Tari Nakagawa’s exquisite ball-jointed dolls exude a deep sense of melancholy. With a haunting aura of mourning and vulnerability, these innocent, wan little faces expressing languor and dolor, malady and misery, with finely eloquent hands and limbs, bespeak a corrupt eroticism and a necromantic sensuality. They are disturbing as a strange alchemy of pathos, innocence, death, decay, and sirenlike allure. A primary inspiration for these lovely creations is 19th-century postmortem child portraiture.
One of the most bizarre relics from bygone days of anatomical understanding is the Anatomical Venus. Endowed with a startlingly lifelike appearance, full-size, and lovingly detailed, these wax models, popular through the 18th and 19th centuries, represented idealized beauties with body parts and organs that could be revealed and removed in a layer-by-layer dissection. Made with real hair, sometimes real eyelashes, glass eyes, bedecked with pearls, they were meant to enlighten the public on the anatomy of the animal “made in God’s image,” in a way that would be accessible and aesthetically pleasing.
With her strange, alluring, languid beauty, the Venus exudes a morbid eroticism that is simultaneously repulsive and fascinating, and so disturbing to the modern eye. Her far-off gaze seems to bespeak religious ecstasy, perhaps bordering on martyrdom (I imagine it as her sacrifice to our viewing/invasion of her interior spaces), as much as death and sensuality. I look at her, and I can’t help but to feel sorry for her, so exposed and vulnerable in her display case, her glass coffin lined with silk and velvet, eternally disassembled for our education and delectation. I feel as though as I am looking at her last thoughts as she’s dying upon her sumptuous bed, and there is an inherent, latent cruelty or brutality in the voyeuristic quality of this gaze. I can never know the nature of what she is thinking, I can only witness her dissected and intruded-upon body, transfixed in an unwitting, helpless macabre striptease. There is something both obscene and divine about this exquisite lost art form that was as much aesthetic marvel as scientific aid.
Chiu Chih’s whimsical imagining of life on a deteriorating planet, racked by pollution and decay, includes a solution to decreased air quality with a personal oxygen supply.
“…my work gravitates in imagery from antiquated medical practices, historic anatomical illustration, and the pathological grotesque. Many of my pieces feature a fusion of botanical and anatomical forms, or structures from the human anatomy acting as an environment in which to house another subject. Roses, or even planetary systems, will be imbedded in muscle tissue; entire figures trapped inside boney caves, or ribbons of cow carcass.”
— Sara Suppan
Alex CF painstakingly creates cryptozoological specimens encased in bell jars and elaborate, gorgeous display cabinets replete with the paraphernalia, notes, and mementos of the scientific ventures that captured these exquisite specimens. He assembles complete miniature scenes around the specimens: there are reliquaries, study cases, vampire slaying kits, portable bio-aetheric animation laboratories, coffers, and sarcophagi. The specimens are drawn from literary works, including Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dante’s Inferno, H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and Chthulhu Mythos, as well as folklore and legend. The array of allusions to classical eerie fiction is delightful. He reimagines and renders these cryptic, bizarre, mythical creatures and beings, sirens, faeries, mutants, succubi, devilspawn, atrocities against nature, resulting in specimens that are disturbingly lifelike and alluringly detailed. The displays also come with beautifully drawn illustrations, which are as fascinating as the specimens themselves.