Sunday, April 26, 2009

The bodies exhibition in Athens: I went, I saw, I was left ambivalent

So, we went to the famous bodies exhibition, not without some moral qualms, but intending to be looking at the people just as much as the exhibits.

The obviously Asiatic bodies in the exhibition were impressive. Before we start, it should be noted that I am a curious bear and as such, I am aware that under the skin, there are a whole bunch of interesting tissues and organs. I was not there in the exhibition to be told that I have a liver and to wonder at the positioning of said organ. Anyone who has either butchered an animal or prepared an animal for the cooking process will not have been surprised at the large number of stringy tendons or the ubiquity of cartilage or indeed the branching nervous and circulatory systems. I have opened anatomy texts and I have seen butchered vertebrates, thank you very much. What was impressive was the painstaking work which has obviously gone into these exhibits.

The realisation that we humans are also animals and that we look like meat on the inside came to me many years ago. I was not shocked by this. It was, however, interesting to see where the good cuts are on a human cadaver (gluteus and thighs, if you are interested) and it was interesting to see just how indistinguishable a lump of gluteus meat would be from a nice slab of beef on the table. The reactions of the visitors ranged from shock to awkwardness of fathers with young adolescent girls in an exhibition where in every room there was a man with his penis out for all to see. I enjoyed the crowd, I enjoyed seeing that one lady had fainted - overwhelmed no doubt by the realisation that we are as much animals as we are "human".

I did not enjoy one aspect of the exhibition and this was the avoidance of one question. The exhibition covered the how and what and where and when really rather well and graphically - what was missing, of course, was the why... There was no talk about the bilateral symmetry of the body and what it means, there was no talk of the anterioposterior and dorsoventral axiality of the human form, and why these three axes might exist. There was no talk of evolution. In Darwin's bi-centennial year, when you show people that they are animals, vertebrates, made slightly imperfectly, why stop short of going the whole hog and telling them why? Our nervous system laid out on the table is not so different to that of a fish, our tetrapod skeleton is not so perfectly adapted to supporting our bi-pedal body as it could have been... and more obvious than anything else, the crazy positioning of and plumbing for our testes is so patently not designed from scratch and so loudly begging for an explanation in each room, but the testes cry out in vain.

This pandering to the north American audience for whom the literal interpretation of the bible is the only truth took much of the shine off the exhibition. The excision of evolution from the explanation of human anatomy leaves the exhibition more naked than the exhibition's chinamen who were missing their skins. This missed opportunity to teach truth to an audience which has just had its eyes opened to the fact that we are animals no different to the lamb we spitted last week is a great pity. No one preparing the kokoretsi last week could have missed the similarity between the chinaman's heart on display and the lamb's heart on his plate.

Was the visit worth €16 with a camera, video and mobile phone ban? Possibly, possibly not. Should I have gone given the ethical quandary behind the exhibition? Should I have given the €16 to people who have bought cadavers from prisons in countries with shitty human rights records? Perhaps not. But if I hadn’t gone, I would not be able to tell you that I found it incongruous to see that all these convicts had perfect lily-white teeth. Chinese prisons must have pretty good dental programmes for their death-row inmates. Especially when compared to the pedicures / manicures. So, yes, if I had wanted truths, perhaps I should have known that I would not find them at an exhibition where the organiser feels it would be too shocking to keep the original teeth.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lion diaries on caving blog

I have started transcribing my diaries from my trip to Crete last July. Enjoy!

What I saw in my sleep last night

Possibly influenced by the fact that I had spent the evening with my cousin who is serving in Rhodes, I saw myself walking around Lindos - although I did not know this until about half way through the dream.

Of course it wasn't the real Lindos. I was on an asphalted path, next to a railing, beyond which rose a limestone hill. On the sides of the hill, walls were visible, in my mind, they were norman / frankish era walls, but they did not fit the description as they were essentially massive marble monolithic constructions covered in ionic flutes and egg-and-dart edging. Walking along I was reminded a little of Jackson's Minas Tirith, except everything had the trappings and finishings of the ionic order.

As I walked down the path with the hill to my right, the hill fell away and the asphalt walkway with the railing were now raised above an open space over to my right where stones had been placed in such a way as to form letters - I could make out no words for a while and then I saw that the heaped stones spelled out the word "Lindenberg", from which I guessed this was Lindos I was looking at, although quite why the Germans would have spelled out the letters in this way, I could not understand.

Turning to my right, I saw a huge classical temple (which had been hidden from view by the hill and "norman" fortifications) with its pediment and pedimental sculpture intact - the order was, again, Ionic.

And there I was, looking at this, and I started framing the scene in my mind's eye and playing a soundtrack over it, thinking how I would work the panning and the reveal from the pedimental statues to the whole temple, thinking about the cuts from scene to scene, etc. And then I started thinking about whether or not Warner Music Group own the rights to the recording of Carl Orf's Catulli Carmina which I intended to use for the video I was planning out.

Then I woke up.

WMG - get out of my frikking head, already.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cycladic Museum, November 2007

The Cycladic Museum in Athens houses an amazing collection of little statuettes glorifying the pudendum in the way that only prehistoric people could.

Everywhere you look, female figures with breasts and outlined pudenda greet you from behind the well lit and glass-faced displays. The occasional male figurine serves to form a very noticeable exception to the girls-only rule of figuring carving. In all it is a wonderful collection.

The great pity is that everything in the museum is a result of illegal archaeological digging purchased in swiss and American auctions and is therefore devoid of context. Context, of course, is important if you want your archaeological collection to be anything more than a treasure-chest of pretty things. The act of buying such things at auction also serves to create a demand for illegal digs, because the digger knows that there will be interest at auction.

It's easy to attack the morals of the museum of Cycladic art, and in their defense, it should be said that they do a fine job of displaying and explaining everything, unless you are a child or not tall enough to look at the exhibits.

When we went in November 2007, one of the reasons for going was for K to make an evaluation of the kiddie-friendliness of the museum. It didn't score too high.

You can re-live the fun we had by clicking on this video (you may find the intro a little dizzying - it settles after that). Isn't it kind of Warner Music Group not to ask youtube to suspend this particular video? I suppose I am getting better at picking backing tracks that Warner don't own, thereby giving free publicity to artists signed to other labels. Oops WMG, you lose, again!