporadic and marginal ways during the first decades of the Twetieth Century. Some rare antique dealer, especially in Belgium, the Netherlands or Paris, still sold some occasional mirabilia, but the golden age of the trade was long gone.
Of the few collectors of this first half of the century the most famous is André Breton, whose cabinet of curiosities is now on permanent exhibit at the Centre Pompidou.

The interest of wunderkammern began to reawaken during the Eighties from two distinct fronts: academics and artists.
On one hand, museology scholars began to recognize the role of wunderkammern as precursors of today’s museal collections; on the other, some artists fell in love with the concept of the chamber of wonders and started using it in their work as a metaphor of Man’s relationship with objects.
But the real upswing came with the internet. The neo-wunderkammer “movement” developed via the web, which opened new possibilities not only for sharing the knowledge but also to revitalize the commerce of curiosities.

Let’s take a look, as we did for the classical collections, to some conceptual elements of neo-wunderkammern.

A Democratic Wunderkammer

The first macroscopic difference with the past is that collecting curiosities is no more an exclusive of wealthy billionaires. Sure, a very-high-profile market exists, one that the majority of enthusiasts will never access; but the good news is that today, anybody who can afford an internet conection already has the means to begin a little collection. Thanks to the web, even a teenager can create his/her own shelf of wonders. All that’s needed is good will and a little patience to comb through the many natural history collectibles websites or online auctions for some real bargain.

There are now children’s books, school activities and specific courses encouraging kids to start this form of exploration of natural wonders.

The result of all this is a more democratic wunderkammer, within the reach of almost any wallet.

Reinventing Exotica

We talked about the classic category of exotica, those objects that arrived from distant colonies and from mysterious cultures.
But today, what is really exotic – etymologically, “coming from the outside, from far away”? After all we live in a world where distances don’t matter any more, and we can travel without even moving: in a bunch of seconds and a few clicks, we can virtually explore any place, from a mule track on the Andes to the jungles of Borneo.

This is a fundamental issue for the collectors, because globalization runs the risk of annihilating an important part of the very concept of wonder. Their strategies, conscious or not, are numerous.
Some collectors have turned their eyes towards the only real “external space” that is left — the cosmos; they started looking for memorabilia from the heroic times of the Space Race. Spacesuits, gear and instruments from various space missions, and even fragments of the Moon.

Others push in the opposite direction, towards the most distant past; consequently the demand for dinosaur fossils is in constant growth.

But there are other kinds of new exotica that are closer to us – indeed, they pertain directly to our own society.
Internal exoticism: not really an oxymoron, if we consider that anthropologists have long turned the instruments of ethnology towards the modern Western worold (take for instance Marc Augé). To seek what is exotic within our own cultre is to investigate liminal zones, fringe realities of our time or of the recent past.

Thus we find a recent fascination for some “taboo” areas, related for example to crime (murder weapons, investigative items, serial killer memorabilia) or death (funerary objecs and Victorian mourning apparel); the medicalia sub-category of quack remedies, as for example electric shock terapies or radioactive pharamecutical products.

Jessika M. collection – photo Brian Powell, from Morbid Curiosities (courtesy P. Gambino)

Funerary collectibles.

Violet wand kit; its low-voltage electric shock was marketed as the cure for everything.

Even curiosa, vintage or ancient erotic objects, are an example of exotica coming from a recent past which is now transfigured.

A Dialogue Between The Objects

Building a wunderkammer today is an eminently artistic endeavour. The scientific or anthropological interest, no matter how relevant, cannot help but be strictly connected to aesthetics.
There is a greater general attention to the interplay between the objects than in the past. A painting can interact with an object placed in front of it; a tribal mask can be made to “dialogue” with an other similar item from a completely different tradition. There is undoubtedly a certain dose of postmodern irreverence in this approach; for when pop culture collectibles are allowed entrance to the wunderkammer, ending up exhibited along with precious and refined antiques, the self-righteous art critic is bound to shudder (see for instance Victor Wynd‘s peculiar iconoclasm).

An example I find paradigmatic of this search for a deeper interaction are the “adventurous” juxtapositions experimented by friend Luca Cableri (the man who brought to Moon to Italy); you can read the interview he gave me if you wish to know more about him.

Wearing A Wunderkammer

Fashion is always aware of new trends, and it intercepted some aspects of the world of wunerkammern. Thanks mainly to the goth and dark subcultures, one can find jewelry and necklaces made from naturalistic specimens: on Etsy, eBay or Craigslist, countless shops specialize in hand-crafted brooches, hair clips or other fashion accessories sporting skulls, small wearable taxidermies and so on.

Conceptual Art and Rogue Taxidermists

As we said, the renewed interest also came from the art world, which found in wunderkammern an effective theoretical frame to reflect about modernity.
The first name that comes to mind is of course Damien Hirst, who took advantage of the concept both in his iconic fluid-preserved animals and in his kaleidoscopic compositions of lepidoptera and butterflies; but even his For The Love of God, the well-known skull covered in diamonds, is an excessively precious curiosity that would not have been out of place in a Sixteenth Century treasure chamber.

Hirst is not the only artist taking inspiration from the wunderkammer aesthetics. Mark Dion, for instance, creates proper cabinets of wonders for the modern era: in his work, it’s not natural specimens that are put under formaldeyde, but rather their plastic replicas or even everyday objects, from push brooms to rubber dildos. Dion builds a sort of museum of consumerism in which – yet again – Nature and Culture collide and even at times fuse together, giving us no hope of telling them apart.

In 2013 Rosamund Purcell’s installation recreated a 3D version of the Seventeenth Century Ole Worm Museum: reinvention/replica, postmodern doppelgänger and hyperreal simulachrum which allows the public to step into one of the most famous etchings in the history of wunderkammern.

Besides the “high” art world – auction houses and prestigious galleries – we are also witnessing a rejuvenation of more artisanal sectors.
This is the case with the art of taxidermy, which is enjoying a new youth: today taxidermy courses and workshops are multiplying.

Remember that in the first post I talked about taxidermy as a domestication of the scariest aspects of Nature? Well, according to the participants, these workshops offer a way to exorcise their fear of death on a comfortably small scale, through direct contact and a creative activity. (We shall return on this tactile element.)
A further push towards innovation has come from yet another digital movement, called Rogue Taxidermy.

Artistic, non-traditional taxidermy has always existed, from fake mirabilia and gaffs such as mummified sirens and Jenny Hanivers to Walter Potter‘s antropomorphic dioramas. But rogue taxidermists bring all this to a whole new level.

Initially born as a consortium of three artists – Sarina Brewer, Scott Bibus e Robert Marbury – who were interested in taxidermy in the broadest sense (Marbury does not even use real animals for his creations, but plush toys), rogue taxidermy quickly became an international movement thanks to the web.

The fantastic chimeras produced by these artists are actually meta-taxidermies: by exhibiting their medium in such a manifest way, they seem to question our own relationship with animals. A relationship that has undergone profound changes and is now moving towards a greater respect and care for the environment. One of the tenets of rogue taxidermy is in fact the use of ethically sourced materials, and the animals used in preparations all died of natural causes. (Here’s a great book tracing the evolution and work of major rogue taxidermy artists.)

Wunderkammer Reborn

So we are left with the fundamental question: why are wunderkammern enjoying such a huge success right now, after five centuries? Is it just a retro, nostalgic trend, a vintage frivolous fashion like we find in many subcultures (yes I’m looking at you, my dear hipster friends) or does its attractiveness lie in deeper urgencies?

It is perhaps too soon to put forward a hypothesis, but I shall go out on a limb anyway: it is my belief that the rebirth of wunderkammern is to be sought in a dual necessity. On one hand the need to rethink death, and on the other the need to rethink art and narratives.

Rethinking Death
(And While We’re At It, Why Not Domesticate It)

Swiss anthropologist Bernard Crettaz was among the first to voice the ever more widespread need to break the “tyrannical secrecy” regarding death, typical of the Twentieth Century: in 2004 he organized in Neuchâtel the first Café mortel, a free event in which participants could talk about grief, and discuss their fears but also their curiosities on the subject. Inspired by Crettaz’s works and ideas, Jon Underwood launched the first British Death Café in 2011. His model received an enthusiastic response, and today almost 5000 events have been held in 50 countries across the world.

Meanwhile, in the US, a real Death-Positive Movement was born.
Originated from the will to drastically change the American funeral industry, criticized by founder Caitlin Doughty, the movement aims at lifting the taboo regarding the subject of death, and promotes an open reflection on related topics and end-of-life issues. (You probably know my personal engagement in the project, to which I contributed now and then: you can read my interview to Caitlin and my report from the Death Salon in Philadelphia).

What has the taboo of death got to do with collecting wonders?
Over the years, I have had the opportunity of talking to many a collector. Almost all of them recall, “as if it were yesterday“, the emotion they felt while holding in their hands the first piece of their collection, that one piece that gave way to their obsession. And for the large majority of them it was a naturalistic specimen – an animal skeleton, a taxidermy, etc.: as a friend collector says, “you never forget your first skull“.

The tactile element is as essential today as it was in classical wunderkammern, where the public was invited to study, examine, touch the specimens firsthand.

Owning an animal skull (or even a human one) is a safe and harmless way to become familiar with the concreteness of death. This might be the reason why the macabre element of wunderkammern, which was marginal centuries ago, often becomes a prevalent aspect today.

Ryan Matthew Cohn collection – photo Dan Howell & Steve Prue, from Morbid Curiosities (courtesy P. Gambino)

Rethinking Art: The Aesthetics Of Wonder

After the decline of figurative arts, after the industrial reproducibility of pop art, after the advent of ready-made art, conceptual art reached its outer limit, giving a coup the grace to meaning.  Many contemporary artists have de facto released art not just from manual skill, from artistry, but also from the old-fashioned idea that art should always deliver a message.
Pure form, pure signifier, the new conceptual artworks are problematic because they aspire to put a full stop to art history as we know it. They look impossible to understand, precisely because they are designed to escape any discourse.
It is therefore hard to imagine in what way artistic research will overcome this emptiness made of cold appearance, polished brilliance but mere surface nonetheless; hard to tell what new horizon might open up, beyond multi-million auctions, artistars and financial hikes planned beforehand by mega-dealers and mega-collectors.

To me, it seems that the passion for wunderkammern might be a way to go back to narratives, to meaning. An antidote to the overwhelming surface. Because an object is worth its place inside a chamber of marvels only by virtue of the story it tells, the awe it arises, the vertigo it entails.
I believe I recognize in this genre of collecting a profound desire to give back reality to its lost enchantment.
Lost? No, reality never ceased to be wonderous, it is our gaze that needs to be reeducated.

From Cabinets de Curiosités (2011) – photo C. Fleurant

Eventually, a  wunderkammer is just a collection of objects, and we already live submerged in an ocean of objects.
But it is also an instrument (as it once was, as it has always been) – a magnifying glass to inspect the world and ourselves. In these bizarre and strange items, the collector seeks a magical-narrative dimension against the homologation and seriality of mass production. Whether he knows it or not, by being sensitive to the stories concealed within the objects, the emotions they convey, their unicity, the wunderkammer collector is carrying out an act of resistence: because placing value in the exception, in the exotic, is a way to seek new perspectives in spite of the Unanimous Vision.

Da Cabinets de Curiosités (2011) – foto C. Fleurant

Wunderkammer Reborn – Part I

Why has the new millennium seen the awakening of a huge interest in “cabinets of wonder”? Why does such an ancient kind of collecting, typical of the period between the 1500s and the 1700s, still fascinate us in the internet era? And what are the differences between the classical wunderkammern and the contemporary neo-wunderkammern?

I have recently found myself tackling these subjects in two diametrically opposed contexts.
The first was dead serious conference on disciplines of knowledge in the Early Modern Period, at the University of PAdua; the second, a festival of magic and wonder created by a mentalist and a wonder injector. In this last occasion I prepared a small table with a micro-wunderkammer (really minimal, but that’s what I could fit into my suitcase!) so that after the talk the public could touch and see some curiosities first-hand.

Two traditionally quite separate scenarios – the academic milieu and the world of entertainment – both decided to dedicate some space to the discussion of this phenomenon, which strikes me as indicative of its relevance.
So I thought it might be interesting to resume, in very broad terms, my speech on the subject for the benefit of those who could not attend those meetings.

For practical purposes, I will divide the whole thing into two posts.
In this first one, I will trace what I believe are the key characteristics of historical wunderkammern – or, more precisely, the key concepts worth reflecting upon.
In the next post I will address XXI Century neo-wunderkammern, to try and pinpoint what might be the reasons of this peculiar “rebirth”.

Mirabilia

Evidently, the fundamental concept for a wunderkammer, beginning from the name itself, was the idea of wonder; from the aristocratic cabinets of Ferdinand II of Austria or Rudolf II to the more science-oriented ones like Aldrovandi‘s, Cospi‘s, or Kircher‘s, the purpose of all ancient collections was first and foremost to amaze the visitor.

It was a way for the rich person who assembled the wunderkammer to impress his court guests, showing off his opulence and lavish wealth: cabinets of curiosities were actually an evolution of treasure chambers (schatzkammern) and of the great collections of artworks of the 1400s (kunstkammer).

This predilection of rare and expensive objects generated a thriving international commerce of naturalistic and ethnological items cominc from the Colonies.

The Theatre of the World

But wunderkammern were also meant as a sort of microcosm: they were supposed to represent the entirety of the known universe, or at least to hint at the incredibly vast number of creatures and natural shapes that are present in the world. Samuel Quiccheberg, in his treatise on the arrangement of a utopian museum, was the first to use the word “theatre”, but in reality – as we shall see later on – the idea of theatrical representation is one of the cardinal concepts in classical collections.

Because of its ability to represent the world, the wunderkammer was also understood as a true instrument of research, an investigation tool for natural philosophers.

The System of Knowledge

The organization of a huge array of materials did not initially follow any specific order, but rather proceeded from the collector’s own whims and taste. Little by little, though, the idea of cataloguing began to emerge, which at first entailed the distinction between three macro-categories known as naturalia, artificialia and mirabilia, later to be refined and expanded in different other classes (medicalia, exotica, scientifica, etc.).

Naturalia

Artificialia

Artificialia

Mirabilia

Mirabilia

Medicalia, exotica, scientifica

This ever growing need to distinguish, label and catalogue eventually led to Linnaeus’ taxonomy, to his dispute with Buffon, all the way to Lamarck, Cuvier and the foundation of the Louvre, which marks the birth of the modern museum as we know it.

The Aesthetics of Accumulation

Perhaps the most iconic and well-known aspect of wunderkammern is the cramming of objects, the horror vacui that prevented even the tiniest space from being left empty in the exposition of curiosities and bizarre artifacts gathered around the world.
This excessive aesthetic was not just, as we said in the beginning, a display of wealth, but aimed at astounding and baffling the visitor. And this stunned condition was an essential moment: the wonder at the Universe, that feeling called thauma, proceeds certainly from awe but it is inseparable from a sense of unease. To access this state of consciousness, from which philosophy is born, we need to step outof our comfort zone.

To be suddenly confronted with the incredible imagination of natural shapes, visually “assaulted” by the unthinkable moltitude of objects, was a disturbing experience. Aesthetics of the Sublime, rather than Beauty; this encyclopedic vertigo is the reason why Umberto Eco places wunderkammern among his examples of  “visual lists”.

Conservation and Representation

One of the basic goals of collecting was (and still is) the preservation of specimens and objects for study purposes or for posterity. Yet any preservation is already a representation.

When we enter a museum, we cannot be fully aware of the upstream choices that have been made in regard to the exhibit; but these choices are what creates the narrative of the museum itself, the very “tale” we are told room after room.

Multiple options are involved: what specimens are to be preserved, which technique is to be used to preserve them (the result will vary if a biological specimen is dried, texidermied, or put in a preserving fluid), how to group them, how to arrange their exhibit?
It is just like casting the best actors, choosing the stage costumes, a particular set design, and the internal script of the museum.

The most illuminating example is without doubt taxidermy, the ultimate simulacrum: of the original animal nothing is left but the skin, stretched on a dummy which mimics the features and posture of the beast. Glass eyes are applied to make it more convincing. That is to say, stuffed animals are meant to play the part of living animals. And when you think about it, there is no more “reality” in them than in one of those modern animatronic props we see in Natural History Museums.

But why do we need all this theatre? The answer lies in the concept of domestication.

Domestication: Nature vs. Culture

Nature is opposed to Culture since the time of ancient Greeks. Western Man has always felt the urge to keep his distance from the part of himself he perceived as primordial, chaotic, uncontrollable, bestial. The walls of the polis locked Nature outside, keeping Culture inside; and it’s not by chance that barbarians – seen as half-men half-beasts – were etymologically “those who stutter”, who remained outside of the logos.

The theatre, an advanced form of representation, was born in Athens likely as a substitute for previous ancient human sacrifices (cf. Réné Girard), and it served the same sacred purposes: to sublimate the animal desire of cruelty and violence. The tragic hero takes on the role of the sacrificial victim, and in fact the evidence of the sacred value of tragedies is in the fact that originally attending the theatrical plays was mandatory by law for all citizens.

Theatre is therefore the first attempt to domesticate natural instincts, to bring them literally “inside one’s home” (domus), to comprehend them within the logos in order to defuse their antisocial power. Nature only becomes pleasant and harmless once we narrate it, when we turn it into a scenic design.

And here’s why a stuffed lion (which is a narrated lion, the “image” of a lion as told through the fiction of taxidermy) is something we can comfortably place in our living room without any worry. All study of Nature, as it was conceived in the wunderkammern, was essentially the study of its representation.

By staging it, it was possible to exert a kind of control over Nature that would have been impossible otherwise. Accordingly, the symbol of the wunderkammern, that piece that no collection could do without, was the chained crocodile — bound and incapable of causing harm thanks to the ties of Reason, of logos, of knowledge.

It is worth noting, in closing this first part, that the symbology of the crocodile was also borrowed from the world of the sacred. These reptiles in chains first made their apparition in churches, and several examples can still be seen in Europe: in that instance, of course, they were meant as a reminder of the power and glory of Christ defeating Satan (and at the same time they impressed the believers, who in all probability had never seen such a beast).
A perfect example of sacred taxidermy; domestication as a bulwark against the wild, sinful unconscious; barrier bewteen natural and social instincts.

(Continues in Part Two)

Bizzarro Bazar a New York – I

New York, Novembre 2011. È notte. Il vento gelido frusta le guance, s’intrufola fra i grattacieli e scende sulle strade in complicati vortici, senza che si possa prevedere da che parte arriverà la prossima sferzata. Anche le correnti d’aria sono folli ed esagerate, qui a Times Square, dove il tramonto non esiste, perché i maxischermi e le insegne brillanti degli spettacoli on-Broadway non lasciano posto alle ombre. Le basse temperature e il forte vento non fermano però il vostro esploratore del bizzarro, che con la scusa di una settimana nella Grande Mela, ha deciso di accompagnarvi alla scoperta di alcuni dei negozi e dei musei più stravaganti di New York.

Partiamo proprio da qui, da Times Square, dove un’insegna luminosa attira lo sguardo del curioso, promettendo meraviglie: si tratta del museo Ripley’s – Believe It Or Not!, una delle più celebri istituzioni mondiali del weird, che conta decine di sedi in tutto il mondo. Proudly freakin’ out families for 90 years! (“Spaventiamo le famiglie, orgogliosamente, da 90 anni”), declama uno dei cartelloni animati.

L’idea di base del Ripley’s sta proprio in quel “credici, oppure no”: si tratta di un museo interamente dedicato allo strano, al deviante, al macabro e all’incredibile. Ad ogni nuovo pezzo in esposizione sembra quasi che il museo ci sfidi a comprendere se sia tutto vero o se si tratti una bufala. Se volete sapere la risposta, beh, la maggior parte delle sorprendenti e incredibili storie raccontate durante la visita sono assolutamente vere. Scopriamo quindi le reali dimensioni dei nani e dei giganti più celebri, vediamo vitelli siamesi e giraffe albine impagliate, fotografie e storie di freak celebri.

Ma il tono ironico e fieramente “exploitation” di questa prima parte di museo lascia ben presto il posto ad una serie di reperti ben più seri e spettacolari; le sezioni antropologiche diventano via via più impressionanti, alternando vetrine con armi arcaiche a pezzi decisamente più macabri, come quelli che adornano le sale dedicate alle shrunken heads (le teste umane rimpicciolite dai cacciatori tribali del Sud America), o ai meravigliosi kapala tibetani.

Tutto ciò che può suscitare stupore trova posto nelle vetrine del museo: dalla maschera funeraria di Napoleone Bonaparte, alla pistola minuscola ma letale che si indossa come un anello, alle microsculture sulle punte di spillo.

Talvolta è la commistione di buffoneria carnevalesca e di inaspettata serietà a colpire lo spettatore. Ad esempio, in una pacchiana sala medievaleggiante, che propone alcuni strumenti di tortura in “azione” su ridicoli manichini, troviamo però una sedia elettrica d’epoca (vera? ricostruita?) e perfino una testa umana sezionata (questa indiscutibilmente vera). Il tutto per il giubilo dei bambini, che al Ripley’s accorrono a frotte, e per la perplessità dei genitori che, interdetti, non sanno più se hanno fatto davvero bene a portarsi dietro la prole.

Insomma, quello che resta maggiormente impresso del Ripley’s – Believe It Or Not è proprio questa furba commistione di ciarlataneria e scrupolo museale, che mira a confondere e strabiliare lo spettatore, lasciandolo frastornato e meravigliato.

Per tornare unpo’ con i piedi per terra, eccoci quindi a un museo più “serio” e “ufficiale”, ma di certo non più sobrio. Si tratta del celeberrimo American Museum of Natural History, uno dei musei di storia naturale più grandi del mondo – quello, per intenderci, in cui passava una notte movimentata Ben Stiller in una delle sue commedie di maggior successo.

Una giornata intera basta appena per visitare tutte le sale e per soffermarsi velocemente sulle varie sezioni scientifiche che meriterebbero ben più attenzione.

Oltre alle molte sale dedicate all’antropologia paleoamericana (ricostruzioni accurate degli utensili e dei costumi dei nativi, ecc.), il museo offre mostre stagionali in continuo rinnovo, una sala IMAX per la proiezione di filmati di interesse scientifico, un’impressionante sezione astronomica, diverse sale dedicate alla paleontologia e all’evoluzione dell’uomo, e infine la celebre sezione dedicata ai dinosauri (una delle più complete al mondo, amata alla follia dai bambini).

Ma forse i veri gioielli del museo sono due in particolare: il primo è costituito dall’ampio uso di splendidi diorami, in cui gli animali impagliati vengono inseriti all’interno di microambienti ricreati ad arte. Che si tratti di mammiferi africani, asiatici o americani, oppure ancora di animali marini, questi tableaux sono accurati fin nel minimo dettaglio per dare un’idea di spontanea vitalità, e da una vetrina all’altra ci si immerge in luoghi distanti, come se fossimo all’interno di un attimo raggelato, di fronte ad alcuni degli esemplari tassidermici più belli del mondo per precisione e naturalezza.

L’altra sezione davvero mozzafiato è quella dei minerali. Strano a dirsi, perché pensiamo ai minerali come materia fissa, inerte, e che poche emozioni può regalare – fatte salve le pietre preziose, che tanto piacciono alle signore e ai ladri cinematografici. Eppure, appena entriamo nelle immense sale dedicate alle pietre, si spalanca di fronte a noi un mondo pieno di forme e colori alieni. Non soltanto siamo stati testimoni, nel resto del museo, della spettacolare biodiversità delle diverse specie animali, o dei misteri del cosmo e delle galassie: ecco, qui, addirittura le pietre nascoste nelle pieghe della terra che calpestiamo sembrano fatte apposta per lasciarci a bocca aperta.

Teniamo a sottolineare che nessuna foto può rendere giustizia ai colori, ai riflessi e alle mille forme incredibili dei minerali esposti e catalogati nelle vetrine di questa sezione.

Alla fine della visita è normale sentirsi leggermente spossati: il Museo nel suo complesso non è certo una passeggiata rilassante, anzi, è una continua ginnastica della meraviglia, che richiede curiosità e attenzione per i dettagli. Eppure la sensazione che si ha, una volta usciti, è di aver soltanto graffiato la superficie: ogni aspetto di questo mondo nasconde, ora ne siamo certi, infinite sorprese.

(continua…)

F.A.Q. – Bellezza e tonicità

Caro Bizzarro Bazar, l’età avanza. Come posso mantenermi sempre giovane e bella?

Ti consigliamo le tre fasi del Trattamento Bellezza di Bizzarro Bazar®:

Fase 1 – Scrubbing. Ridona elasticità e vigore alla pelle immergendoti nella vasca dei Garra Rufa! Questi piccoli pesci elimineranno tutte le cellule morte dal tuo corpo (e forse qualcuna di quelle vive, ma bisogna pur soffrire, per essere belle).

Fase 2 – Hair conditioning. Restituisci lucentezza ai tuoi capelli secchi e danneggiati, proteggendoli e nutrendoli con un apporto naturale di proteine. Oggi, grazie al nuovo Concentrato Attivo di Sperma di Toro, i capelli si trasformano: più forti dall’interno, brilleranno di una nuova luce!

Fase 3 – Facial Flex. Per finire, ecco uno strumento indispensabile per la tonicità dei tuoi muscoli facciali. Niente più rughe, niente più pelle flaccida. Con Facial Flex, il lifting facciale non-invasivo e clinicamente testato, nessuno potrà più indovinare la tua età.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etU_wtP5Pck]

Ma ricordati, se aprirai bocca per parlare, potrebbero sempre indovinare la tua intelligenza.

Sculture tassidermiche – II

Continuiamo la nostra panoramica (iniziata con questo articolo) sugli artisti contemporanei che utilizzano in modo creativo e non naturalistico le tecniche tassidermiche.

Jane Howarth, artista britannica, ha finora lavorato principalmente con uccelli imbalsamati. Avida collezionista di animali impagliati, sotto formalina e di altre bizzarrie, le sue esposizioni mostrano esemplari tassidermici adornati di perle, collane, tessuti pregiati e altre stoffe. Jane è particolarmente interessata a tutti quegli animali poveri e “sporchi” che la gente non degna di uno sguardo sulle aste online o per strada: la sua missione è manipolare questi resti “indesiderati” per trasformarli in strane e particolari opere da museo, che giocano sul binomio seduzione-repulsione. Si tratta di un’arte delicata, che tende a voler abbellire e rendere preziosi i piccoli cadaveri di animali. La Howarth ci rende sensibili alla splendida fragilità di questi corpi rinsecchiti, alla loro eleganza, e con impercepibili, discreti accorgimenti trasforma la materia morta in un’esibizione di raffinata bellezza. Bastano qualche piccolo lembo di stoffa, o qualche filo di perla, per riuscire a mostrarci la nobiltà di questi animali, anche nella morte.

Pascal Bernier è un artista poliedrico, che si è interessato alla tassidermia soltanto per alcune sue collezioni. In particolare troviamo interessante la sua Accidents de chasse (1994-2000, “Incidenti di caccia”), una serie di sculture in cui animali selvaggi (volpi, elefanti, tigri, caprioli) sono montati in posizioni naturali ma esibiscono bendaggi medici che ci fanno riflettere sul valore della caccia. Normalmente i trofei di caccia mostrano le prede in maniera naturalistica, in modo da occultare il dolore e la violenza che hanno dovuto subire. Bernier ci mette di fronte alla triste realtà: dietro all’esibizione di un semplice trofeo, c’è una vita spezzata, c’è dolore, morte. I suoi animali “handicappati”, zoppi, medicati, sono assolutamente surreali; poiché sappiamo che nella realtà, nessuno di questi animali è mai stato medicato o curato. Quelle bende suonano “false”, perché quando guardiamo un esemplare tassidermico, stiamo guardando qualcosa di già morto. Per questo i suoi animali, nonostante l’apparente serenità,  sembrano fissarci con sguardo accusatorio.

Lisa Black, neozelandese ma nata in Australia nel 1982, lavora invece sulla commistione di organico e meccanico. “Modificando” ed “adattando” i corpi degli animali secondo le regole di una tecnologia piuttosto steampunk, Lisa Black si pone il difficile obiettivo di farci ragionare sulla bellezza naturale confusa con la bellezza artificiale. Crea cioè dei pezzi unici, totalmente innaturali, ma innegabilmente affascinanti, che ci interrogano su quello che definiamo “bello”. Una tartaruga, un cerbiatto, un coccodrillo: di qualsiasi animale si tratti, ci viene istintivo trovarli armoniosi, esteticamente bilanciati e perfetti. La Black aggiunge a questi animali dei meccanismi a orologeria, degli ingranaggi, quasi si trattasse di macchine fuse con la carne, o di prototipi di animali meccanici del futuro. E la cosa sorprendente è che la parte meccanica nulla toglie alla bellezza dell’animale. Creando questi esemplari esteticamente raffinati, l’artista vuole porre il problema di questa falsa dicotomia: è davvero così scontata la “sacrosanta” bellezza del naturale rispetto alla “volgarità” dell’artificiale?