Two upcoming Observatory events



Cuerpo Presente: Mourning and Cultural Representations of Death in Mexico, Featuring a Collection of Postmortem Photographs from Rural Mexico

Salvador Olguin

Date: Friday June 26th
Time: 7:30 PM

The main purpose of this event is to present a series of postmortem photographs taken between the 1930’s and the 1950’s, when the tradition of celebrating a person’s departure with a last picture was very alive in small towns and villages in Mexico. A brief journey through some of Mexico’s cultural and artistic ways of celebrating death will provide the frame and background for a better understanding of these images.

Bio: Salvador Olguin holds a MA in Humanistic Studies, and is currently performing research on the subject of the body and its representations at New York University. He is primarily interested in studying cultural artifacts that depict the body in non-normative, unusual ways. He was born in Monterrey, Mexico and currently resides in Brooklyn.


Bodies Embalmed by Us NEVER TURN BLACK!: A Brief History of the Hyperstimulated Human Corpse.

John Troyer, Ph.D., Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath

Date: Thursday July 2nd
Time: 7:30 PM
Admission: Free

In October 1902, Dr. Carl Lewis Barnes and his brother Thornton H. Barnes, both instructors at the Chicago College of Embalming, created a large exhibition of embalmed corpses and body parts for the National Funeral Directors Association in Milwaukee, WI. The Barnes brothers’ exhibit featured human specimens preserved with Bisga Embalming Fluid—a product invented and produced by Dr. Barnes for consumer use by other embalmers. The centerpiece of the exhibit was the Bisga Man, an embalmed male corpse sitting upright in a chair with one leg crossed over the other, wearing a fashionable suit.

In early twentieth century America, the Bisga Man represented the perfect nexus of mid to late nineteenth century preservation technologies that were to radically redefine the organic existence of the human corpse. Such preservation technologies represent a series of overlapping choices, embalming chemicals, apparatus, and funeral practices all intent on keeping the dead body looking ‘‘properly’’ human. Yet these external forces acting on the human corpse do much more than alter the chemical physiology of the dead body to suspend decomposition: through these forces, the concept of human death itself is simultaneously being altered.

Troyer’s talk analyses and critiques how the modern human corpse became an invented and manufactured consumer product through the industrialization of the dead body in mid nineteenth century America. More specifically, this talk illustrates how the modern human corpse is an invention of specific mid nineteenth century embalming and photographic technologies that seemingly stopped the visible effects of death as they were seen by the general public.

Bio: John Troyer is the Death and Dying Practices Associate at the Centre for Death and Society in the University of Bath, England. He received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society in May 2006. His Ph.D. dissertation, entitled “Technologies of the Human Corpse, ” was awarded the University of Minnesota’s 2006 Best Dissertation Award in the Arts and Humanities. From 2007-2008 he was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University teaching the cultural studies of science and technology. Within the field of Death Studies, John focuses on delineating and defining the concept of the dead human subject. His research on death and dying, coupled with a cultural studies approach to understanding the global history of science and technology, brings new life to the Centre for Death and Society. His first book, shockingly titled Technologies of the Human Corpse, will appear in 2010. His father is a funeral director.

Both events are at the Observatory event space between the Proteus Gowanus Gallery and Reading Room, the Cabinet Magazine headquarters, and the Morbid Anatomy Library at 543 Union St. in Brooklyn.

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Blogger Melissa:

Ooh, postmortem photography--my favorite!

Blogger Jess Haskins:

I never knew you had that particular interest.


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