Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October travels

I recently met up with my sister, who shares my predilection for things odd and uncanny, for a road trip to Philadelphia to watch the leaves change and visit some unusual museums.

Eastern State Penitentiary was built in 1829 and abandoned in 1971. Designed to enforce solitude and inspire penitence, it is now preserved in an eerie state of decay.

The space is much more affecting and evocative as a ruin than it would be restored and pristine. It is also said to be haunted.

Some of the cells hold pieces commissioned by local artists, such as an collection of entomological specimens by Greg Cowper and a beautiful stained glass series by Judith Schaechter entitled The Battle of Carnival and Lent.

I have been enamored of Schaechter's work since coming across an image of Jazz Funeral for Didi several years ago, and it was fantastic to see her windows in person.

After the penitentiary we walked down to the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which houses a collection of medical and anatomical specimens. The Soap Lady (depicted here in a truly lovely sketch by John G. Mundie) and the death cast (and shared liver) of Chang and Eng are housed there, as well as Einstein's brain. Sadly, they do not allow photography. Currently on display is a small but interesting exhibition entitled "Grimms' Anatomy" pairing excerpts from Grimms' fairy tales and rare illustrated volumes with corresponding anatomical specimens.

Also on display is a room curated by the Brothers Quay, and an accompanying film, Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos and Afterbreezes in the Mutter Museum). Not as striking as their collaboration with the Wellcome Collection in London (The Phantom Museum, available to watch here), but still worth seeing. NPR did a piece on their creation of the film, which can be heard here... possibly more interesting than the finished product.

All in all a satisfyingly odd and Autumnal October outing.

Happy Halloween!