Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Say What

Apologies for the lack of content/posting. I'm saving all my energy for the introduction at the moment. You will have to take my word for it that I'm Doing Important Stuff (and not, say, watching videos of hamsters on pianos).

I did leave the house recently, taking my rabbit/study buddy to the vet. On the way through scenic Booragoon, I took a few pics of the bridal facilities.

I've never seen such a realistic depiction of bridesmaid-ism.

This abandoned service centre also caught my attention. Apparently computers are 'over' in Booragoon.

It wasn't until I uploaded the photos that I noticed the strange shape in the lower right hand corner of the image.

I'm not entirely certain... but I think it might be a headless animal.

Or maybe it's just a pile of rubbish. Or a red plastic bag. Right? Whatever it is, it sure spooked me out when I saw it.

Feel free to perform your own visual analysis and let me know what you think.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I love how Photoshop facilitates such easy crossings of human/plant/animal boundaries.

These pics are all via Trendhunter - your one stop shop for computerised grotesquerie.

It seems to be Friday. Again. Not sure how that happened.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I suspect this post falls into the category of 'stream of consciousness' blogging, or 'things that remind you of other things that remind you of other things.'

Starting with:

A. The Single Woman.

I recently read Jill Reynolds' The Single Woman: A Discursive Investigation. It was quite interesting, although there weren't really enough (any) monsters or grotesques in it. Which is pretty much a requirement these days.

But it reminded me of:

Specifically, one of my favourite scenes in the film (along with the bit where Mr Darcy... er, that guy Mr Darcy is playing, wears the ugly jumper).

Smug Married: "Why is it there are so many unmarried women in their thirties these days, Bridget?"

Bridget: "Oh, I don't know. Suppose it doesn't help that underneath our clothes our entire bodies are covered in scales."

Which then reminded me of:

"Men cannot resist her. Mankind may not survive her."

"Beauty is only skin deep"

"Irresistible beauty. Unstoppable instincts."

Which made me think of:


Which I haven't seen yet. It's on the list.

But that reminded me of:

E. Britain's Next Top Model.

Specifically the episode below, where the aspiring models are covered in blood for a horror themed photo shoot.

And all of the above surged into my head today while watching this:

F. Agatha Christie's Poirot.

I caught the end of an episode, where Poirot and Hastings are discussing the successful resolution of a case. The mystery was solved when Poirot revealed that two characters, the dowdy nurse and the stunning blond, were in fact the same person.

Hastings is deeply disconcerted. If a beautiful woman can make herself look drab, surely a drab woman could make herself look beautiful? Think of the ramifications! Poirot replies that this realisation is "the beginning of wisdom."

Et tu, Poirot?


Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Makes It Work

I think the American Project Runway should be compulsory viewing for PhD students.

a) Because it follows a group of people striving to: build their knowledge base; utilise historical sources; develop construction and presentation skills; cooperate and take (sometimes brutal) criticism; develop and communicate their own unique style; and fulfill a brief which seems impossible. Watching how different people respond in this situation is a study in personality types and stress management.

b) Because Tim Gunn is in it. And everything he says is amazing and applicable. (This is why you must watch the American show. The Aussie version is fine, but it suffers from a lack of Tim.)

Here he is giving a keynote in 2006:

Are you not inspired? I sure am.

[More historical grotesquerie coming soon, if anyone is interested. So far I have Victor Hugo, John Addington Symonds and G. K. Chesterton in my sights.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Artist Andreas Nilsson directed this video. I found it disturbing, yet touching and sad at the same time.

The creature reminds me of Patricia Piccinini's work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fish Head

I'm really not sure what this is.

An advertisement? A TV show?

I like it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vitruvius, Baby, One More Time

Another entry in the haphazardly historical review of grotesque writings. This time its Roman architect and writer Vitruvius in De architectura or Ten Books on Architecture, dated to somewhere between 25 and 15BC (full text available here).

I don't really have time to get through all ten books... tragic, I know.

So, here is Vitruvius' opinion on the-style-that-would-one-day-be-known-as-grotesque, as quoted by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574):

"All these motifs taken from reality are now rejected by an unreasonable fashion. For our contemporary artists decorate the walls with monstrous forms rather than reproducing clear images of the familiar world.

Instead of columns they paint fluted stems with oddly shaped leaves and volutes, and instead of pediments arabesques, the same with candelabra and painted edicules, on the pediments of which grow dainty flowers unrolling out of roots and topped, without rhyme or reason, by figurines. The little stems, finally, support half-figures of human or animal heads. Such things, however, never existed, do not now exist, and shall never come into being.

For how can the stem of a flower support a roof, or a candelabrum pedimental sculpture? How can a tender shoot carry a human figure, and how can bastard forms composed of flowers and human bodies grow out of roots and tendrils?"

Raphael's decoration of the Vatican Loggias is a good example of what Vitruvius is complaining about, as this work is based on designs sourced from ancient remains. These pics of the Russian Hermitage Museum feature exact replicas of Raphael's overwhelming ornamentation, as copied by his pupils. So colourful. Click for a closer look.

One day my roof will look like that. One day.

Vitruvius is translated slightly differently by Morris Morgan, who writes this section as:

"But those subjects which were copied from actual realities are scorned in these days of bad taste. We now have fresco paintings of monstrosities, rather than truthful representations of definite things.

For instance, reeds are put in the place of columns, fluted appendages with curly leaves and volutes, instead of pediments, candelabra supporting representations of shrines, and on top of their pediments numerous tender stalks and volutes growing up from the roots and having human figures senselessly seated upon them; sometimes stalks having only half-length figures, some with human heads, others with the heads of animals.

Such things do not exist and cannot exist and never have existed. Hence, it is the new taste that has caused bad judges of poor art to prevail over true artistic excellence. For how is it possible that a reed should really support a roof, or a candelabrum a pediment with its ornaments, or that such a slender, flexible thing as a stalk should support a figure perched upon it, or that roots and stalks should produce now flowers and now half-length figures? Yet when people see these frauds, they find no fault with them but on the contrary are delighted, and do not care whether any of them can exist or not."

Cobbled together bodies have clearly been causing affront to the principles of realism, symmetry and 'good art' for centuries.

[Daniel Hopfer (1470-1536)]

[Sebald Beham (1500-1550)]

I'm getting all my historical pics from Wikimedia Commons these days. Great resource.

Friday, September 10, 2010

No But Yeah

Definitely didn't get as much writing done this week as I had hoped. I fear my next supervisory meeting is going to go a bit like this:

Oh well, better luck next week.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Big Mouth II

Not too much explanation required here, I think.

Still here? Excellent!

If you were to Google image search vagina dentata (and I'm not suggesting you should, so don't blame me) you would find this pic making a regular appearance:


I can't think why. It is the Sarlacc pit from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. I, for one, am very impressed by George Lucas' creativity in this scene.

Always interesting to observe the grotesquification of the female anatomy in pop culture. This particular incarnation seems to give the woman involved a fair bit of power in relation to the predatory males she inevitably encounters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Big Mouth

I like the concept of this video clip. Nice payoff in the last few seconds.

It reminds me of this image.

[from Margarita Philosophia by Gregor Reisch (1517)]

Karnivool are from Perth. Good to see some hometown grotesquerie.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Greatest Story Ever Mould

Have you ever taken a close look at compost? Ours was quite colourful when I stuck my head in it the other day.

The apple with its spotty blue spores is my favourite.

Probably shouldn't be playing around with this stuff considering I'm very allergic to mould.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Ruskin Around 2: Back in the Habit

Part two of the blogging odyssey that is Ruskin vs the grotesque.

To recap: Ruskin argues that the "corruption" of Venice's beautiful Gothic architecture, during what he calls the "grotesque renaissance," accords with a more general collapse of social values that is reflected in the worst kind of grotesque. Having already commented on the grotesque as an essential quality of Gothic, he now comes to exploring the difference between the new, heinous grotesquerie and the earlier, more positive kind.

[Everything below is from The Stones of Venice volume three, chapter three, unless otherwise noted.]

Ruskin asks the reader to imagine:

"A head,- huge, inhuman, and monstrous,- leering in bestial degradation, too foul to be either pictured or described, or to be beheld for more than an instant: yet let it be endured for that instant; for in that head is embodied the type of the evil spirit to which Venice was abandoned in the fourth period of her decline" (XV).
"[This head] evidences of a delight in the contemplation of bestial vice, and the expression of low sarcasm, which is, I believe, the most hopeless state into which the human mind can fall" (XVI).

Here is a pic of the precise head he was describing in Santa Maria Formosa, Venice.


Assuming we accept that this is the bad kind of grotesque, now what?

"It must be our immediate task, and it will be a most interesting one, to distinguish between this base grotesqueness, and that magnificent condition of fantastic imagination, which was above noticed as one of the chief elements of the Northern Gothic mind" (XVI).

By way of illustration he provides the following image:


The head on the right represents an ignoble grotesque, while the one on the left represents a noble grotesque in the fourteenth century Gothic style.

What follows is a pretty famous definition of grotesqueness that is still called upon today in attempts to account for the nature of the grotesque:

"First, then, it seems to me that the grotesque is, in almost all cases, composed of two elements, one ludicrous, the other fearful; that, as one or other of these elements prevails, the grotesque falls into two branches, sportive grotesque and terrible grotesque; but that we cannot legitimately consider it under these two aspects, because there are hardly any examples which do not in some degree combine both elements; there are few grotesques so utterly playful as to be overcast with no shade of fearfulness, and few so fearful as absolutely to exclude all ideas of jest. But although we cannot separate the grotesque itself into two branches, we may easily examine separately the two conditions of mind which it seems to combine; and consider successively what are the kinds of jest, and what the kinds of fearfulness, which may be legitimately expressed in the various walks of art, and how their expressions actually occur in the Gothic and Renaissance schools" (XXIII).

Numerous contemporary discussions maintain the validity of this structure; the grotesque as a combination of the comic and the fearful (or horrific).

In terms of dividing the grotesque into noble and ignoble, I find it very interesting that Ruskin makes this distinction on the basis of "conditions of mind." The intentions and moral fortitude of the individual who produces the 'grotesque' work are what determines what kind of grotesque it will be.

"[The grotesque] is noble or inferior, first, according to the tone of the minds which have produced it, and in proportion to their knowledge, wit, love of truth, and kindness... always delightful so long as it is the work of good and ordinarily intelligent men" (XXXIII).

Alarm bells must ring at the subjectivity built into this argument. How does one define goodness and intelligence? People who share your beliefs are bound to seem cleverer than those who do not. Those who share your own moral viewpoint are bound to seem more 'good' than those who do not.

Ruskin has a clear notion of the kinds of people who create noble and ignoble grotesques and, as might be expected, these ideas reflect his own attitudes and beliefs.

The noble grotesque is created by a simple man, a hard working fellow, perhaps an imperfect craftsman, who nonetheless experiences moments of profound understanding of the world's fearful aspects. He is earnest in his artistic endeavors, which reflect an appreciation and respect for divine power. The noble grotesque thus represents a serious apprehension of evil which cannot help but emerge in the products created by good (pious) men.

In contrast, the ignoble grotesque is created by those decadent, and likely wealthy, individuals who have lost their faith in the divine (possibly from reading too much fiction). These disreputable folks seek out fearful images for entertainment purposes only, to excite their apathetic senses.

"The master of the noble grotesque knows the depth of all at which he seems to mock, and would feel it at another time, or feels it in a certain undercurrent of thought even while he jests with it; but the workman of the ignoble grotesque can feel and understand nothing, and mocks at all things with the laughter of the idiot and the cretin" (XLV).

[Palma il Giovane, Amusements of the Prodigal Son, 1595-1600]

Even if one disagrees (and one sure does) with a distinction based primarily upon presumed religious piety and standards of morality, this assessment offers another famous definition of grotesqueness. It is based upon Ruskin's argument:

"that the mind, under certain phases of excitement, plays with terror, and summons images which, if it were in another temper, would be awful, but of which, either in weariness or in irony, it refrains for the time to acknowledge the true terribleness" (XLV).

The grotesque is understood here as that which enables terrible things to be set out in the open, to be played with in a form of personal and cultural exorcism.

Ruskin discussed this earlier, in the fourth volume of Modern Painters, where he commented that:

"A fine grotesque is the expression, in a moment, by a series of symbols thrown together in bold and fearless connection, of truths which it would have taken a long time to express in any verbal way, and of which the connection is left for the beholder to work out for himself; the gaps, left or over-leaped by the haste of the imagination, forming the grotesque character" (97-98).
"All noble grotesques are concentrations of this kind, and the noblest convey truths which nothing else could convey" (99)

For all my suspicion of the biases that work their way through his scholarship, I really like this idea. It also seems to reiterate the grotesque as a primarily visual phenomenon, in the vein of 'a picture is worth a thousand words.'

In this volume of Painters he also addresses the difficulty of sustaining his distinction between noble and ignoble grotesques, specifically of identifying the "conditions of mind" of the creator. He notes that:

"the horror which springs from guilty love of foulness and sin, may be often mistaken for the inevitable horror which a great mind must sometimes feel in the full and penetrative sense of their presence " (104).

It might be tempting to have a chuckle at Ruskin's expense, as we fancy ourselves beyond such moralising value judgements in contemporary analysis. However, studies of the grotesque continue to reflect, explicitly or implicitly, the idea that some grotesques, and some texts, are more valuable sources of analysis than others. The idea that some works display profound and complex meanings, while others are 'just' mass entertainment for the bloodthirsty or ignorant is easily detected. For that reason, and more, Ruskin continues to be a useful resource.

If you actually read all that you deserve some sort of delicious biscuit.

[Update: amazing special offer - part 3 totally free right here]