A Nurse with a Gun

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Momentos Morte

Oleg has posted a link to some of the most intriguing and thought provoking photography/art I have seen in a while.

Third Eye

4”x5” camera made from Aluminium, Titanium, Brass, Silver, Gem Stones and a 150 year old skull of a 13 year old girl. Light and time enters at the third eye, exposing the film in the middle of the skull.

At one point in my life, I studied art. I was a painter and a printmaker. It is not uncommon for visual artists to study human anatomy through the use of bones, the very structure of the human body. For centuries artists have used human skulls as subject matter in works of art to remind viewers of their own mortality. I did this myself, keeping several skulls borrowed from the Biology Department in my studio, as well as remnants of a complete human skeleton. I painted canvases, etched copper plates and drew on blue lithography stones images of these human fragments. For several years they were among my subjects as I taught myself the nuances of the human body and condition.

I still keep a few of my worst paintings. A small series of paintings were of a young man's skull, and the skull of a toothless old woman, the wormian joints and socketless mandible revealing advanced age. I called that series of paintings "Comedy and Tragedy," a play on the brevity of life in memento morte style painting, but also the recognition of the capricious nature of life shown in the expressions of the skulls themselves.

When I was in Hong Kong, in little shops on Cat Street, Tibetan skulls would be for sale, with silver eyes, noses, teeth and other embellishments. Several times, I came close to purchasing one. It was not monetary reasons that kept me from acquiring one of those exotic pieces of artwork from another culture, but rather one of ethics. The suspicion that the Tantric offering vessel could very well be a faked desecration of a Cambodian refugee's remains was something I could not get past. I am glad that I never bought one of those elaborate works of art, although it would have been a centerpiece of the relics of my travels. Having an unwilling person's head as a souvenir just wasn't a burden I wanted to carry with me.

I suppose that is probably the most thought provoking aspect of this particular camera built by Wayne Martian Belger. I can not imagine a 13 year old girl, 150 years ago, a little girl very much like my own, giving consent for her skull to be used in this fashion. Nor can I conceive of her parents, assuming she had parents while she was alive, doing so. There is, for me, a disquieting sadness pervading this entire work, obscuring the artist's intent and even the photographs rendered.

Through a series of events, I eventually became the caretaker of two of the skulls I painted. I say caretaker, because that is the position I feel like the possessor of these items is. Tonight, these skulls reside in a case with old books and vials of small items collected from around the world. Even though these skulls were donated to "medical science" I felt and still feel a profound responsibility as I hold that which was once part of someones body, the very vessel of their thought processes and being. I will not elevate myself to a point of self righteousness from whence to judge another's ethics. We do not know if the person who once was, knows or even cares what happened to their mortal remains. For myself though, as I ponder the skulls in my possession I know what is right for me.

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Blogger Owen said...


12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in an antique store in Northeastern Indiana and ran across something that I am still trying to convince myself was just a fake. It was a shadow box thing with what appeared to be a human heart in a mummified state. What was weird was the fact that it had two nails driven through it forming a cross and a short typewritten legend stating that this was an actual heart form some poor soul suspected of being a vampire. Part of me wanted to but it because it was so macabre but I couldn't get past the idea that it might not be a fake. Rey B

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post.
I love visiting your blog.
I never know what I will find.

(BTW, the Latin phrase you are looking for is "memento mori.")

8:27 AM  
Blogger the pawnbroker said...

xavier, your range of topic and depth of profundity impresses me once again...i was very glad to see your expression and projection of the soul of the child whose remains were used in that (admittedly artful and symbolic) "camera", as that empathy was my own immediate and intense reaction.

much that "is" art never consented to "be" art, and while that may play into the artists' intent, it has always limited my appreciation of, and especially my acquisition of, objects of it.


10:06 AM  
Blogger Breda said...

pretty good example of why I'm getting cremated.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's sick...
using a human skull???

2:11 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

You truly are a renaissance man.
I brought home part of a plastic skeleton presumably from a science class or something, the forearm and hand, and my husband wigged out. He said "should I worry?" Some folks just don't get it.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous cassie said...

renaissance man indeed.

5:39 AM  

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