Inanimus, Monsters & Chimeras of the Present

I look above me, towards the movable hooks once used to hang the meat, and I visualize the blood and pain that these walls had to contain – sustain – for many long years. Death and pain are the instruments life has to proceed, I tell myself.

I’m standing inside Padua’s former slaughterhouse: a space specifically devised for massacre, where now animals are living a second, bizarre life thanks to Alberto Michelon’s artworks.
When I meet him, he immediately infects me with the feverish enthusiasm of someone who is lucky (and brave) enough to be following his own vocation. What comes out of his mouth must clearly be a fifth of what goes through his mind. As John Waters put it, “without obsession, life is nothing“.
Animals and taxidermy are Alberto’s obsession.

Taxidermy is traditionally employed in two main fields: hunting trophies, and didactical museum installations.
In both context, the demand for taxidermic preparations is declining. On one hand we are witnessing a drop in hunting activities, which find less and less space in European culture as opposed to ecological preoccupations and the evolution of the ethical sensitiviy towards animals. On the other hand, even great Natural History Museums already have their well-established collections and seldom acquire new specimens: often a taxidermist is only called when restoration is required on already prepared animals.

This is why – Alberto explains – I mainly work for private customers who want to preserve their domestic pets. It is more difficult, because you have to faithfully recreate the cat or dog’s expressiveness based on their photographs; preparing a much-loved and familiar pet requires the greatest care. But I get a huge satisfaction when the job turns out well. Customers often burst into tears, they talk to the animal – when I present them with the finished work, I always step aside and leave them a bit of intimacy. It’s something that helps them coming to terms with their loss.”

What he says doesn’t surprise me: in a post on wunderkammern I associated taxidermy’s second youth (after a time in which it looked like this art had become obsolete) to the social need of reconfiguring our relationship with death.
But the reason I came here is Alberto is not just an ordinary taxidermist: he is Italy’s only real exponent of artistic taxiermy.

Until November 5, here at the ex-slaughterhouse, you can visit his exhibition Inanimus – A Contemporary Bestiary, a collection of his main works.
To a casual observer, artistic non-naturalist taxidermy could seem not fully respectful towards the animal. In realuty, most artists who use animal organic material as a medium do so just to reflect on our own relationship with other species, creating their works from ethical sources (animals who died of natural causes, collected in the wild, etc.).

Alberto too follows such professional ethics, as he began his experiment using leftovers from his workshop. “I was sorry to have to throw away pieces of skin, or specimens that wouldn’t find an arrangement“, he tells me. “It began almost like a diversion, in a very impulsive way, following a deep urge“.
He candidly confesses that he doesn’t know much about the American Rogue Taxidermy scene, nor about modern art galleries. And it’s clear that Alberto is somewhat alien to the contemporary art universe, so often haughty and pretentious: he keeps talking about instinct, about playing, but must of all – oh, the horror! – he takes the liberty of doing what no “serious” artist would ever dream of doing: he explains the message of his own works, one by one.

His installations really have much to say: rather than carrying messages, though, they are food for thought, a continuous and many-sided elaboration of the modernity, an attempt to use these animal remains as a mirror to investigate our own face.
Some of his works immediately strike me for the openness with which they take on current events: from the tragedy of migrants to GMOs, from euthanasia to the present-day fear of terrorist attacks.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other artist using taxidermy to confront the present in such a direct way.
A roe deer head covered in snake skin, wearing an orange uniform reminiscent of Islamic extremists’ prisoners, is chained to the wall. The reference is obvious: the heads of decapitated infidels are assimilated to hunting trophies.
To be honest, I find this explicit allusion to current events imagery (which, like it or not, has gained a “pop” quality) pretty unsettling, and I’m not even sure that I like it – but if something pulls the rug out from under my feet, I bless it anyways. This is what the best art is supposed to do.

Other installations are meant to illustrate Western contradictions, halfway through satire and open criticism to a capitalistic system ever harder to sustain.
A tortoise, represented as an old bejeweled lady with saggy breasts, is the emblem of a conservative society based on economic privilege: a “prehistoric” concept that, just like the reptile, has refused to evolve in any way.

A conqueror horse, fierce and rampant, exhibits a luxurious checked fur composed from several equines.
A social climber horse: to be where he stands, he must have done away with many other horses“, Alberto tells me with a smile.

An installation shows the internal organs of a tiger, preserved in jars that are arranged following the animal’s anatomy: the eyes, tomgue and brain are placed at the extremity where the head should be, and so on. Some chimeras seem to be in the middle of a bondage session: an allusion to poaching for aphrodisiac elixirs such as the rhino horn, and to the fil rouge linking us to those massacres.

A boar, sitting on a toilet, is busy reading a magazine and searching for a pair of glass eyes to fill his empty eye sockets.
The importance of freedom of choice regarding the end of life is incarnated by two minks who hanged themselves – rather than ending up in a fur coat.
The skulls of three livestock animals are hanged like trophies, and plastic flowers come out of the hole bored by the slaughterhouse firearm (“I picked up the flowers from the graves at the cemetery, replacing them with new flowers“, Michelon tells me).

As you might have understood by now, the most interesting aspect of the Inanimus works is the neverending formal experimentation.
Every installation is extremely different from the other, and Alberto Michelon always finds new and surprising ways of using the animal matter: there are abstract paintings whose canvas is made of snake or fish skin; entomological compositions; anthropomorphic taxidermies; a crucifix entirely built by patiently gluing together bone fragments; tribal masks, phallic snakes mocking branded underwear, skeletal chandeliers, Braille texts etracted from lizard skin.

Ma gli altri tassidermisti, diciamo i “puristi”, non storcono il naso?
Certamente alcuni non la ritengono vera tassidermia, forse pensano che io mi sia montato la testa. Non mi importa. Cosa vuoi farci? Questo progetto sta prendendo sempre più importanza, mi diverte e mi entusiasma.

On closer inspection, there’s not a huge difference between classic and artistic taxidermy. The stuffed animals we find in natural science museums, as well as Alberto’s, are but representations, interpretations, simulachra.
Every taxidermist uses the skin, and shape, of the animal to convey a specific vision of the world; and the museum narrative (although so conventional as to be “invisible” to our eyes) is maybe no more legit than a personal perspective.

Although Alberto keeps repeating that he feels he’s a novice, still unripe artist, the Inanimus works show a very precise artistic direction. As I approach the exit, I feel I have witnessed something unique, at least in the Italian panorama. I cannot therefore back away from the ritual prosaic last question: future projects?
I want to keep on getting better, learning, experimenting new things“, Alberto replies as his gaze wanders all around, lost in the crowd of his transfigured animals.

Inanimus – un bestiario contemporaneo
Padova, Cattedrale Ex-macello, Via Cornaro 1
Until October 17, 2017 [Extended to November 5, 2017]
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Links, curiosities & mixed wonders – 9

Let’s start with some quick updates.

Just three days left till the end of the Bizzarro Bazar Contest. I received so many fantastic entries, which you will discover next week when the winners are announced. So if you’re among the procrastinators, hurry up and don’t forget to review the guidelines: this blog has to be explicitly mentioned/portrayed within your work.

On October 1st I will be at Teatro Bonci in Cesena for the CICAP Fest 2017 [CICAP is a skeptical educational organization.]
As this year’s edition will focus on fake news, hoaxes and post-truth, I was asked to bring along some wonders from my wunderkammer — particularly a bunch of objects that lie between truth and lies, between reality and imagination. And, just to be a bit of a rebel, I will talk about creative hoaxes and fruitful conspiracies.

As we are mentioning my collection, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for one of the last arrivals: this extraordinary work of art.

I hear you say “Well, what’s so special about it?“. Oh, you really don’t understand modern art, do you?
This picture, dated 2008, was painted by the famous artist Jomo.

Here’s Jomo:

Here’s Jomo as a bronze statuette, acquired along with the painting.

Exactly, you guessed it: from now on I will be able to pull  the good old Pierre Brassau prank on my house guests.
I was also glad the auction proceeds for the gorilla painting went to the Toronto Zoo personnel, who daily look after these wonderful primates. By the way, the Toronto Zoo is an active member of the North American Gorilla Species Survival Plan and also works in Africa to save endangered gorillas (who I was surprised to find are facing extinction because of our cellphones).

And now let’s start with our usual selection of goodies:

She’d given me rendez-vous in a graveyard / At midnight – and I went: / Wind was howling, dark was the sky / The crosses stood white before the churchyard; / And to this pale young girl I asked: / – Why did you give me rendez-vous in a graveyard? / – I am dead, she answered, and you do not know: / Would you lay down beside me in this grave? / Many years ago I loved you, alive, / For many a year the merciless tomb sealed me off… / Cold is the ground, my beloved youth! / I am dead, she answered, and you do not know.

  • This is a poem by Igino Ugo Tarchetti, one of the leading figures in the Scapigliatura, the most bizarre, gothic and “maudit” of all Italian literary movements. (My new upcoming book for the Bizzarro Bazar Collection will also deal, although marginally, with the Scapigliati.)

  • And let’s move onto shrikes, these adorable little birds of the order of the Passeriformes.
    Adorable, yet carnivore: their family name, Laniidae, comes from the Latin word for “butcher” and as a matter of fact, being so small, they need to resort to a rather cruel ploy. After attacking a prey (insects but also small vertebrates), a shrike proceeds to impale it on thorns, small branches, brambles or barbed wire, in order to immobilize it and then comfortably tear it to pieces, little by little, while often still alive — making Vlad Tepes look like a newbie.

  • Talking about animals, whales (like many other mammals) mourn their dead. Here’s a National Geographic article on cetacean grief.
  • Let’s change the subject and talk a bit about sex toys. Sexpert Ayzad compiled the definitive list of erotic novelties you should definitely NOT buy: these ultra-kitsch, completely demented and even disturbing accessories are so many that he had to break them into three articles, one, two and three. Buckle up for a descent into the most schizoid and abnormal part of sexual consumerism (obviously some pics are NSFW).
  • Up next, culture fetishists: people who describe themselves as “sapiosexuals”, sexually attracted by intelligence and erudition, are every nerd’s dream, every introverted bookworm’s mirage.
    But, as this article suggests, choosing an intelligent partner is not really such a new idea: it has been a part of evolution strategies for millions of years. Therefore those who label themselves as sapiosexual on social networks just seem pretentious and eventually end up looking stupid. Thus chasing away anyone with even a modicum of intelligence. Ah, the irony.

  • Meanwhile The LondoNerD, the Italian blog on London’s secrets, has discovered a small, eccentric museum dedicated to Sir Richard Francis Burton, the adventurer whose life would be enough to fill a dozen Indiana Jones movies. [Sorry, the post is in Italian only]

Someone fixed giraffes, at last.

Balthus’ adolescents

Art should comfort the disturbed,
and disturb the comfortable.

(Cesar A. Cruz)

Until January 31 2016 it is possible to visit the Balthus retrospective in Rome, which is divided in two parts, a most comprehensive exhibit being held at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and a second part in Villa Medici focusing on the artist’s creative process and giving access to the rooms the painter renovated and lived in during his 16 years as director of the Academy of France.

In many ways Balthus still remains an enigmatic figure, so unswervingly antimodernist to keep the viewer at distance: his gaze, always directed to the Renaissance (Piero della Francesca above all), is matched by a constant and meticulous research on materials, on painting itself before anything else. Closely examined, his canvas shows an immense plastic work on paint, applied in uneven and rugged strokes, but just taking a few steps back this proves to be functional to the creation of that peculiar fine dust always dancing within the light of his compositions, that kind of glow cloaking figures and objects and giving them a magical realist aura.

Even if the exhibit has the merit of retracing the whole spectrum of influences, experimentations and different themes explored by the painter in his long (but not too prolific) career, the paintings he created from the 30s to the 50s are unquestionably the ones that still remain in the collective unconscious. The fact that Balthus is not widely known and exhibited can be ascribed to the artist’s predilection for adolescent subjects, often half-undressed young girls depicted in provocative poses. In Villa Medici are presented some of the infamous polaroids which caused a German exhibit to close last year, with accusations of displaying pedophilic material.

The question of Balthus’ alleged pedophilia — latent or not — is one that could only arise in our days, when the taboo regarding children has grown to unprecedented proportions; and it closely resembles the shadows cast over Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, guilty of taking several photographs of little girls (pictures that Balthus, by the way, adored).

But if some of his paintings cause such an uproar even today, it may be because they bring up something subtly unsettling. Is this eroticism, pornography, or something else?

Trying to find a perfect definition separating eroticism from pornography is an outdated exercise. More interesting is perhaps the distinction made by Angela Carter (a great writer actively involved in the feminist cause) in her essay The Sadeian Woman, namely the contrast between reactionary pornography and “moral” (revolutionary) pornography.

Carter states that pornography, despite being obscene, is largely reactionary: it is devised to comfort and strenghten stereotypes, reducing sexuality to the level of those crude graffiti on the walls of public lavatories. This representation of intercourse inevitably ends up being just an encounter of penises and vaginas, or their analogues/substitutes. What is left out, is the complexity behind every sexual expression, which is actually influenced by economics, society and politics, even if we have a hard time acknowledging it. Being poor, for intance, can limit or deny your chance for a sophisticated eroticism: if you live in a cold climate and cannot afford heating, then you will have to give up on nudity; if you have many children, you will be denied intimacy, and so on. The way we make love is a product of circumstances, social class, culture and several other factors.

Thus, the “moral” pornographer is one who does not back up in the face of complexity, who does not try to reduce it but rather to stress it, even to the detriment of his work’s erotic appeal; in doing so, he distances himself from the pornographic cliché that would want sexual intercourse to be just an abstract encounter of genitals, a shallow and  meaningless icon; in giving back to sexuality its real depth, this pornographer creates true literature, true art. This attitude is clearly subversive, in that it calls into question biases and archetypes that our culture — according to Carter — secretely inoculates in our minds (for instance the idea of the Male with an erect sex ready to invade and conquer, the Female still bleeding every month on the account of the primordial castration that turned her genitals passive and “receptive”, etc.).

In this sense, Carter sees in Sade not a simple satyr but a satirist, the pioneer of this pornography aiming to expose the logic and stereoptypes used by power to mollify and dull people’s minds: in the Marquis’ universe, in fact, sex is always an act of abuse, and it is used as a narrative to depict a social horizon just as violent and immoral. Sade’s vision is certainly not tender towards the powerful, who are described as revolting monsters devoted by their own nature to crime, nor towards the weak, who are guilty of not rebelling to their own condition. When confronting his pornographic production with all that came before and after him, particularly erotic novels about young girls’ sexual education, it is clear how much Sade actually used it in a subversive and taunting way.

Pierre Klossowksi, Balthus’ brother, was one of Sade’s greatest commentators, yet we probably should not assign too much relevance to this connection; the painter’s frirendship with Antonin Artaud could be more enlightening.

Beyond their actual collaborations (in 1934 Artaud reviewed Balthus’ first personal exhibit, and the following year the painter designed costumes and sets for the staging of The Cenci), Artaudian theories can guide us in reading more deeply into Balthus’ most controversial works.

Cruelty was for Artaud a destructive and at the same time enlivening force, essential requisite for theater or for any other kind of art: cruelty against the spectator, who should be violently shaken from his certainties, and cruelty against the artist himself, in order to break every mask and to open the dizzying abyss hidden behind them.

Balthus’ Uncanny is not as striking, but it moves along the same lines. He sees in his adolscents, portrayed in bare bourgeois interiors and severe geometric perspectives, a subversive force — a cruel force, because it referes to raw instincts, to that primordial animalism society is always trying to deny.

Prepuberal and puberal age are the moments in which, once we leave the innocence of childhood behind, the conflict between Nature and Culture enters our everyday life. The child for the first time runs into prohibitions that should, in the mind of adults, create a cut from our wild past: his most undignified instincts must be suppressed by the rules of good behavior. And, almost as if they wanted to irritate the spectators, Balthus’ teenagers do anything but sit properly: they read in unbecoming positions, they precariously lean against the armchair with their thighs open, incorrigibly provocative despite their blank faces.

But is this a sexual provocation, or just ironic disobedience? Balthus never grew tired of repeating that malice lies only in the eyes of the beholder. Because adolescents are still pure, even if for a short time, and with their unaffectedness they reveal the adults inhibitions.

This is the subtle and elegant subversive vein of his paintings, the true reason for which they still cause such an uproar: Balthus’ cruelty lies in showing us a golden age, our own purest soul, the one that gets killed each time an adolescent becomes an adult. His aesthetic and poetic admiration is focused on this glimpse of freedom, on that instant in which the lost diamond of youth sparkles.

And if we want at all costs to find a trace of eroticism in his paintings, it will have to be some kind of “revolutionary” eroticism, like we said earlier, as it insinuates under our skin a complexity of emotions, and definitely not reassuring ones. Because with their cheeky ambiguity Balthus’ girls always leave us with the unpleasant feeling that we might be the real perverts.

The mysterious artist Pierre Brassau

In 1964 the Gallerie Christinae in Göteborg, Sweden, held an exhibition of young avantgarde painters.
Among the works of these promising artists from Italy, Austria, Denmark, England and Sweden, were also four abstract paintings by the french Pierre Brassau. His name was completely unknown to the art scene, but his talents looked undisputable: this young man, although still a beginner, really seemed qualified to become the next Jackson Pollock — so much so that since the opening, his paintings stole the attention from all other featured works.

Journalists and art critics were almost unanimous in considering Pierre Brassau the true revelation of Gallerie Christinae’s exhibit. Rolf Anderberg, a critic for the Posten, was particularly impressed and penned an article, published the next day, in which he affirmed: “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer“.

As should be expected, in spite of the general enthusiasm, there was also the usual skeptic. One critic, making a stand, defiantly declared: “only an ape could have done this“.
There will  always be somebody who must go against the mainstream. And, even if it’s hard to admit, in doing so he sometimes can be right.
Pierre Brassau, in reality, was actually a monkey. More precisely a four-year-old African chimpanzee living in the Borås Zoo.

Showing primate’s works in a modern art exhibition was Åke “Dacke” Axelsso’s idea, as he was at the time a journalist for the daily paper Göteborgs-Tidningen. The concept was not actually new: some years before, Congo the chimp  had become a celebrity because of his paintings, which fascinated Picasso, Miro and Dali (in 2005 Congo’s works were auctioned for 14.400 punds, while in the same sale a Warhol painting and a Renoir sculpture were withdrawn).
Thus Åke decided to challenge critics in this provocative way: behind the humor of the prank was not (just) the will to ridicule the art establishment, but rather the intention of raising a question that would become more and more urgent in the following years: how can we judge an abstract art piece, if it does not contain any figurative element — or if it even denies that any specific competence is needed to produce art?

Åke had convinced the zoo keeper, who was then 17 years old, to provide a chimp named Peter with brushes and canvas. In the beginning Peter had smeared the paint everywhere, except on the canvas, and even ate it: he had a particularly sweet tooth, it is said, for cobalt blue — a color which will indeed be prominently featured in his later work. Encouraged by the journalist, the primate started to really paint, and to enjoy this creative activity. Åke then selected his four best paintings to be shown at the exhibit.

Even when the true identity of mysterious Pierre Brassau was revealed, many critics stuck by their assessment, claiming the monkey’s paintings were better than all the others at the gallery. What else could they say?
The happiest person, in this little scandal, was probably Bertil Eklöt, a private collector who had bought a painting by the chimpanzee for $90 (about $7-800 today). Perhaps he just wanted to own a curious piece: but now that painting could be worth a fortune, as Pierre Brassau’s story has become a classic anecdote in art history. And one that still raises the question on whether works of art are, as Rilke put it, “of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism“.


The first international press article on Brassau appeared on Time magazine. Other info taken from this post by Museum of Hoaxes.

(Thanks, Giacomo!)

De profundis, mostra e booksigning

Keep The World Weird

Fra pochi giorni sarà finalmente disponibile il secondo volume della Collana Bizzarro Bazar. Intitolato De profundis, il libro esplora le suggestioni del Cimitero delle Fontanelle di Napoli portando il lettore faccia a faccia con le “capuzzelle” e il loro significato simbolico grazie alle fotografie di Carlo Vannini.

Logos Edizioni in collaborazione con Ateliers ViaDueGobbiTre, nell’ambito della manifestazione internazionale Fotografia Europea, ha organizzato una mostra fotografica che presenterà in esposizione i migliori scatti dei primi due volumi della Collana. All’evento, intitolato Keep The World Weird, ovviamente sarà presente anche il vostro affezionato Bizzarro Bazar, che aprirà le danze parlando della “meraviglia nera” e del suo potere sovversivo. L’appuntamento è per venerdì 15 maggio alle ore 19, presso l’atelier Laura Cadelo Bertrand in Via Due Gobbi, Reggio Emilia.

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Per i due giorni successivi, sabato 16 maggio e domenica 17 maggio, mi troverete intento a firmare e dedicare le copie di De profundis al Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino, presso lo stand Logos. E per la gioia di grandi e piccini sarà anche possibile impadronirsi di un profluvio di golosi gadget (shopper, spille, magneti, cartoline, e chi più ne ha più ne metta); tutti accessori imprescindibili per ostentare con classe il vostro orgoglio weird!

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Per eventuali ulteriori aggiornamenti, ricordo che ora esiste anche la nostra pagina Facebook.

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Bizzarro Bazar a Parigi – II

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Cominciamo il nostro secondo tour di Parigi facendo una capatina da Deyrolle. Dal 1831 questo favoloso negozio propone, in un’atmosfera da camera delle meraviglie, importanti collezioni tassidermiche, entomologiche e naturalistiche.

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La Maison Deyrolle ospita anche regolarmente esposizioni di famosi artisti (vi sono passate le opere, fra gli altri, di Niki De Saint Phalle e Damien Hirst), invitati ad elaborare dei progetti specifici a partire dall’immenso catalogo di preparati tassidermici ed entomologici a disposizione.

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Aggirandosi per le stanze stracolme di animali, fra uccelli esotici e orsi bruni, non si fatica a capire perché Deyrolle sia una vera e propria istituzione, e conti i migliori professionisti sul campo. Va anche sottolineato che nessuno di questi animali è stato ucciso al fine di essere imbalsamato: gli esemplari non domestici provengono da zoo, circhi o allevamenti nei quali sono morti di vecchiaia o malattia.

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Spostiamoci ora in uno dei templi dell’arte mondiale, il Musée d’Orsay. Qui, fino al 25 Gennaio 2015, sarà possibile visitare l’esposizione Sade – Attaquer le soleil, che si propone di rintracciare l’influenza del Marchese De Sade sull’arte del XIX e XX secolo.

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Franz von Stuck, Giuditta e Oloferne, 1927

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Eugène Delacroix, Medea furiosa, 1838

La mostra da sola vale il biglietto d’ingresso: l’impressionante corpus di opere selezionate conta più di 500 pezzi. Da Delacroix a von Stuck, da Goya a Kubin, da Füssli a Beardsley, da Ernst a Bellmer, l’esposizione si concentra sull’impossibilità di rappresentare il desiderio, sul corpo, sulla crudeltà. La filosofia sadiana, per quanto negata e messa al bando per più di un secolo, si rivela in realtà un fil rouge, insinuatosi clandestinamente nel mondo dell’arte, che unisce pittori differenti e lontani fra loro nel tempo e nello spazio, una sorta di corrente sotterranea che porta fino alla “riscoperta” dell’autore da parte dei Surrealisti e al suo successivo sdoganamento.

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Franz von Stuck, Il peccato, 1899

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Alfred Kubin, La donna a cavallo, 1900-1901

Ma l’influenza di Sade non risiede soltanto nelle opere degli artisti che ha in qualche modo ispirato: secondo i curatori, egli ha cambiato anche il modo in cui guardiamo all’arte precedente ai suoi scritti. La prima sezione infatti, intitolata Humain, trop humain, inhumain mostra come tutti i temi sadiani fossero già presenti nell’arte prima di lui, ma all’interno di codici accettabili. Una scena di martirio in una chiesa, ad esempio, non scandalizzava nessuno. Sade però fa cadere il velo, e dopo di lui non sarà più possibile ammirare uno spettacolo di violenza senza pensare alle sue parole: “La crudeltà, ben lontana dall’essere un vizio, è il primo sentimento che la natura imprime in noi; il bambino rompe il suo giocattolo, morde il seno della nutrice, strangola il suo uccellino, molto prima d’avere l’età della ragione” (La filosofia nel boudoir, 1795).

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Jindrich Styrsky, Emilie viene a me in sogno, 1933

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Francisco de Goya, I cannibali, 1800-1808

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Félix Vallotton, Orfeo smembrato dalle Menadi, 1914

Non lontano dal Musée d’Orsay si trova il quartiere universitario della Sorbona. Ci trasferiamo al Museo della Storia della Medicina, che raccoglie una collezione di strumenti chirurgici d’epoca.

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Fra i pezzi più straordinari, vi sono certamente gli strumenti ideati nell’800 dall’urologo Jean Civiale per l’estrazione dei calcoli (le immagini qui sotto rendono bene l’idea di quanto l’operazione fosse complicata – e terrificante, visto che il tutto era svolto in assenza di anestesia); e se questo non bastasse a farvi venire la pelle d’oca, ecco le seghe con catena a carica automatica per amputazioni, fra gli strumenti meno precisi e maneggevoli mai sperimentati in chirurgia.

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Ma il vero gioiello del museo, a nostro parere, è il tavolo realizzato dall’italiano Efisio Marini e offerto a Napoleone III.

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Perché è così interessante? Perché quello che sembra un semplice tavolino mosaicato su cui è appoggiata la scultura di un piede, è in realtà formato a partire da pezzi pietrificati di cervello, sangue, bile, fegato, polmoni e ghiandole. Il piede è un vero piede, anch’esso pietrificato, così come le quattro orecchie che spuntano dalla superficie del tavolino e le vertebre sezionate che lo adornano. Osservando da vicino quest’opera incredibile, non si fatica a comprendere perché Efisio Marini fosse considerato uno dei più abili anatomisti preparatori del suo tempo (vedi il nostro articolo sui pietrificatori).

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Ritorniamo infine ai nostri amati animali, ma stavolta con una visita più classica: quella alla Grande Galérie de l’Evolution. Non è certo un museo poco conosciuto, quindi aspettatevi un po’ di coda e le grida entusiaste dei più piccoli.

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Ma una volta dentro, tutti ridiventano bambini. Dopo essere passati sotto al gigantesco scheletro di un capodoglio, e una prima sala dedicata agli animali marini (per la verità un po’ deludente), si arriva al grande salone che contiene una fra le attrazioni principali: la spettacolare camminata dei mammiferi africani.

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Sotto una volta d’acciaio e vetro che cambia colore imitando le diverse fasi del giorno, gli animali della savana sembrano avviati verso un’invisibile Arca di Noè, o verso un futuro ancora sconosciuto (una nuova evoluzione?). Fu proprio questa installazione curiosa e innovativa che vent’anni fa, quando la Galleria aprì i battenti sostituendo la precedente Galleria di Zoologia, le assicurò una rapida fama.

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Ma la biodiversità e le infinite forme di vita plasmate dall’evoluzione trovano spazio sui tre piani del complesso, fra diorami artistici e illuminanti raffronti fra le varie specie.

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Fra qualche giorno la terza ed ultima parte di questa ricognizione della Parigi meno risaputa: preparatevi perché abbiamo tenuto il meglio per la fine…

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LA MAISON DEYROLLE
46, rue du Bac
Apertura: dal lunedì al sabato
Orari: Lun 10-13 e 14-19, mar-sab 10-19
Sito web

MUSEE D’ORSAY
1, rue de la Légion d’Honneur
Apertura: chiuso il lunedì
Orari: 9.30-18, il giovedì 9.30-21.45
Sito web

MUSEE DE L’HISTOIRE DE LA MEDECINE
12, rue de l’Ecole de Médecine
Apertura: tutti i giorni tranne giovedì e domenica
Orari: 14-17.30
Sito web

GRANDE GALERIE DE L’EVOLUTION
36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
Apertura: tutti i giorni tranne il martedì e il 1 maggio.
Orari: 10-18
Sito web

(Questo articolo è il secondo di una serie dedicata a Parigi. Gli altri due capitoli sono qui e qui.)

Wunderkammer alla Biennale

JAN-FABRE

C’è tempo ancora fino al 29 settembre per visitare l’esposizione Wunderkammer, allestita nella prestigiosa cornice secentesca di Palazzo Widmann a Venezia.

La mostra è arrivata in Italia dopo il successo dell’edizione belga, e propone una selezione di opere di più di 20 artisti che danno vita ad una “Camera delle meraviglie” in chiave contemporanea, ispirandosi a quei collezionisti che tra il XVI ed il XVIII secolo erano soliti raccogliere e conservare oggetti stravaganti ed eccezionali realizzati dall’Uomo o dalla Natura.

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Grazie alle luci soffuse ed ad un ipnotizzante sottofondo musicale, si ritrova la stessa atmosfera delle antiche wunderkammer rinascimentali: ma la raccolta di oggetti d’arte, sculture, installazioni, fotografie, pitture, non vuole essere semplicemente un’ideale continuazione, quanto piuttosto una rilettura di quello che significava nei secoli scorsi entrare in uno di questi antesignani dei musei, nella confusione di Naturalia e Artificialia. Se, allora, il senso di meraviglia era dato dalle mille forme inaspettate ed ignote che poteva assumere il mondo attorno a noi, oggi un sentimento simile viene invece veicolato dalla riflessione sull’ibridazione, sulla mutazione, l’androginia, e sui rapporti uomo-ambiente. Qui non è unicamente la Natura ad essere messa al centro della produzione artistica, ma soprattutto l’uomo nei suoi rapporti con essa, e nella sua identità ormai proteiforme.

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Spiega il curatore Antonio Nardone: “Siamo abituati a vedere le opere contemporanee da sole, sulle pareti bianche dei musei e delle gallerie. Qui, le presento riunite in maniera variegata e, soprattutto, accompagnate da testi completamente immaginari, come Il corno di Unicorno o Il sangue di drago, che si trovavano nelle camere delle meraviglie. Il visitatore, al di là della lettura proposta, diventa “protagonista” sviluppando la propria interpretazione dell’opera.”

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Ecco la lista degli artisti (alcuni dei quali particolarmente controversi) che partecipano con le loro opere all’esposizione: Pascal Bernier, Isobel Blank, Stefano Bombardieri, Ulrike Bolenz, Charley Case, Marcello Carrà, Eric Croes, Dany Danino, Wim Delvoye, Laurence Dervaux, Yves Dethier & Olivia Droeshaut, Jacques Dujardin, Jan Fabre, Alessandro Filippini, Manuel Geerinck, Roberto Kusterle, Jean-Luc Moerman, Michel Mouffe, Ivan Piano, Vincent Solheid, Bénédicte van Caloen, Patrick van Roy, Sofi van Saltbommel.

PASCAL-BERNIER

La mostra è aperta tutti i giorni dalle 11 alle 19, presso il Palazzo Widmann, Calle Larga Widmann (Rialto-Ospedale), Venezia. Ecco il sito ufficiale dell’esposizione. L’intervista integrale al curatore è su Espoarte.

Body Worlds a Roma

Abbiamo già trattato, in uno dei primissimi (e ancora timidi!) articoli apparsi su Bizzarro Bazar, di Gunther von Hagens, anatomopatologo inventore della tecnica della plastinazione. Torniamo a parlarne perché, finalmente, la sua celebre mostra itinerante intitolata Body Worlds è sbarcata in Italia, a Roma, dove resterà aperta al pubblico fino al 12 febbraio 2012.

La nuova tecnica di conservazione dei tessuti messa a punto da Von Hagens si basa sulla sostituzione dei liquidi con dei polimeri di silicone; questo permette ai reperti organici di rimanere virtualmente inalterati nel tempo, rigidi e inodori, ma di mantenere perfettamente i colori originari. Così Von Hagens, grazie alle numerose donazioni di cadaveri a scopo scientifico, ha potuto raccogliere un’impressionante collezione anatomica, specialmente preparata per illustrare al pubblico il funzionamento dell’organismo in modo inedito e incisivo.

I cadaveri esibiti nella mostra sono tutti reali, anche se talvolta possono sembrare sculture moderne: sono stati sezionati in modo da mostrare il corpo umano nella sua intricata armonia, lasciando scoperti di volta in volta i differenti sistemi, e le relazioni che intercorrono tra le diverse parti del corpo. Body Worlds offre l’opportunità più unica che rara di sbirciare direttamente dentro il corpo umano come fosse un mondo alieno, di osservare con i propri occhi il posizionamento degli organi, l’incredibile perfezione dei vasi sanguigni o delle fasce muscolari, e di guardare “in diretta” lo sviluppo di un feto.

Un’esperienza da non mancare assolutamente, e che nonostante le mille polemiche continua ad attirare milioni di visitatori; infatti, al lato più squisitamente didattico, unisce anche un inedito livello umano, perché ognuno di quei corpi che oggi ci “insegnano” l’anatomia era un tempo una donna, o un uomo. E, grazie alla loro generosa decisione, anche noi possiamo rimanere stupiti di fronte alla straordinaria complessità del nostro stesso corpo.

Trovate tutte le informazioni sulla mostra sul sito ufficiale.