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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Romance of Roentgen: X-rays, Zinc, Zoos and Zodiacs

We seem to be sitting still, 
but we are actually moving,
and the fantasies of phenomena 
are sliding through us, like ideas through curtains.
(First stanza of The Well, A Year with Rumi, 138)

In my case, it's been images as well as ideas moving through me.

But I did feel I was sitting a little too still, or plodding along in too regular a path, so I jumped ahead to look at images from X and Z. I will need to find more images from X later, or to use a little license (perhaps a foray into images of Xylophones from the immense music section, who knows). Yet, I was struck by the ephemeral romance and sensuality of what I usually think of as the hard fact of medical imaging. First there's a romance with technique, the gloss of the machinery next to soft flesh as seen in images like this one:

But there's also a surprising delicacy and sweetness in images like this:

It's an 1896 copy of one the earliest x-rays, which portrayed the left hand of X-Ray inventor Wilhelm Roentgen's wife, with her wedding ring clearly visible in the image. Given this iconography, it's not surprising to see the delicate romanticism in this x-ray of a rose:

And it's a logical jump to this illustrated "x-ray" of a Gibson girl, which reveals her beating valentine of a heart as well as a sturdy (and more anatomically correct rib cage, arms, and pelvis.

Still marooned in Victoriana, I looked at images in the folders labeled "Zoological Parks and Gardens":

The elephant is a recurring figure in zoo images, but I love the ostrich cart in this tiny postcard.
Something sad about these Copenhagen elephants...

A tremendous amount was going on in the Central Park Zoo nearly a century earlier...
These two images span a almost a century (the photo is from 1905, while the illustration is from the "early 1800s"), yet I see much similarity in depictions of this relatively new leisure activity, even in this zoological garden even farther afield, the menagerie at Barrackpore:

Finely clad strollers, children observing animals in ornate cages. It reminds me a bit of "Hypnotism in a Wild Beast's Cage" from an earlier post. I hope to return to this category for some more recent zoo images later.

More "fantasies of  phenomena moving through my hands" were these two images from the folder "Zinc":

I never knew zippers were made of zinc... and I wonder what other places were represented on the Zinc map where I found an image tied to Oklahoma, a place which seems to be located, curiously, in a wide blue sea...

I've had a fascination with the ruins of Great Zimbabwe since I saw a play that featured Getrude Caton-Thompson , an archaeologist who excavated there in the late 1920s and put to rest a lot of idiotic and racist theories about the place and its former inhabitants. It has mysterious hive-shaped buildings, which you can see in the following images:

I was particularly struck by the two images below, paired by a 1989 editor at Archaeology.

As the caption indicates, the travel poster on the "Mystery of Rhodesia" insists that these finely wrought buildings must have been wrought by a surprisingly pale Queen of Sheba rather by local Bantu people. Other theories included Greeks, Egyptians, and Phoenicians making their way down south, but Gertrude Caton-Thompson laid this racist malarkey to rest, writing that the buildings were Bantu in origin and date from between 1100 and 1400 CE. It's believed this city was the site of the palaces of The Kingdom of Zimbabwe, and the stonework is so fine that their high walls contain no mortar to hold them together. Glass beads, coins from Arabia, and shards of pottery from China indicate that Great Zimbabwe must have been a trading hub.

I love the shape of these bee-hive buildings as well as their story, so I'll have to find a place for them in a landscape inspired by the letter Z.

Another feature in this landscape will be a kind of rotating Ferris wheel structure made from fragments of various zodiacs. The treasure trove of images depicting the zodiac is incredible. I was expecting to find things like this:

 But I wasn't expecting the diversity of these images of zodiac wheels:

Using one of these wheels, I'd like to replace some of their "contents" with images of individual zodiac signs like these:

I love these Persian Gemini, who remind me of my dad, Robert Palmer. He was a Gemini who loved the Persian poet Rumi and gave me my first book of Rumi's poetry in the late 1980s. He also loved another Persian poet, Farid al-din Attar, who wrote:

Strive to discover the mystery before life is taken from you.
If while living you fail to find yourself, to know yourself,
how will you be able to understand
the secret of your existence when you die?

 I hope my dad remembers those secrets now, sitting up in the sky somewhere with his Persian poet friends.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tending to My Knitting in Krygyzstan

K is one of those letters I had few preconceptions about. As I dug through folders, I was hoping to find more images of Kyrgyzstan, but I liked this yurt, and could see using some of this as a backdrop for K.

I was  also partial to a few images of keys:

The ones on top, in particular, could form a nice palisade-like fence. I'm regretting now that I failed to scan some 1980s images of keys. They'd make a poor palisade, but they combined amazing soft blue lighting with a very silly attempt to make utilitarian, black rubber-topped car keys into romantic objects.

Inspired by the pirate told to tend to his knitting in Donald Barthelme's Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, I went to look at the Knitting folders. They are filled with beautiful sweaters and swatches of knitted patterns, but I was drawn most to the instructional images of knitting needles and balls of yarn:

But the folders for K that surprised me the most were the images of knights. There were, of course,  the  romantic and medieval images:

 And then there were the 20th Century commercial images of knights, shilling for oranges and driving trains forward.

I loved some of the oldest and simplest images, like this drawing of an 8th century sculpture from a Merovingian church:

As well as later engravings:

But when I saw the particular engraving above, I immediately thought that I could duplicate the knight in the lower-most image holding his sword aloft, then reverse the copy so their two swords were crossed, and paste in  other images so that the two knights with crossed swords were actually holding knitting needles! Posed against a key palisade, with the mountains of Kyrgyzstan in the distance and the  Royal Knight of Sunkist oranges looking down on them from a rocky crag in the foreground, this would be an arresting scene for the aye-aye to encounter. I hope the knitting knights will not catch him on their needles...

On the same day that I looked at these images, I read a scrap of a Rumi poem called "The One Thing You Must Do."

There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do.
If you forget everything else and not this, there is nothing to worry
about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you 
will have done nothing in your life.

As a mom of two young kids, I feel I'm constantly forgetting EVERYTHING I should remember to do.
Some days I feel like the heroine in Allison Pearson's hysterical novel I Don't Know How She Does It, who's always juggling work and home responsibilities with tragicomic results. But I'm very lucky to be able to create my own imaginary world of knitting knights in the Picture Collection and then come home to meet the princesses and fairies having tea with my kids.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Letter J: Juvenile Delinquents, Jewelry and Junks, February journal entry

I had a slow start today and got led down the primrose path by "Juvenile Delinquents." Maybe many images had been checked out by others, but I just didn't find much that appealed, except for one image of a 16 year-old "baby-faced" armed robber. So, moved on to Jugglers:

I loved the image below, take a look at his feet, especially! And that levitating lotus position is hard to imitate.

But perhaps the strangest image of "Jugglers is this 17th Century engraving of Chinese street performers:
They are doing MANY things (how did that guy get smoke to come out of his head?), but juggling does not seem to be among them.

"Jewelry" is an immense category. The Picture Collection is a huge resource for designers of all types (clothing, costumes, jewelry, textiles). Just skimming the surface, I found this handful of beautiful images.
A Russian broach representing Athena

A Colombian piece from the Museo Del Oro in Bogota

A collection of 17th Century Jewish Marriage rings.

I loved "Justice - Allegorical" and  thought it would be fun to make a little chorus line of justices. If only I could find an image of Justice doing the can-can.

But when I found the folder for "Junks," I was very excited. I love the textural range of these images as well as their subject matter.

And, of course, there was a fantastic pulp image. Does this remind you of the Nympho Gaucho of the Matto Grosso? (Look back at the entry for G to see her, if you missed it.)

If atomic testing hasn't already killed you, you may be able to enjoy the work of "A Foundation that left A Harem for Poor Men Only. Man's Life really seems chock full of  helpful info and important stories. The image on the cover depicts a "Captive of the All-Girl Ching Dao Jewel Ring," which is a bit hard to read in the scan. I hope that guy made it to safety...

The images from "Junks" seemed to make things coalesce for me, and I've made a sketch for the letter J  that integrates Hong Kong Harbor,  juggling, Justice(s), and junks from various eras...

And I like the labeled edge on this image, which makes me wonder if I can use some kind of "frame" like this to show the hand-written folder names for each image.