Tag Archives: art

Melbourne Literary: Word and Way

Melbourne’s City Council has been promoting laneway art projects for many years. In 2002, artist Evangelos Sakaris created Word and Way in Heffernan Lane, a small street linking the ‘Little Greece’ of Lonsdale Street to Little Bourke Street’s Chinatown.

Word and Way features quotes from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu and Greek philosopher Heraclitus depicted as street signs.

The signs, affixed to bricks or jutting out from the walls, have become battered over the years but remain a fascinating excuse to pause and consider their meaning. Sayings like “I have searched myself” sit at the same height as shop signs and an advertisement for beer, while others sit side by side with real road signs.

Every time I walk past this little lane, I see the signs there. Some of them have weathered, and some have been spray-painted over, and therefore become part of the wider and more populist approach to street art and self-expression.

The koans and phrases still resonate for me though. It’s still a good excuse to stop in the middle of the busy city to ponder and contemplate aspects of life and how we approach it.

Sakaris has also created another text-based piece of art at the Speakers Corner in Birrarung Marr, the park beside the Yarra River.

A few years ago, I created the Melbourne Literary and Melbourne Peculiar apps in celebration of Melbourne’s standing as a UNESCO City of Literature, as well as some of the daggy, weird and downright peculiar things I love about my city. I thought I’d share the occasional entry from the apps. They are still available on both iTunes and Android, though they are no longer updated.

Review: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

nutshellI first saw Corinne May Botz’s book, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York.  It is a collection of art photos taken of Frances Glessner Lee’s dollhouse recreations of murder scenes.

The dioramas were not merely macabre toys put together by a fan of true crime. Lee painstakingly created  the scenarios in the 1940s and 50s for a very serious purpose: training investigating police on the correct scientific methods of approaching crime scenes, observing all details which may bear on the case.

At the time, medical law was still very much a work in progress – murders often passed undetected or badly investigated. Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress, founded Harvard’s Department of Legal Medicine and built these gruesome displays of domestic murder, mishap and accidental death to train police in observation. The models are still in use today by the Baltimore Police.

IMG_9741An astonishing level of detail went into their creation. Lee sometimes wore clothes for a year past their effective use-by date so they’d have the correct wear for the tiny figures in their boxes. She ordered parts, she disassembled and reworked and reconstructed them. She had pieces made from scratch. There are tiny calendars and books (including The Sign of the Four), miniature tools and household implements, medically accurate colouring (bright red skin for victims of carbon monoxide poisoning) and domestic details recreated to scale. Many of the scenarios were based on real cases, altered and expanded slightly to fit their purpose as training materials.

IMG_9747The Studies taught generations of investigative officers how to keep their eyes open, to look for corroborating evidence and to seek out contradictory clues.

The Nutshell Studies – so named for the old saying that the role of forensics is to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell” – have multiple aspects to them.

IMG_9749There is the story of an intelligent, strong-willed woman who was denied a university education because that was not appropriate for women (according to her father) but forged a valuable role for herself anyway. There is the story of policing and detective work. There is a wealthy woman’s philanthropic role in promoting the ways in which the law and medicine interacted (in early years, coroners didn’t have to have medical expertise at all – some were elected to the position and were pretty much useless for the purpose of autopsies and crime solving). There is one photographer’s growing obsession with the dollhouses not only as social and investigative artefacts, but as artistic ones too.

Botz’s book is an artistic interpretation of the training tableaus, beginning with observations on Lee’s life and how it influenced her work in an artistic and social rather than strictly crime-solving sense. A biography of Lee criss-crosses the social, feminist, investigative and artisan elements of the work before the rest of the book highlights some of the studies.

IMG_9745The point of this book is not a whodunnit for the reader to solve – most of the scenarios remain unexplained because they’re still in use – but the biography and the photographs together provide an insight for the crime writer, as well as the reader who is fascinated by the strange and macabre and by the history of detective work.

They are also strangely, brutally beautiful in the way they capture the hard lives and everyday tragedy of death, and the remarkable detail that went into making them.

I can’t help thinking that Sherlock Holmes would approve of them.

Buy The Nutshell Studies from Amazon.com

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"For sale: Baby shoes, never worn" – a happy ending

babyshoesThere’s a story that does the rounds that Ernest Hemingway once wrote the shortest, saddest story every told, for a $10 bet.

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

I first heard that six word story when Mary Borsellino told of how she had found it so terribly sad that her friend, artist Audrey Fox, decided to subvert the gloominess of it. Since they both enjoyed monster stories, Audrey used that as an inspiration to illustrate the story in a way that gave it a happy ending (a version of which you can see here – Audrey redrew the picture for my blog!).

Of the picture, Audrey says, “I was really just using my imagination and thinking about what else the story could mean that wasn’t ‘sad baby tragedy’.”

That story, and the story of Audrey’s illustration, made it into one of Mary Borsellino‘s Wolf House books, from memory, but I’ve always loved that whole story-in-a-story

Now, the saddest part of this whole thing is that the Hemingway part of it isn’t true. Ernest Hemingway’s writing of the tragic six-word novel is an urban legend.

A very similar story actually dates at least to Hemingway’s own childhood, when a newspaper classifieds section titled Terse Tales of the Town published the item, “For sale, baby carriage, never been used” in 1906. Similarly worded stories popped up again every few years in newspapers.

Whether the bet with Hemingway ever happened (and if it did, whether Hemingway quoted this story deliberately) is unclear – but that version of the story is ascribed to literary agent, Peter Miller, who first told it in 1974 – after Hemingway’s death – and then published it in a 1991 book. It was just the latest in a long line of stories about that story, but it’s the one that stuck.

The idea of writing something so perfectly pithy over lunch is an appealing legend, but the perfection and pithiness of the six word ‘novel’ remains, whatever its origin.

I don’t think it spoils the tale to note that Hemingway didn’t create it. I love the fact that this little notion first popped up in 1906 (if not earlier) and proceeded to grow, little by little, acquiring embellishments as it rolled down the years, until it grew to the story of a dinner party and a bet and a writer of terse words.

Or until it grew to the story of terse words, a sad friend, and an artist who decided to turn the whole thing on its head.

It’s a great reminder that many stories never stop being told, and never stop growing in the telling. It’s a reminder that stories can mean different things to different generations and that sometimes, if you look at an old story in a new way, it can grow into a whole new meaning.

Sometimes with tentacles.

You can find some of Audrey’s art, and other art that she likes, on her Tumblr.

 

Peacemaker Cover Art!

The fabulous Marianne de Pierres (who also writes under Marianne Delacourt) has a new book coming out with Angry Robot books in May 2014. As a teaser, the publisher is releasing the cover art today.

Look at the pretty, created by Joey Hi Fi.

Peacemaker-CR

The book, first in a series, combines, SF, westerns, crime and the paranormal in an Australian setting, and is based on the graphic novel by Marianne and Brigitte Sutherland (which also inspired the cover art).

What more could an Aussie reader ask for?

Apart from it to be May 2014 already.

You can read more at Marianne’s Peacemaker site