Thursday, 30 December 2010

folk goats

Folk goat available on Etsy
Midwinter and Christmas have come and gone, but the 13-metre-high Gavle Goat (no, not pictured - that's a cute and tiny crafted yule goat on Etsy) in Sweden is still standing. Hopefully it still will be by New Year's Eve, kidnapping and arson notwithstanding. And then it'll be set alight.

In time-honoured consumerist style, this annual ceremony dates back to ye olden days of 1966,  when the ancient Scandinavian tradition of the yule goat was turned into something that looks like the sacrifice of a reject from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade at an alternative Wicker Man.

Think of it as Sweden's revenge for replacing the visit of the yule goat (and the yule boar, and the yule cat) with Santa Claus in the 1870s, and turning the yule goat into a tiny straw ornament that you buy in Ikea.

The yule goat might not have looked as jolly, (and in fact in Finnish mythology it was an ugly beast that revelled in scaring children), but at least it came complete with some good old-time Norse pagan weirdness. From its origins as the literal sacrificial goat to the gods at Yule and Thor with his magical goats visiting homes to offer magical midwinter protection to becoming a man dressed as a goat going from house to house to entertain for food and drink or, even better, donning horns for the mock goat ritual of song and dance, only one thing could really top it in modern times, and that's Moondog, the Viking of 5th Avenue, with his Goat Invocation. Well, that and a really, really big straw goat being burned for the end of the Yule festivities. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

echoes : Roland Barthes (ii)

Citroën DS op art ad, Nederlands, originally uploaded by ladconcord

"The D.S. - the 'Goddess' - has all the features (or at least the public is unanimous in attributing them to it at first sight) of one of those objects from another universe which have supplied fuel for the neomania of the eighteenth century and that of our own science-fiction: the Déesse is first and foremost a new Nautilus."

From The New Citroen chapter, Mythologies by Roland Barthes

echoes : roland barthes (i)

"... even if the outcomes are pure mystification, even if any advice on behaviour is elusive, [astrology] remains a confirmation of the real world in the minds of its readers: it is in no sense a pathway to escapism, but a realistic portrayal of the living conditions of the (female) office or shop worker."

From the Astrology chapter, Mythologies by Roland Barthes

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

winter solstice all over

Jonathan Jones gets pretty lyrical about winter solstice and the ancient Orkney burial mound of Maeshowe, "with the astronomical spectacle of the sun piercing its dark sanctum of death." The BBC like lots of graphic locators (picture diagrams) reporting on the gathering at Newgrange in southern Ireland, older than Stonehenge, and aligned with the rising sun. See lots of pictures of past winter solstice celebrations, from Stonehenge and Newgrange to Mexico and El Salvador at Huffington Post. At the Caught By The River site Katherine Venn presents a poem for winter solstice, Cam Ceiliog, inspired by the Welsh name for winter solstice, 'cockerel's step', but really I just want an excuse to eat the multicoloured tang yuan  (glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup) for the Chinese midwinter festival Dong Zhi. Some Taiwanese turn their dumplings into protective talismans, sticking them to the backs of doors, windows or chairs, like some kind of evil spirit-repelling supergum. Actually, that sounds pretty good, but eating them is still better.

the strange case of pot

The Strange case Of Pot  (originally uploaded by Tolstoy2007)

Future past mystic mesmerism, by design.

vintage book of the year contender : what happens when a valley is drowned (1970)

A Valley is Drowned 01 (originally uploaded to flickr by Bollops)

Mary worked in the post office and found it quite dull. Now she lives in the city and goes out with her friends ...

See the rest of Bollops' great set of scans, and more in the *Hauntology* flickr group.

death of a village

(yet more) randomness : December

  • Jasmina Tešanovic visits the 30s sci-fi like setting of the Temple of Dawn in Brazil, where native American spirits, Jesus, Tutankhamen and UFOs alike are worshipped in strange lengthy rituals and ghostlike imagery.
  • A celebration of 80s paranormal teen comedies.
  • See the aftermath of an apocalypse in Lori Nix's clever photographs of dioramas that are eerily realistic.
  • Wiltshire Heritage Museum's White Horses And Hill Figures exhibition is now on until 27 February, with yet more art and ephemera added to be mystically intrigued by the folklore of chalk figures and horses. Hopefully some reference to The Moon Stallion in there.
  • Christmas cards that put the fear into festive (stock up for next year), suitably, from the Bat Conservation Trust.

the man with the electronic brain

What happens when a man invents an electronic brain and the computer malfunctions? See the wry results, not just for mankind, but also comic book speech bubbles at The Balloonist (thanks for the link Gene).

alexander korzer-robinson's memory narratives

Bliss VII by Alexander Korzer-Robinson
The past and how we remember it in our "inner landscape" is the smart starting point for Alexander Korzer-Robinson's beautiful book constructions (via Living Design), which set cut-out illustrations from books within a frame made of the book the illustrations come from. There's a little of the Victorian scrapbook, a little subversive montage and a little (for me) of Joseph Cornell's delicately arranged boxes of found objects in these artful works. Most of all, there's a picture-window view of the jumble sale reality of our supposedly ordered histories, as Korzer-Robinson shows how we reframe our own narratives constantly, without even knowing it.

Monday, 20 December 2010


Going, Going, Gone (originally uploaded by makelessnoise)

Tonight (if you're in North America) or tomorrow morning (in the UK and other parts of Europe) is the first lunar eclipse on winter solstice since 1638, which should look as magical as makelessnoise's composite (above). Shakespeare, Mark Twain and the adventures of TinTin all had memorable eclipses but cultural myths around the world are still the best reading fodder for the imagination in the run up, explaining the eclipse as the moon being eaten by animals (the best - jaguars in Mayan folklore; the strangest - three-toed frogs in China) or demons. Hope for clear morning skies (the action begins in the UK around 6.30am and peaks at 7.40am with the total eclipse), enjoy the strange shades as the moon turns dusty yellow, grey, blushing or blood red, and if you're taking astrology portents on board, look out - solstice and eclipse combined means double opportunities and double likelihood of big changes. Just don't freak out about the whole celestial omen thing. Think Tahiti style (eclipses being the time when the sun and moon get it on) and play some Barry White (no, not Bonnie Tyler ...).

Sunday, 19 December 2010

wind harps - music of the spirits

Sound sculptures, the apparently modern invention of environmentally-minded art, are just another turn in the history of the wind (or aeolian) harp. Invented in Ancient Greece, the wind harp was played, not by humans but, it was said, the god of the wind, Aeolus, who the harp was named for. A bunch of centuries later and the Romantic poets similarly fell for it. The wind harp was their mystical vision made real, of nature as the source of creativity. It made the music of the spirits, so it wasn't just magical, it was divine.

Except that the wind harp has never been some kind of harmonic lyre. The magic lies in the sounds produced without human intervention, the otherworldly nature by the inherent dissonance of the sounds. Vortex swirls of vibration produce disharmonious overtones rather than the soothing fundamental tones of most instruments. You can't tune it to make sweet music, but you can make best use of a wind harp for eerie, sinister and sometimes downright malevolent sounds (try listening to one during a storm). 

Perfect for horror, as you'd expect, as heard in Elisabeth Lutyens scores for Hammer Horror and Amicus films in the 60s and 70s, and briefly in The Exorcist, thanks to a snippet from an album recording of a hippie commune environmental project from 1972. Less expected in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where the aeolian harp creates the haunted atmosphere of the cave, and certainly less expected to be used from the 60s on than synthesized fear in the era of sound effects and the likes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. 

Maybe it makes sense then to see wind harps back in a natural setting, but this time providing an unsettling and more complicated sculptural commentary on modern life and our relationship with nature, and maybe sound, even if it's not necessarily gentle on the ears of the unsuspecting tourist.

(For the hardy of hearing, sea music adds another layer of atonal weirdness in the modern giant tidal organs of Blackpool (the 45 foot tower part of the Great Promenade art show from 2002), San Francisco's 80s environmental sound project and Zadar in Croatia, where the wind comes into play again, seeming to blow sound from the pipe organs buried beneath concrete steps up at you through holes every few feet along an artificial border between land and sea.)

the singing ringing tree, lancashire

The Singing Ringing Tree, Crown Point, Burnley, Lancashire

(originally uploaded by Pigalle)
If you're going to attract tourists to an outdoor sculpture in the middle of the Lancashire countryside, then calling it after a cult weird favourite children's TV show from the 60s about a magic tree (with a strange dwarf and people who turn into bears) is a pretty smart, nostalgia-evoking way to do it. The Tonkin-Liu designed Singing-Ringing Tree is a musical sculpture that sits high up on Crown Point near Burnley. Like its TV equivalent, it's eerie and otherworldly, a metallic monument shaped like a bent tree and producing a range of unearthly humming as the wind whistles through its dozens of hollow pipes. Fittingly, it looks out towards Pendle Hill, famous for the Pendle Witches persecuted during the witch trials of the 1600s (best boned up on in Joyce Froome's book Wicked Enchantments), and home to another of Lancashire's panopticons, the alien pod-like Atom in nearby Wycoller Park.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

herb lester associates: wish you were there

Another mention, but a worthy one, of the already acclaimed Herb Lester Associates, for the company's third map, Wish You Were There, which this time taps into the all-too-popular daydream of walking into the past with a round up of the shops, clubs, bars, photographic and TV studios and "sundry diversions" of pre-hippie 60s London.

Famous and forgotten legends alike are carefully plotted and pithily described here, from the Scotch of St James, Tiles and the Two I's to I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet, The Marquee and Better Books. Lesser-known delights include Studio 51, home at one point to a residency (and the recording of a live album) by the Downliners Sect among others, the Kenny Lynch Record Centre (next to Paul Raymond's Revue Bar in Soho) and beatnik coffee bars Le Macabre and Heaven & Hell. 

Richard Lester's Boutique London, which came out in October, received due lavish praise for including plenty of photographs in its coverage of swinging 60s London shops from Kings Road to Carnaby Street, and Wish You Were There could be a handy companion to that tome. Loving attention to atmospheric detail in the writing and ad cuttings is the added bonus in this pocket-sized guide, easily conjuring up the buzz of the era. You might visit the first boutique within a store, Simpson's 'Trend' on Piccadilly, before scootering up to the Ready Steady Go studios in Holborn for a chance at TV dancing immortality, unless you were already at the Plug Hole for the regular Friday residency of The Syndicat, or heading to Whitehorse Street for 9pm, to be sure of getting the guinea dinner included in the entry to way-out Edwardian club Sete E Mejo. One thing's for sure, if you were in central London, you weren't far from a new hip place to see and be seen at, with a rapid turnover that put the kibosh on boredom.

Not so much has changed in that respect, and although central London's current makeover may be a nagging concern (at the very least), as historians are fond of pointing out, the capital's past is never really erased, just covered in another layer of history. With remnants lurking in all kinds of strange places, as Herb Lester points out, the old city is there "if you look hard enough".

Wish You Were There map, £4, Herb Lester Associates

Friday, 17 December 2010

myths & legends: from the ancient to the modern, edinburgh printmakers

Toys From The Myth Kitty by Robert Crozier, courtesy of Edinburgh Printmakers
More than 30 printmakers explore their own ideas of folk tales and myths in culture, in Scotland and beyond at the treasure trove that is Edinburgh Printmakers, from Kate McKay's pre-Raphaelite/obsessively detailed drawings of her own personal mythologies and Gavin Johnston's moody barren landscapes that hint at hidden stories to the gothic dream cartoon world of Eleni Kalorkoti's Slavic Shrine and the wryly subversive linocuts of Robert Crozier (work pictured) which make best use of his ludic wordplay (though he's also a fine poet).

Edinburgh Printmakers, to 23 Dec

Thursday, 16 December 2010

vintage hypnosis machine

There are things you want and, sometimes, there are things you really, really need. Truth to tell, your friends, relatives or party guests probably wouldn't thank you if you tried "Dr Hietrick's Vertigo Therapy", with its "Bi-Directional Metal Disc" on them, but the rotating hypnosis disc machine is a very covetable bad toy. For me, it's an instant throwback to seeing John Waters use one as the quack psychiatrist in the original Hairspray film, and any number of 60s films or TV shows using psychedelic op art props. I'd even bet that if they'd been invented in the 19th century mesmerism fan Charles Dickens would've had one. Yup, Dickens was hip. Yours, for only $1685 (no, I don't imagine they do crop up that often) from Modern 50.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

zodiac match game, 1974

Available now on Etsy, $18 from the US, Orion's game of "chance and strategy", though really more of a zodiac dominoes in reality. Not that we're complaining ...

randomness : december - continued

  • Ukrainian officials have said that Chernobyl power plant, the site of the worst civilian nuclear accident will be opened up to tourists from January; as the Guardian quipped, for those with an interest in post-apocalyptic vistas or late-period Soviet history. Slate magazine quoted Mary Mycio, the author of a book about the 1986 nuclear disaster, who was concerned about numbers of tourists turning the area into a "nuclear Disneyland". Those more concerned about getting cancer from the still-high levels of radiation can go back to the Independent in November and read about Shaun Walker's trip to the region, including the ghost town of Pripyat, which remains as it was when the residents were evacuated in 1986.
  • A fund has been set up to reward finding whoever chopped the Holy Thorn Tree on the top of Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury. There's several Holy Thorn trees around the town, meant to have grown originally from a cutting planted by Joseph of Armiathea 2,000 years ago. The tree on top of Wearyall Hill was planted in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain (there you go, ancient and modern again), and itself replaced a Holy Thorn tree chopped down during the Civil war.
  • According to the Sun, Hurricane Higgins is haunting his old flat as a poltergeist.
  • A ghost metro station, former steel works and a museum commemorating a mining accident in 1956 are among the highlights of Nicolas Buissart's tours of his home town, Charleroi, in Belgium, which is attracting visitors from across the country and abroad. "Ugly things are fascinating." he says.
  • Woodhenge could have been a Neolithic temple, or maybe it was just a fence. No one's backing down in this archeology argument.
  • The mysterious Geminid meteor showers peak tonight, but if that's not cosmic enough, there's the mythic tale of the joy-riding demi-god attached to it too.

Monday, 13 December 2010

bournemouth's museum of electricity

Bournemouth, a seaside town of old people, charity shops (and enough vintage shops to strip them bare), the big lovely modernist Boscombe pier that Anne's paid due homage at Nothing To See Here. Tucked away amid Christchurch's megalith-like Roman castle ruins (below) and bunting-festooned Tudor teashop, there's also a hauntology tourist dream: the Museum Of Electricity. 

If the looming pylon and buzzing transformers of the substation dominating the entrance (below) don't snare you, the charm of the Edwardian building (the original power station) and the exhibition inside should do the trick.

When Southern Electricity first opened it in 1981, the museum was only for those in the electricity trade, but it's been a popular, if unlikely attraction, (now owned by Scottish Power and Southern Electricity), for tourists and schools over the past couple of decades. No wonder, with strange and beautiful looking artefacts from electricity boxes, like the Victorian "Crypto" below ...

... to 50s space age era bedwarmers ...

... and just generally beautiful-looking contraptions ...

Plus a mannequin dressed up in safety gear. Photo opportunity!

Other treats to eyeball include vintage bicycles ...

... electrical goods across the decades of the 20th century - hairdryers, cookers, Betamax video recorders and TVs ...

... and a graphic design classic in the illustrated interior map of the Dungeness Power Station.

Ornate metal stair banisters lead up to the demonstration room, further rooms and a balcony. From the balcony the main room below is dominated by the great old tram, which you can also go climb into (pictured below). The interior didn't look this spectral when I took the photo though.

Museum Of Electricity, Old Power Station, Bargates, Bournemouth, open Easter-September, guided tours for groups by appointment throughout the year

jan svankmajer: the fall of the house of usher (1981)

Even without understanding the voiceover (in softly lulling Czech) Svankmajer's film soaks up the mysterious gloom of Edgar Allan Poe's gothic story of death, doppelgangers and the claustraphobic weight of history. Like the story, it's the house, brooding in the dusky light, that is the main character in Svankmajer's film, dominating the landscape of barren trees and pulsating from foundation to roof with doom. Freed from any pesky humans (or even puppet people) to carry the narrative, it's also the atmospheric house that Svankmajer uses to tell the tale, in crumbling plaster moulding itself into tormented shapes, words appearing out of dead leaves, blank faces appearing in walls and a coffin silently, clunkily and apparently singlemindedly weaving its own way through the rooms. This short film (find it in the Collected Shorts Of Jan Svankmajer DVD)  might be the best unlikely example of Svankmajer's belief in the memories of materials and objects, and in the power of animation to free those memories.

where it starts

Does this fascination with the supernatural start with the Usborne Book of Ghosts as a birthday present aged seven? Or being one of the generation drawn into either Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World (as sung about by The Divine Comedy) or The Unexplained magazine series in the late 70s? Or any of the disturbing 70s or 80s children's supernaturally-tinged dramas (most of which I've already linked to here, but I've kept meaning to slot in John Wyndham's Chocky, which had a pretty ace haunted soundtrack on top of references to aliens, menacing powers, cosmic energy and pyramids). Maybe it's something as innocuous as watching reruns of 60s horror comedy classic The Addams Family (or seeing the cartoons - lovely edition of pictured, left) or The Munsters? Or the cool 60s hearse cars used by a) The Monkees b) Neil Young and c) the Ghostbusters? Or maybe it goes further, the primal fascinations of the dark, the things we catch out of the corner of our eye, or the sinister resonances of sound written about by David Toop. It's not always sinister, that's for sure. More times than not it's the comfort of escaping into the uncanny versus the nightmare of reality that's oddest.

munster, go home!

Truth be told, it's guest star Terry-Thomas that's the real deal clincher here, though I'm still very appreciative of the link (thanks Travis). Now, if only Gomez Addams and Terry-Thomas could've met on screen. I'm sure they'd've come up with a rakish plan over a brandy or two ...

salford's mayan totems

William Mitchells Minut Men (originally uploaded to flickr by Stuart Grout)
Three concrete columns in a Salford University courtyard are proper modernist standing stones. Commissioned in 1967 by the architects of the then new Allerton Building when the university was still Salford Technical College, the London-based sculptor William Mitchell drew on Mayan culture to create his trio of black, white and terracotta figures and, with his team, assembled them in a week, "so that the morning and evening sunshine will fall on the faces of the figures", as he said at the time. 

Typically (then, as now), his abstract totems, with their Aztec swirls and squares and mosaic tile highlights, were greeted, as the Manchester Modernist Society recall in their homage, with the initial snort of "What the hell is that?". The sculptures quickly acquired nicknames though (Faith, Hope and Charity seems to be the one that's stuck most), and Mitchell went on to create work for the likes of Liverpool's amazing Metropolitan Cathedral (look for the expressionist reliefs either side of the entrance doors in particular), London's Barbican and the BART transport system in northern California. 

Mitchell's website details lots more of his work over 55 years, including his latterday speaker for hire role, talking about The Concrete Jungle, Building For The Baby Boomer and more.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

phantoms of the forest

Hidden away in the Northern Californian redwood forest, albino redwoods are the state park's secret mystery, a rare, pale, thin ghost tree that sprouts from the base of a regular redwood and feeds off the parent tree. So they're a little gothic, a little bit vampiric and even better for their image, both the video below and the NPR interview liken them to the eternal slacker teenager that won't get off the couch and get a job.

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

the atomic beauty of 50s Milan trade fairs

 Aqua-velvet nails the "open and optimistic spirit" of the era in a scanned set of Italian expo photos showing futuristic visions on a truly grand scale.

Pavilion of the Montecatini Company Fair of Milan 1955
(originally uploaded to flickr by sandiv999, image from Gebrauchsgraphik No 8, 1956)

more moon dreams

Eastern bloc space age stamp design, from the grand swell of Oliver Tomas's Czechoslovakian postal archive on flickr.

the last people on the moon

(originally uploaded to flickr by Jesse Draper)

Today in 1972 Nasa's inal manned Apollo mission to land on the moon took off from the Cape Canaveral launch-pad in Florida. Californian artist Jesse Draper shows how the utopian dream continues in his colour-saturated imaginary portraits inspired by the playtime space battles of Russian orphans.

Prints available on Etsy

lost villages (things we missed, and miss ...)

In the wake of the BBC's reporting of a campaign to rediscover forgotten villages the ever-resourceful Things magazine rounded up a grand list of links to lots of Britain's abandoned places, including the much-visited Tyneham in Dorset and its dusty 40s telephone box (pictured), which also has a small but thorough flickr group archive,  St Kilda in the western islaes and the former Croydon Airport, where the former terminal building and control tower are now listed buildings and the area is full of model aircraft flyers rather than real airplanes.

for the superstitious design fan in your life ...

A showcase of typographical styles in a nostalgic travel ticket-style (at least, that's what it looks like to me - all it needs is the conductor's punch holes), and all personalised with your name, lucky numbers, chinese animal, zodiac sign and date. It's almost like they know how to lure me in ...

Available from Angeluci Couture on Folksy

spectral traces : the berlin wall

Checkpoint Charlie, 60s - IMG_3158
(originally uploaded to flickr by Per Sistens)

It might not exist anymore, but the 87-mile long wall that separated West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany, like many such structures, can't help but have a long afterlife. Cynthia Beatt's film, The Invisible Frame, explores the remnants as it retraces a 1988 bicycle trip with Tilda Swinton around the Berlin Wall. Swinton returns to find what's left and reflect on what it meant, travelling from the memorial to Gunther Litfin, the first escapee killed after the wall went up on 13 August 1961, to the woods and fields where Japan's gift of 1,400 cherry blossom trees were planted to celebrate the wall's fall in 1989. The website's photo gallery (under Bike Tour) is an absorbing map-led travelogue in its own right, and the DVD is only a few euros to download.

Monday, 6 December 2010

what we missed ... randomness, november/december

blink twice for fear

(originally uploaded to flickr by peoplearestrange).

ben newman's bento bestiary

In my dreams sometimes I live in a illustrated paradise, like Little Nemo In Slumberland or Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library, but in real life I dream of creations like Ben Newman's Bento Bestiary (photo courtesy of, the hardback edition of which is out now. Newman's illustrations have been getting a good little punt recently across the web and in print and rightly so. I love the apparent mix of Russian constructivism, 50s cartoon advertising, art deco and punk subversion, and his take on the 18th-century depiction of the demonic spirits of the yokai (the forerunner to Godzilla among other amazing beasts) gets a lyrical companion, with words by SJ Donaldson accompanying each of the illustrations.

Bento Bestiary, hardback edition, £12, Nobrow

ghost writing

Published in 1919, Christopher Morley's tale The Haunted Bookshop (thanks Archie for the image), was a Brooklyn-set tale of mystery, spies and an attempt to blow up President Woodrow Wilson rather than the gothic supernatural odyssey the title suggests, but it is a book filled with ghosts, as it celebrates the possibilities of literature. A placard within the titular bookshop announces, "This shop is haunted by the ghosts/ Of all great literature, in hosts" and wryly notes at the end that, "Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious thing." No better way to be haunted, it could be said.

Free download of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley available at Project Gutenberg

Sunday, 31 October 2010


wooden owl from the collection of Rhian Thompson
Happy Halloween. Watch out for those owls ...

the mysterious unknown by robert charroux

Robert Charroux (the pen-name of Robert Grugeau) was a former postman and sci-fi writer who made a bundle on writing several non-fiction books, starting with The Mysterious Unknown, in the last decade of his life. 

Erich Von Daniken was said to have been influenced heavily by Charroux's work, and both took a big chunk out of Pauwels and Bergier's seminal, occult revival relaunching 1960 work The Morning Of The Magicians. 

Charroux, like many others, also milked this money-spinning goat to the hilt throughout the 70s, introducing "new knowledge" about ancient astronauts and their lessons for us in further tantalising titles like Forgotten Worlds: Scientific Secrets And Their Warning For Our Time, Legacy Of The Gods and Masters Of The World: Groundbreaking New Revelations About The Ancient Astronauts.

georges méliès' magical fantastical film world

George Méliès' was a pioneering film-maker who is best-known today for his 1902 epic, A Trip To The Moon, a surreal space voyage that makes use of every ounce of his talent for film magic. This was Méliès at the peak of his career, turning over the conventions of the already popular medium by creating narratives of multiple scenes, and more importantly experimenting with special effects and multiple exposures to produce visual illusions that are still beautifully stunning. Méliès made the most of his knowledge of stage magic to amaze audiences, and even performed in some films, (as in the video above) where his charms go beyond invisible celluloid manipulation into timeless trickster captivation.

Knowledge magazine, 1961

I couldn't understand why I kept being drawn back to this cover from Knowledge ("The colour magazine which grows into an encyclopaedia") until I saw a 1972 book called The Astrological Significance Of Stonehenge. Suddenly the giant machine looked like a megalith, and the atomic signs in the sky the stars, the striving for a magical future through technology harking back to the past. (this may just be the crazy fruits of thinking about all this too much, of course ...)

chislehurst caves

Last call for tours of the labyrinth of Chislehurst Caves before Halloween night sets in. The last ghost tour might have gone, but daytime tours still descend into inky blackness and claustraphobic silence, exploring 20 miles of warren-like tunnels over 8,000 years old. 

With a history that includes druidic rituals, Saxons, Romans, Civil War soldiers, mushroom-farmers, those seeking shelter from the second world war blitz and also use in the 60s as an alternative gig venue for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Animals, there's more than a few ghosts around.

The aim of the "The Challenge" was to see if anyone, despite the ghost stories, could spend a night in the caves, with £5 as reward. No one claimed the fiver, and the last time it took place in 1985, it ended with one of the challengers running to find his partner wild-eyed and screaming, with the reason why apparently captured on tape. Nowadays, the scariest part might be seeing the historical waxworks. I couldn't even take pictures of the child waxworks last Halloween.

spook hill postcard

(originally uploaded by Neato Coolville)
Neato Coolville present another fine example of America capitalising on its unlikely attractions, with postcards (and accompanying photo of the amazing local motel sign) from Spook Hill near Lake Wales in Florida. William Castle would've been proud. Why can't we be as tacky and have postcards for our favourite haunted / megalithically enchanted / UFO hotspots?

By the way, Neato Coolville always does a great Halloween countdown blog series every October, and they archive them too.

park of the monsters

originally uploaded to flickr by workflo
Amusement parks and fairground rides are all very well, but Pier Francesco Orsini's 17th-century Park Of The Monsters (link via Kuriositas) in Bomarzo, central Italy is a weird and wonderful thrill attraction of a wholly fantastical kind.

Random oversized mythological creatures and gape-mouthed ogres await the astonishment of visitors, lurking amid foliage and plants, apparently appearing out of hillsides and beckoning entry to who knows what kind of underworld.

Restoration work on the formerly neglected gardens means that some of the best sculptures are protected by fences, but the surreal magic of the place that influenced the likes of Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Niki De Saint Phalle still dominates. And who wouldn't love to imagine, walking around, that these stone behemoths might come to life?

nika neelova's ghostly art

The Missing House, courtesy of Nika Neelova
It's both a timely delight and welcome surprise to see Nika Neelova win the New Sensations Saatchi Prize. The rescued architectural ruins of her "decaying skeletal installations" resonate most here, but they're only the latest works that have drawn on 23-year-old Russian-born artist's own experiences of displacement and the transitory.

Forest trees have been turned into ghostly signposts with a layer of white emulsion, a collaborative piece saw a carpet of 20,000 eggshells ground to powder by a dancer to expose the fragility of any sense of permanence and a coat of arms made out of sheep bones (and called Bend Sinister) made a fantastic gothic memento mori out of the family tree.

The Missing House (pictured) which was shown last year at the Woburn Square Gallery in London, was all the more spooky for being lifted out of its apparent abandoned mansion setting, a rickety wooden staircase that went nowhere and made a truly ethereal contrast with the bright whiteness of the gallery all the more stark. 

The work that won Nika Neelova the recent New Sensations Prize, The Night Also Falls, takes this contrast a step further, with remains reclaimed from skips and architectural salvage as before, but the materials are completely charred (and charcoal), ready to crumble at any moment,  like celebrating not only the neglected and forgotten, but settings gone forever and supernaturally revisioned. Like her previous pieces, it's also really, really big - not just a fragment of memory, but the deep roots and epic scale of the past in physical form.

Friday, 29 October 2010

mexico's island of the dolls

In the remains of the Aztec canals of Xochimilico in south Mexico, a collection of talismans to outdo the Blair Witch Project have become, as Weburbanist summarised perfectly (with great photos) Mexico's "Creepiest Tourist Destination". Land on one particular stretch and you're surrounded by thousands of old, disfigured, eyeless, dirty dolls, many hanging from the trees. Part shrine, part juju, the dolls were collected by a hermit to honour and appease the spirit of a young girl who had drowned nearby. There's a clutch of pictures on flickr but, for me, Jade Cantwell's Holga shots (pictured, my favourite) capture the eerieness.

parker brothers ouija board ad, 1968

It may come as a surprise to learn that Ouija Board is a trademark owned by the Parker Brothers games company. It's not such a surprise that it's been one of their bestsellers for more than 40 years though.

Ouija boards had been the hit byproduct of the mid-1800s taste for the occult, mesmerism, spiritualism and all forms of energy channelling. Patented in 1854, it quickly became a favoured parlor game for any Victorian family, and swiftly outgrew its original patent description of reading the minds of people with "nervous energy" to become a way of contacting the dead.

William Fuld created the 20th century version of these talking boards, and their design was much the same by the time he decided to retire and sold the patent to Parker Brothers in 1966. What had changed was that the occult was having its biggest revival since the Victorian era, and so too did Ouija Boards, becoming part of the paraphernalia of the revolutionary 60s while at the same time accepted into the mainstream as a fun leisure activity.

For those who might denounce them as satanic, adverts like the one pictured, from 1968, returned Ouija boards to their roots as a mind-reader, but who knows whose mind was meant to be telling the user who was taking Debbie to the prom or whether flying saucers were real?

echoes : poe

"The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn, not the material of my every-day existence, but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself."

(from the short story Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe, like other such stories which had made their authors famous, what we'd now call a pulp horror: "the fearful coloured into the horrible... the singular wrought out into the strange and mystical" as Poe wrote in a letter to a would-be publisher in 1835)

Taxidermy birds photographed in the Viktor Wynd Shop on Mare Street, E8

Thursday, 28 October 2010

tis' the season...

Glyptodon (originally uploaded by seriykotik1970)
... to dwell on mortality and other morbid curiousities, as befits the time of the year when the veil between this world and the next is meant to be at its thinnest, so ideal timing for the wonderful Herb Lester Associates to add to their reputation for revealing true hidden corners of London by revelling, horrified, in the macabre anatomical wonders of The Hunterian Museum.

Likewise, time for a visit to the Angela Palmer's ongoing Ghost Forest, an installation of giant rainforest tree stumps in the grounds of Oxford's Pitt-Rivers museum (and then enter the Victorian collections of curiosities - monkey skull, spirit ship toy, witch in a bottle, giant totem pole and shrunken voodoo head being only the most notorious - in a suitably arcane setting of dark wood and glass cases).

For those stout of stomach, the grisly bell jars of pickled monstrosities of Glasgow's Museum Of Anatomy trump intellectual fascination with gut-wrenching gore. Tucked away amid the gothic towers of Glasgow University, this apparent partner to a Frankenstein lab can ramp up the fear better than any ghost walk. James Mooney's flickr set may prove the point a little too starkly for some.

For now I'm still fixated on the cenozoic South American glyptodon (pictured) and its likeness to a "flattened Volkswagen beetle" while looking like a kind of HP Lovecraft faceless monster, captured alongside other shots of the Comparative Anatomy Museum in atmospheric 60s Kodak Retinette by Russian flickrite Ian (seriykotik).

urban traces, spectral urbex

Kasteel van Mesen, Lede, Belgium  (originally uploaded by nikozz)
 Urban Ghosts Media have a lovely guide to urbex, or exploring the abandoned, unloved or overlooked places with haunting pictures that include those by Dutch photographer Niek Beck (nikozz)of the Castle of Messines, a 9th/10th century fortification that campaigners had battled to save, but which was demolished earlier this year.