Henri's berichten over zijn recente activiteiten

Henri's reports on his recent activities

Personal website: http://members.ziggo.nl/here

dinsdag 23 december 2014

Plaster Cast Anatomical Foot

Professor Louise Fresco, scientist, director and writer, recently published the essay bundle “Kruisbestuiving” (ISBN 9789035142527). The translated title reads: Xenogamy. It hints at the new combinations of genetic properties that are created, when one plant pollinates the stamen in the flower of another. She recognises this as a metaphor for insights that emerge when mixing scientific knowledge, artistic observation and personal experience.  In one of her essays she expresses the desire to own a glass jellyfish model from the Blaschka  studio herself: 
("En als de Financial Times me nog eens vraagt: als kunstwerk wil ik graag een glazen model van een veelkleurige zeekwal van de Blaschka-collectie hebben" , in translation: “And in case the Financial Times should ask me once more: as a work of art I should like to possess  a glass model of a multi-coloured jelly-fish from the Blaschka Collection".)

Well, who would not? Join the club. In 1993 I was sent a single glass tentacle of a glass squid made by Blaschka, and that was all that remained of the collection of glass models of Bonn University. I added this orphaned tentacle from Bonn to the glass animals collection of the Utrecht University Museum,  yet I was tempted to  keep it for myself in order to display it at home. It would certainly have been a thrill, to own a piece of Blaschka glass myself.
The lost Bonn collection is not the only one missing. It happens ever so often: things and even complete collections get lost, also in museums and universities. Another example: for many years I tried to uncover a Parisian collection of Blaschka glass animals, but all my attempts hitherto were in vain.
Anatomical foot, plaster of Paris, 14x28x14 cm
Yet finally I own an educational model myself – be it a plaster one; not a glass one. October 14, 2014  I visited the “Atelier de Moulage” (Plaster Casting Studio) in Brussels, which is part of the organisation of the “Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire”. Then and there I ordered a plaster anatomical foot. It had to be cast first, but it was delivered last week and I was thrilled to unpack:

In the nineteenth century, many art museums used to have their own Casting Studio, and the exchange of plaster casts was a way of sharing knowledge of classical statues from ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece. Moreover, teaching aids were casted as well.
The Brussels studio is one out of three surviving institutions. The other two are based in Paris (Grand Palais) and Berlin (Gipsformerei; Staatliche Museen). 
See also the web site of the International Association for the Conservation and the Promotion of Plaster Cast Collections

 And if you prefer a glass animal: the skills of the Venice-based master glassworker Vittorio Costantini rival those of father and son Blaschka. Vittorio is in his seventies, and he is still going strong. His intricate glass fish, squid and beetles are awe inspiring. See Vittorio's website and gallery.

dinsdag 2 december 2014

Kruisbestuiving / Fresco

Louise Fresco schrijft ergens in haar recent uitgekomen boek “Kruisbestuiving” (ISBN 9789035142527):  
“… wat ik tegenkom is een verfrommelde print van een glazen object. Ik kijk ernaar en herken het, zonder te weten hoe het in mijn zak komt: het is een van de handgeblazen zeedieren van Leopold en Rudolf Blaschka, Amerikaanse glaskunstenaars uit de negentiende eeuw, wier collectie delicaat gevormde modellen decennialang lag te verstoffen in een laboratorium.”
Dat Fresco als technische term“handgeblazen” verkiest boven "mondgeblazen" of het meer poëtische “voor de lamp geblazen” is naar mijn smaak een gemiste kans. 
Echt fout is: “ … Amerikaanse glaskunstenaars …”: Vader en zoon Blaschka zijn tot Sakser genaturaliseerd.  Oorspronkelijk zijn ze afkomstig uit het noorden van Bohemen, en het gezin vestigt zich in de jaren 60 van de 19e eeuw in Dresden. Daar zijn de glazen diermodellen gemaakt.
Slaat in “Kruisbestuiving” The Curse of the Glass Flowers of Harvard weer toe? Check your facts, Louise.

dinsdag 11 november 2014

The Revolutions of 1989

Twenty Five years ago the Iron Curtain opened, the Berlin Wall fell, and my perception of Europe changed 180 degrees. Central Europe became the heart of the continent again. Also my studies in the history of science benefited from the new freedom when the borders opened: being able to travel to former eastern Germany again.
Dr U. Jordis from Vienna, who fell in love with the Glass Flowers of Harvard during a postdoc in Boston, went to Dresden to uncover the traces the Blaschkas left in Hosterwitz. He established contact with the last surviving member of the Blaschka family and accommodated subsequently, in 1993, the visit of representatives of Harvard (Susan Rossi-Wilcox) and the Corning Museum of Glass (David Whitehouse) to the home of the Blaschka family. On that occasion they managed to acquire the last remains of the Blaschka studio. I was lucky as to being allowed to study these materials from September 1995 onwards, and earlier, in April of that year I visited the Berlin Blaschka models. 
Communist Czechoslovakia had its revolution in 1989 as well, and later, in 1992, the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  In 1997 I made my first trip to Prague and then made new contacts, which would further my Frič studies.  

dinsdag 4 november 2014

Horse taxidermy in Brussels

October 14th, we visited the museum Hallepoort in Brussels and found ourselves eye to eye with two stuffed horses, the oldest known specimens of horse taxidermy in Europe.
These are the horses of Albert VII (1559–1621) Archduke of Austria who was,  jointly with his wife, Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566–1633), sovereign of the Low Countries between 1598 and 1621.  According to tradition, the horse in armour saved the life of Albert during the siege of Ostend in 1602, while the other one was ridden by Isabella at her entry into Brussels in 1598

maandag 22 september 2014

Curiosity II

Possibly there is a collector in everyone, and is collecting as essential to the human spirit as is breathing for the body. in mid-sixteenth-century Europe precious collections  arose , assembles in Wunderkammern or cabinets of curiosities. My previous entry contemplated on the exhibition “Curiosity”  in “De Appel”, Amsterdam.  That show was inspired by the concept of the Wunderkammer and it seems that this is no incident. Following up on my blog, the Dutch daily newspaper “De Volkskrant” of September 2, p. V4, dedicated a page on this same show, and we share at least one conclusion. Where I wrote: Here, in "De Appel", we learn about the personal sensibilities of the curator. There are no whys attached, his choices simply seem to be his favorites, whilst the newspaper reads: … wat de onderlinge relatie is, blijft onduidelijk ( … what might constitute the mutual relation, remains uncovered).  "De Volkskrant" also points out that at present, a focus on the idea of a cabinet of curiosity can be traced in recent events. Remember the Venice Biennale  2013, as well as Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s contribution to  Documenta 13, 2012. 
 But there is more to this. “The return of the cabinets of curiosity" is the name of a bundle of essays: Henning Ritter / Die Wiederkehr der Wunderkammer : Über Kunst und Künstler. Hanser: Berlin, 2014 [ISBN 9783446240346]. If there was ever a good reason to practice reading abilities of the German language, it is this book.

Chris lifts carefully the model of Actinophrys sol
The Curiosity exhibition  expired on September 14, 2014 and Chris Meechan from Cardiff came over to pack the Blaschka glass for transport. With him I co-authored  "Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka and natural history in the nineteenth century", in:  Peto and Hudson (eds) /Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. London: Design Museum, 2002 [ISBN 1872005454].  De had a serious discussion how to expand this nice essay to  book on the Blaschkas, that would cover a wider range of interesting topics.

In front of the natural history shop of Deyrolle, August 1992
If the focus of a cabinet of curiosity is on arts and crafts,  the focus of its counterpart, the Naturalienkabinett (Natural History Cabinet) is on the wonderful and or instructive phenomena of the natural world. In due time Wunderkammer and Naturalienkabinett evolved into the art museums and the natural history museums. But we should also realize that the boundaries between these cabinets and their fields of collecting were hazy.

Inside the shop of Deyrolle, August 1992
In august 1992, I visited Maison Deyrolle , Rue du Bac in Paris. This shop is well known as a supplier of teaching aids, natural history exhibits and utensils for collectors. With its abundant and diverse merchandise it still evokes the look and feel of an ancient natural history cabinet. The shop was hit by a fire in 2009, many of the collections were lost, but the house rose up out of the ashes. 

donderdag 28 augustus 2014

Curiosity I

Arts centre “De Appel” based in Amsterdam features the exhibition “Curiosity”, curated by the writer Brian Dillon. According to the booklet that accompanies the show, “… the exhibition takes as its starting point the rich tradition of the 17th century European Wunderkammer , the cabinet in which collectors of the day assembled curiosites, natural wonders and art objects, and which may be regarded as predecessors of the 19th century museum.” Which I should like to expand to: the Art Museum as well as the Natural History Museum.  But, the booklet continues: “… The exhibition traced how the search for the strange and the wonderful still plays a role in contemporary art”. And so it is.

However, curiosity, a hunger to uncover the unknown, also plays a role in science. In this exhibition, there is a bias towards artistic experiences: sensory impulses to acquire knowledge, and a guilty desire for the pleasures of new and strange things. There is more of a bias towards the arts than to the sciences. And so, I get back at the Wunderkammer: in those days, one could see something exceptional and noteworthy from the worlds out there. Here, in "De Appel", we learn about the personal sensibilities of the curator. There are no whys attached, his choices simply seem to be his favorites.

And so I get to my own subject: The exhibition in "De Appel" features 24 glass models of invertebrate animals by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a loan from the collections of National Museum Wales.
We are told  about  the father and son team: “… At first they based their models on illustrations, including those of Philip Henry Gosse. Later they acquired an aquarium and worked from live specimens. They reproduced octopi, sea slugs, cuttlefish, squid and sea cucumbers.” It is suggested (but not implied) that the Blaschka family had a branch of Sea Life in their house, whereas in reality they kept merely creatures like jellyfish and, mainly,  sea anemones in tanks. The text thus directs our curiosity to an unreal situation. This certainly questions the leads the booklet attaches to the other exhibits.

showcase in the room
Another fact certainly raises my expert curiosity: the production date of all exhibited glass animals was set in the 1890s, whereas in that period the Blaschkas were already fully occupied in producing botanical models, congenially known as the collection of  “The Glass Flowers of Harvard." Moreover: the majority of the Cardiff models shown in “De Appel” were made well before 1880. Any visitor with a genuine curiosity concerning the glass animals, Is poorly and even ill served and informed. This being said, it is a great choice of glass objects. 

Today, a sample from the Belgian collection of  Aquarium-Muséum de l’Université de Liège (made in 1886) is combined with a sample of models from the Utrecht University Museum (made in 1883) in the Glass museum, Leerdam. These glass animals are included in the exhibition “A Sea of Glass” highlighting the influence of  professor Ernst Haeckel on the visual arts of the Art Nouveau period - and more. When examining the Cardiff models in Amsterdam, it will be clear that these early glass models were, from an artisanal and artistic perspective, superior to the post 1880 specimens. This alone might be enough reason to visit Curiosity in Amsterdam.

Photographs taken with my phone

Carmarina hastata 

Actinophrys sol

Showcase (detail)

"De Appel" houses even two Blaschka models that were based on scientific zoological illustrations by Ernst Haeckel: the jellyfish Carmarina hastata (male), and a model of the radiolarium (a kind of microorganism) Actinophrys Sol on a highly enlarged scale. These could have done well in “A Sea of Glass” at the Leerdam Museum. Because, the glass models in the current show over there, do not have a specific relation with Ernst Haeckel at all - but then, there is always free association. 
 In comparison, the show in Amsterdam is really nice, even if the architecture of "De Appel" does not allow for larger spatial objects and the majority of the exhibits has to be on the walls, flat and framed.

Pablo Bronstein made a large drawing in Indian ink and a wash of ink on paper, picturing shapes of objects in the shown exhibition. I wonder, what could be the meaning of this? Is it a gesture of friendship and admiration between the artist-draftsman Bronstein and the writer Dillon? It is my Curiosity to know why this work “Museum Section 2013” was included at all.

Curiosity, Art and the Pleasures of Knowing 
in: "De Appel", closing September 14, 2014
A Hayward Touring exhibition, from the Southbank Centre, London  organized in collaboration with Turner Contemporary, Margate and in association with Cabinet magazine

woensdag 2 juli 2014

I am fine, but ...

Asbest 2 juli 2014 (watercolour & pencil, 17 x 17 cm)
 For some time, I did not made my regular postings on "Signs Of Activity", and some readers of the Blog informed if I was fine. And yes, I am. The reason for not posting however, is that a few months ago I learned that there is asbestos used in the construction of the house I live in. So I had to take care of a lot of things instead of my art work. Recently I was informed that no action will be undertaken before September 2014, and presumably it will be even later. Supposedly, for the rest of the year 2014 I will be occupied with  going through my things and deciding what to keep, storing my belongins and unpacking again. It is not the most cheerful activity one can imagine, but it has to be done. 

woensdag 18 juni 2014

Rudolf Blaschkas birthday

Rudolf Blaschka was born 157 years ago, on June 17, 1857.
In order to rembember him and to celebrate this, I put a translation of my recent article in Origine on line on my website. Click here to go to the page. 
It is worth to see the illustrations as well. In that case, order a copy of the magazine, at  Redactie@origine.nl, mentioning "Origine : tijdschrift voor kunst, antiek en design, Vol. 22, Nr. 1 (2014)". 

dinsdag 27 mei 2014

The Blaschkas and Haeckel: Shared fascination, parallel development

I published an article on The Blaschkas and Haeckel in Origine : tijdschrift voor kunst, antiek en design [magazine for art, antiques and design] Vol. 22 no. 1 (2014-1)  The editor of the magazine devised a title and a leader to my contribution. Unfortunately, both missed the point and well before the magazine went into print, objections were made, and the desired rectifications were indicated. Regrettably, these were ignored. To read the title “To serve the theory of evolution” truly embarrasses me.
As this is my blog I feel free to express  why the focus on “evolution” saddens me. 
It may be noted that mention of evolution theory appeals to many, and it sells movies and magazines. Why would this be? My suggestion is, that theory of evolution answers the needs that religion answered before: it tells why we are here on earth; it legitimates what we feel and what we do; it takes away guilty feelings about the more primitive layers of our personality. Evolution can be put to use as the force that is responsible for our imperfection. However, being a scientist and an artist, I object to these lines of thought: both responsibility and perfection should always be aimed at. 
I stress again that the equation Blaschka = Evolution cannot be based on my work.

And for that matter, also the equations Blaschka = Haeckel and Blaschka = Art Nouveau / Jugendstil  cannot be derived on my work. Those who do so, are merely projecting their own preoccupations.  
Today is the 192th birthday of  Leopold Blaschka. He deserves to be appreciated  by his work, not by preconceived ideas.

The magazine printed this (in translation):
To serve the theory of evolution

In nineteenth-century Dresden, he father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka had a thriving practice as glassblowers. They specialized in models of marine invertebrates, which then were highly in demand. The Blaschkas relied on the work of Professor Ernst Haeckel of Jena, an early supporter of the theory of evolution. Henri Reiling , artist and biologist determined  how the two glassblowers helped to advance jellyfish research.

And now the reservations:

… To serve the theory of evolution…
In none of the Blaschkas’ trade catalogues is even referred to the theory of evolution. The text of the essay explains that - plausibly - the theory of evolution accelerated the demand for glass models of marine animals for natural history collections. But also was indicated, that amassing natural history collections as a scientific practice  became obsolete because of the theory of evolution. This is in itself interesting and there is no further need for a sweeping statement.
The original title: “The Blaschkas and Haeckel: Shared fascination, parallel development”  thus disappeared completely out of sight. In earlier work, I pointed out  that Professor Haeckel, propagandist for the theory of evolution, is just one of the traceable influences on the composition of the offered trade collection of glass models by Blaschka. However, his is certainly not the only influence. The Blaschkas made ​​glass animals for scientific collections, with which several kinds of science can be illustrated: for example, comtemporary comparative morphology, anatomy and embryology. Even the conviction that by studying nature,  God's work can be understood does not contradict with collecting glass animal models.
This is why I was, back then, very happy with the title for my chapter of the Tübingen catalogue. I used a fragment from the Blaschka letters reading:  ... von unserer aufrichtigen Vorliebe zur Naturwissenschaft geleitet” [... guided by our sincere preference for natural science], which was exactly spot on.

… glassblowers…
The Blaschkas were no glassblowers. A glass blower processes molten glass from a furnace or kiln on a blowpipe. “Glassworker” or possiblyglass artist” are correct indications. Their own choice was ‘Glasmodelleur’ [Glass modeller].

The  Blaschkas relied on the work of Professor Ernst Haeckel from Jena ...
The article only treats the influence of Haeckel. The traceable influence of his scientific illustrations is limited to 18 models / model series out of the 700 numbers  that Blaschkas trade catalog offered. This is exactly mentioned in the text of the article. The Blaschkas relied on a wide range of high quality scientific illustrations.

… helped to advance jellyfish research…
The world turned upside down! Exactly the formless lumps of pickled animals were suitable for research. In turn, the glass models were well suited for teaching and instruction. Glass models cannot help to advance research,  because they can only depict what is already known.

maandag 10 maart 2014

Stencil/Spray-paint - Octopus vulgaris III

Octopus vulgaris (B 577) Blue study 2, spraypaint & watercolour 2013 (21 x 29 cm)

Octopus vulgaris (B 577) B&W study II, spraypaint & watercolour 2013 (27 x 39 cm)

donderdag 6 maart 2014

woensdag 12 februari 2014

Stencil/Spray-paint - Octopus vulgaris I

Octopus vulgaris (B 577), B&W Study, spray-paint 2013 (29 x 21 cm)

Octopus vulgaris (B 577), Colour Study, spraypaint 2013 (40 x 27 cm)

Deze winter, 2013-2014 ging ik dieper in op de mogelijkheden van sjabloon/spuitverf.
In deze volgende blog-berichten worden de resultaten getoond.

 Winter 2013-2014, I further explored the possibilities of stencil/spraypaint.
In this and the following blow messages the results will we shown.