Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I Like Dead Things...

So last weekend my wife, who is awesome, took me to Dublin. We had an excellent time exploring, eating, drinking Guinness, wandering...

I particularly enjoyed the Writers Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery with its fascinating reconstruction of Francis Bacon's studio. Whenever I go away there always seems to be some kind of Francis Bacon connection. It was on a day trip to London that I first saw Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion...

...and noted something of Clive Barker's dark, twisted imagery (my other major interest at the time) in the figures depicted. When I was around 15 I went to Paris and saw a Bacon exhibition at the Centre Pompidou (where an attendant tried to have a conversation with me in French about The Prisoner on account of my T-shirt). On our honeymoon in Rome I was surprised and relieved to find a Bacon pope in the Vatican - it felt a bit like bumping into an old friend in a very unlikely place . Finding Bacon in Dublin, his birthplace, was less unlikely but just as comforting.

There was a huge amount of information about the things found in Bacon's studio, but the most interesting fact I learnt was that Bacon often referred to Baron Von Schrenck Notzing's Phenomena of Materialisation for visual references. The book contains photographs of people spouting ectoplasm from their mouths and noses...

...which is similar to the manifestations in some of Bacon's paintings...

But the part of Dublin I enjoyed most was the Natural History Museum, also referred to as the 'Dead Zoo'. I like stuffed dead things. I think this may have come from my frequent visits to the Potteries Museum in Hanley as a child. The permanent natural history exhibit with its boxing hares and wasp-bothered badger wasn't the highlight of the museum - that title went to either the massive spitfire, or the human skeleton with its Harryhausen connotations. Either those, or the reconstruction of an old Staffordshire street in which the mannequins representing the people who lived there would move around between visits leading us create conspiracy theories about what they did at night. If we were lucky we would get to see the very rarely displayed real life shrunken head (a picture of the actual head is below, and the fact that it only shows the back of it is probably for the best...)

But there was something both fascinating and haunting about the dimly lit natural history room with it's cabinets of dead animals and eerie recordings of bird songs played through the speakers.

Although perhaps not quite as haunting as the Booth Museum in Brighton - my second favourite place to see dead things. The best part of this exhibit had to be the merman:

The Booth Museum highlights one of the reasons I find these places so fascinating. Most of the exhibits were hunted and collected by one man, which emphasises the fact that this is such a bizarre and outdated practice. Like the Freakshow, I understand why it no longer exists and agree that it shouldn't, but there is still something of value here.

I have to also mention the Horniman Museum with it's over-stuffed walrus, display of dog heads and half-dissected dead things.

But the Natural History Museum in Dublin beat all the above. Dead things? Loads of them, over 10,000 in fact.

Skeletons? Everything from a bat to an immense whale skeleton.

Dead things in jars? Better than that - dead things in jars that died while choking on other dead things.

As we wandered through the displays my vegetarian wife who is not a fan of dead things was rather perturbed by the fact that so many young children were in the museum, commenting that these displays were surely 'the stuff of nightmares'. I agreed, and think the same can be said about my favourites of Bacon's works - they are indeed the stuff of nightmares. And that's what I like about them.

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