One of my first specimen jars prepared in the Frederik Ruysch style, this seahorse although already dessicated and not in need of further preservation, is at the center of the jar, while the jar itself is the focal object. The sea detritus serves a a natural history environment, all items collected from New York City beaches – from animal and nature remains to man-made waste that is now a common sight in uninhabited areas of nature. But the later element is not just an inevitable result of human industry, this debris can often serve its purpose in the natural world providing shelter and breeding grounds for some species.
Several Essays are in progress, inspired by themes in my artwork, objects and individuals I admire, and research topics I explore. In a recent line of tshirts I printed, I used deceased individuals that have inspired me as theme. Henry Miller, Dennis Hopper, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rowland S Howard are all characters of singular quality that lived brilliant lives. Though flawed, their artistic drive and passion far outshine their imperfections. That series is entitled “No More Heroes”, and it calls for such damaged luminaries as modern heroes, in that there is no hero who is perfect in a real world. Heroes who are mortal, heroes who have vices, heroes who despite being able to overcome obstacles, still stumble and fall. A gere who had something to say and who was able to say it and have it heard.
Illustrated lecture with Mark Batelli, Wet Specimen Preparator and Restorer at Obscura Antiques
Date: Tuesday, March 25
Time: 8:00 PM
Presented by Morbid Anatomy
“Wet specimens” preserve an organic object–be it a human body part, zoological specimen or plant–in fluids such as alcohol or formalin and airtight case, generally for use by student of science and medicine. Such pieces can last indefinitely; many specimens–some stretching back to the hundreds of years–still exist today, looking much as they did when originally preserved. Earliest wet specimens–such as those by Bernahard Albinus and Frederik Ruysch–were often also highly inventive and artistic, and valued as collectables by private collectors, aspiring cabinetists and museums alike.
In tonight’s heavily illustrated lecture, wet specimen preparator and restorer at Obscura Antiques Mark Batelli will outline the art and history of these fascinating objects, focusing on their inception, development, refinement, obsolescence, and present day relevance.
Brooklyn based artist Mark Batelli works as a wet specimen preparator and restorer at Obscura Antiques, with a history as a traveling DJ and artist, digerati and a nomadic Boheme through the western world from California to Greece.
The theory of the ‘Brain In A Vat’ came up in my reading up on the history of specimen preservation for a current project. Who doesn’t think of the ubiquitous brain in a jar, be it Adolf Hitler’s or Albert Einstein. The fact that the “brain in the jar” as well as countless other specimens of anatomical, botanical and other specimens, exists, and why, is the subject I’m researching. But I’d like to take an aside and talk about this theory for a moment.
Brain in a Vat deals with the notion of solipsism, in that, if a brain were isolated from the physical body of a subject, preserved in a vat of life sustaining fluid and connected to a computer that was able to feed it all the sensations and stimuli – visual, audible, tactile, olfactory etc (not as far fetched as it seems), then does that individual really exist, and for that matter, does the rest of the world exist for the subject?
I suppose there are a few conditions that must be assumed, that the subject already has a reference point for what it experiences. These stimuli need to be in existence already. In the case of the typical brain in a jar sci-fi scenarios the disembodied brain was a formerly functional individual. However in the Matrix, the individuals are raised from embryos to adults in the proverbial vat, never being separated from their brain at all. In this case, they are fed their references from a programmed virtual world, taking the theory one step further.
Its interesting thinking about this subject perpetuating in a cycle that has no function other than to receive stimuli. Not knowing its trapped in a vat, and its perception is mere simulations of experience.
Then we come to the Allegory of the Cave put forth in Plato’s Republic. It first explains the scenario, much like the vat, but in it is a society of ‘brains’ receiving stimuli – although in this case they are mere simulacra of real things. The subjects are immobile, and presented with shadows of statues cast by a fire behind them in the cave, and not real beings. Unable to crane their heads they only see these shadows and hear the sounds made by what is, unbeknownst to them, other people carrying these objects, whose shadows do not appear since they are walking behind a wall high enough to obscure their shadows but not of the objects they carry. These subjects categorize and systematize the shadows and the most skilled are praised as knowledgeable.
In the next phase of the allegory, one of the immobilized subjects find himself freed. He happens to turn towards the fire and is blinded by its light. Gradually he grows to accustomed to its brightness and moving forward, sees whats really going on, and it is beyond his comprehension. Whats more, he now stumbles out of the cave, and discovers the brightness of the sun! Blinded, again! But again, he begins to see shapes, then forms, then full details.
The dilemma is, should he return to the cave to report what he’s observed, and report that this system of systematizing shadows and their meanings and movements is just a pale shadow of whats really going on, hes former fellows would hardly accept it. Even if he were the most respected of their systematizers! They may well try to kill him or expel him as a heretic. Their fear of what they didn’t know would most likely cause them to see him as insane or corrupt.
I think in Plato’s world, he was trying to make an allusion to divine knowledge. But with both the realm of the universe and the spirit still so speculative, this Allegory is still completely relevant. Its also relevant in regards to social interaction. We may have come a long way since Plato, but with regards to how people behave towards each other, humanity is still in the dark ages. Our knowledge of the universe is restricted to what we can reach out to now that we are freed. We have the tools at our disposal, we are no longer manacled, and we are stumbling towards the light of the cave, but we havent yet reached the Sun.
Why does George Orwell prefer never to eat in smart restaurants again at the end of ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’? (1933)
He argues that the luxury of such places are a sham. not only a sham but a swindle. for exorbitant prices, you are served a meal that has had every conceivable corner cut out of it. i must say i agree. from the Jackson Pollock-esque use of a few sauces on top of a sliver of entree to the high price of designer sodas, wines and beers, tipping a waiter who would just as soon serve you out of a garbage can.
Orwell, during the late 1920s worked the Paris service industry first as dishwasher in a luxury hotel, second at a small restaurant, as plongeur, or dishwasher/prep cook. I would say that despite detailed regulation which is regularly enforced at most establishments – whether Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles or Berlin – the problem of cleanliness in the kitchen is still an issue.
But the heart of the matter is the work involved. He presents the fact that the staff of a restaurant (hotel or any other establishment) is concerned with service, expediency and profit. to keep profits high, fewer employees must work long hours, waste as little as they can get away with, being able to hide sub-par materials in the process of transforming it to an elegant meal – if only on the surface.
more importantly, these employees are little more than slaves. There is no doubt many levels of prep-cooks and dishwashers and sub-chef kitchen staff, at many eves of income, who’d not think of themselves as underpaid wage slaves. But the point I’m trying to make is not to sound the alarm bell on behalf of all underpaid kitchen staff through the world. there are many other positions of like it that suffer the same dilemma.
Our underpaid kitchener can hardly support a life of comfort on this wage. a warm house for himself and perhaps his family, enough quality food to eat, clothes and education. the basics of a normal human life. he is working hard for this, harder than others often, in heat and filth and with no reward for a job well done, aside for perhaps the excess of the kitchens output in form of food and drink. being hard work, Orwell points out that it is taken for granted that it is valuable work. Or is it?
Luxury restaurants provide the convenience of being served an exotic meal, the pomp and performance, the atmosphere, and the feeling that one is making a grand gesture which translates into triple and quadruple digit bills at the end of the night. Orwell’s supposition is that a home cooked meal is infinitely cheaper, more quality, than a luxury restaurant. “Essentially a ‘smart’ hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things that they do not really want.”
No doubt, from Orwell’s position at the time, from the bottom looking up, its easy to dismiss the millions of people who dine at restaurants on point of habit and principle. but he accounts for this in his analogy of the rickshaw puller in asia – hard, unrewarding work for small pay to a poor class, but a luxury to the rider, only in so far as that those who ride a rickshaw “consider it vulgar to walk”.
Another thing he is getting at is the benefit of ‘work’ in society. He begins by presenting the addage “A slave should be working when he is not sleeping” (Marcus Cato, 2nd Century BCE). The effect being that slaves should have no leisure time in which to bemoan their condition, rally together, and upset the status quo. Not that everyone languishing in a poor job can be reduced to a slave, but there is a parallel in the amount of drudgery and any reasonable expectations at advancing one social status from point A to B. What it comes down to is, that lower classes are kept in a constant state of flux as of wether they are going to be able to ‘pull through’, even in normal everyday circumstances that provide the basics of civilized living.
This condition is perpetuated by the upper classes, who do not want to lose any of their own liberties by spreading them even thinner amongst someone lower than themselves. This could be anything from a house in the suburbs to a family vacation ‘to Italy’ (where siad family will stay in hotels and dine in luxury restaurants). This is fear of the mob.
“Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.” So the cycle repeats, and even today we have billions of jobs created merely for the need of something to keep the underclass busy, and at that constantly occupied in at least what is supposed to be 8 hour a day jobs – down from the 15 hour work days Orewll describes having participated in during the late 1920s. Not that those extra hours are now leisure in which we empower ourseves with. De rigueur is the shopping, television, video games and fantasy novels we are convinced to spend time and ever more money on. Also, in thanks to that 8 hour work day, even more individuals can be employed, to take part in the cycle as populations grow in order to provide more consumers for the products that the rich are selling us. More breakfast cereal, more wide screen TVs, more hair products, more fashionable clothing, more luxury restaurants and hotels.
Henry Miller (whose Paris experience postdates Orwell’s by something like a decade) came to the conclusion as well, that this drudgery, this busy work, is needless, and particularly with the urgency that it sometimes demands. All this work, will get done. If man were left to his leisure, he will eat, he will have a home. He may not have the need to make sure that the LCD is secure on a new assembly line television in a factory that is made to be sold he knows not where to he knows not who, destined to be trashed in another year for the next model so that the owner of said company can have several houses that stand empty for a good part of the year.
Does this mean that I am against restaurants altogether? Not at all. There is a difference between a ‘smart’ or luxury restaurant, and a place to get a meal. Getting a meal does not require the deal of prestige and multiplied cost that comes with some establishments where the cost is derived from the Brand, the name of the proprietor, or the amount of stars it draws in equally frivolous catalogs, repositories for limitless other effete dining spots and hotel restaurants. There are a dozen or more eateries, taquerías, burger joints, food carts and bistros individually owned in my neighborhood alone. Not to say that any one of them is guaranteed to be especially clean, or their staff isn’t underpaid, but you’re also not paying three times (minimal!) as much for that risk. The last time I did something like that was for my 36th birthday – at a times square restaurant – hardly luxury, but in any case deliberately ornate, with the expectation of paying a premium for it. The food was blander, the drinks exorbitantly priced (this is New York, after all), the atmosphere, although exceptional, was also cheap, and not worth repeating the experience. Next time I feel the need to go out, I’ll go to an Argentinian grill or a burger restaurant where at the going rate $20 will get you a decent meal and a drink. But I agree with Orwell that a meal at home is far more satisfying with just a few simple ingredients from your preferred markets. And I also agree that the cost, for the amount of labor and for quality of product at a fancy restaurant, serves two purposes: To enrich the owner of said restaurant and a status symbol for the diner. Neither of which are appealing to my sensibility.
– George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris (1933, Chapter XXII)
– Henry Miller Reads and Reflects
“The satisfaction which no longer comes from the use of abundant commodities is now sought in the recognition of their value as commodities: the use of commodities becomes sufficient unto itself; the consumer is filled with religious fervor for the sovereign liberty of the commodities. Waves of enthusiasm for a given product, supported and spread by all the media of communication, are thus propagated with lightning speed. A style of dress emerges from a film; a magazine promotes night spots which launch various clothing fads. Just when the mass of commodities slides toward puerility, the puerile itself becomes a special commodity; this is epitomized by the gadget. We can recognize a mystical abandon to the transcendence of the commodity in free gifts, such as key chains which are not bought but are included by advertisers with prestigious purchases, or which flow by exchange in their own sphere. One who collects the key chains which have been manufactured for collection, accumulates the indulgences of the commodity, a glorious sign of his real presence among the faithful. Reified man advertises the proof of his intimacy with the commodity. The fetishism of commodities reaches moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism. The only use which remains here is the fundamental use of submission.”
(‘The Society of the Spectacle’, Guy-Ernest Debord)
Tomorrow, Saturday Febraury 2, one of my new pieces (a suprise!) will be on exhibit at the RESURRECTION group show at Observatory brooklyn with many other talented artists:
RESURRECTION: A group art show curated by Observatory
February 2nd – March 16th, 2013
Opening reception: Saturday, February 2nd, 8pm (This is also Observatory’s 3rd annual fundraiser and costume party. More info here.)
Gallery Hours: Saturdays & Sundays 12-6pm
Everything goes, everything comes back;
eternally rolls the wheel of being.
Everything dies, everything blossoms again…
—Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
“Resurrection” originally meant “a festival commemorating Christ’s rising from the dead.” In this sense of play and sharing—a festival requires a community—Observatory invites you to witness its rebirth in 2013 in Resurrection, a group show examining all that is symbolically and literally back again.
Observatory’s Resurrection takes as its inspiration comings-back across science and art (the locust, Frankenstein, cloning as resurrection), myth and history (Lazarus, tales of the Flood, the phoenix), the hacking of the once-living (grave robbing anatomists who were called “resurrectionists,” relics of saints, ghosts), and the literal site of the Gowanus, which has absorbed the impact of the centuries like a champ, refusing to die.
Observatory itself experienced a nigh-fatal 2012, weathering a fire-flood and a superstorm only to enter the new year with hope rekindled.
Whatever your views on the circularity of time and the final un-resting place of the spirit, join us for a weird/weirdly beautiful group show, curated jointly.
Grace Baxter, Ben Blatt, Jesse Bransford, Ryan Matthew Cohn, Joanna Ebenstein, Barbara Ensor, Ethan Gould, Pam Grossman, Megan Hays, Katie Innamorato, Sue Jeiven, Amber Joliffe, Megan Murtha, Annysa Ng, Rebeca Olguin, Katy Pierce, Nikki Romanello, Sigrid Sarda, Dana Sherwood, Mark Splatter, Daisy Tainton, Shannon Taggart & Twig Terrariums
“de mortuis nil nisi bene” (Nothing but good of the dead)
“We remember the old saying:
Si vis pacem, para bellum.
(If you wish peace, prepare for war.)
The times call for a paraphrase:
Si vis vitam, para mortem.
(If you wish life, prepare for death.)”
The motto of the Hanseatic League said: “Navigare necesse est, vivere non necesse” (It is necessary to sail the seas, but not to live.)
“It was not the intellectual puzzle or any particular death which roused the spirit of inquiry in man, but the conflict of emotions at the death of beloved and withal foreign and hated persons.
From this emotional conflict psychology arose. Man could no longer keep death away from him, for he had tasted of it in his grief for the deceased, but he did not want to acknowledge it, since he could not imagine himself dead. He therefore formed a compromise and concealed his own death but denied it the significance of destroying life, a distinction for which the death of his enemies had given him no motive. He invented spirits during his contemplation of the corpse of the person he loved, and his consciousness of guilt over the gratification which mingled with his grief brought it about that these first created spirits were transformed into evil demons who were to be feared. ”
“In our unconscious we daily and hourly do away with all those who stand in our way, all those who have insulted or harmed us. The expression: “The devil take him,” which so frequently crosses our lips in the form of an ill-humored jest, but by which we really intend to say, “Death take him,” is a serious and forceful death wish in our unconscious.”
“In his novel, Père Goriot, Balzac refers to a place in the works of J. J. Rousseau where this author asks the reader what he would do if, without leaving Paris and, of course, without being discovered, he could kill an old mandarin in Peking, with great profit to himself, by a mere act of the will. He makes it possible for us to guess that he does not consider the life of this dignitary very secure. “To kill your mandarin” has become proverbial for this secret readiness to kill, even on the part of people of today.”
“Once man was like god, but that has been spoiled. now man rules alone, on an egg, soft boiled.” – uncredited artist, Romanisches Café, Berlin, 1925
Hussar (pron.: /həˈzɑr/ hə-ZAR, /hʊˈzɑr/, or spelling pronunciation /həˈsɑr/ hə-SAR) refers to a number of types of light cavalry which originated in Hungary during the 15th century. The title and distinctive dress of these horsemen was subsequently widely adopted by light cavalry regiments in European and other armies. A number of armored or ceremonial mounted units in modern armies retain the designation of hussars. A shako is a tall, cylindrical military cap, usually with a visor, and sometimes tapered at the top. It is usually adorned with some kind of ornamental plate or badge on the front, metallic or otherwise, and often has a feather, plume (see hackle), or pompon attached at the top. The word shako originated from the Hungarian name csákós süveg (“peaked cap”), which was a part of the uniform of the Hungarian hussar of the 18th century. A pelisse was originally a short fur lined or fur trimmed jacket that was usually worn hanging loose over the left shoulder of hussar light cavalry soldiers, ostensibly to prevent sword cuts. It was fastened there using a lanyard. In cold weather it was worn over a stable jacket or shell jacket, but at all other times it was worn loose over the left shoulder over a jacket of similar style – but without the fur lining or trim – called a dolman jacket. The appearance of the pelise jacket was characteristically very short, extremely tight fitting (when worn), with patterns sewn with bullion lace on the back, cuffs, and collar. The front distinctively featured several rows of parallel frogging and loops, and either three or 5 lines of buttons.