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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dr. Alice Dailey's Account of Her Trip to Cambridge and London

Dr. Dailey in front of Fellows' Hall, where John Milton
 lived when he was a student at 
Christ's College, Cambridge.
Over the fall break, I traveled to England to give a scholarly talk and to pursue new research. My first
stop was Christ’s College, Cambridge, where I shared my current work on corporeality and real presence with the Medieval-Renaissance Faculty Colloquium of Cambridge University. I was treated to a wonderful tour of Christ’s College, alma mater of John Milton and Charles Darwin. There I saw the hall where Milton lived and sat in the beautiful room in which senior fellows of the college, like Darwin, have for centuries drunk wine, talked, made friendly wagers, and kept hand-written accounts of their consumption. These bound ledgers, some including Darwin’s hand writing, are still stored in the room and brought out for nightly record-keeping.

After my time in Cambridge, I spent three days in London studying Michael Landy’s Saints Alive, an exhibit of contemporary collage and sculpture at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibit features 14-foot-tall automata of well-known Christian saints and martyrs that Landy has constructed from old machinery and from body parts copied out of the National Gallery's vast collection of
Michael Landy, Doubting Thomas (2013). 
Mixed Media.  National Gallery of Art, London.
Renaissance religious paintings. When set into motion, these mechanized sculptures enact their own persecutions repeatedly, some of them gradually deteriorating as the exhibit has progressed. Landy’s sculptures are complimented by a stunning group of collages that reconfigure heads, hands, wounds, and weapons out of saint and martyr art into fantastical contraptions of penitential suffering. My favorite piece in Saints Alive was a large pencil and paper drawing called Saint Catherine Wheels found dumped outside the National Gallery, drawn from a collage of the Gallery’s 36 partial images of Saint Catherine’s emblem, a spiked torture wheel.

Michael Landy, Saint Jerome Beats himself 
while contemplating Christ's Suffering (2012).  
Photographic paper and watercolor pencil on 
paper.  National Gallery of Art, London. 
My research concluded with two other exhibits. I saw the life-sized wax and wood funeral effigies of English monarchs collected in the Westminster Abbey museum. The effigies date from the 14th to the 18th century and include both the original 1603 effigy of Queen Elizabeth I and the ornate wax remake dating from 1760. Lastly, I visited the recently opened exhibit on Elizabeth I and Her People at the National Portrait Gallery, which features royal portraits; Elizabethan coins, jewelry, and artifacts; and paintings of aristocrats and subjects from Sir Walter Raleigh to John Donne. The exhibit included three fascinating portraits that my Elizabethan Literature students have studied this semester: the full-length Ditchley Portrait, the Ermine Portrait, and the Procession Portrait.

Funeral effigies of Queen Elizabeth I, 1603 (left) and 1760 
(right).  Westminster Abbey Museum.

While in London, I saw the new theatrical production by Punchdrunk, the company who created Sleep No More, which several students in the English grad program have seen. Sleep No More is a wildly successful immersive theatre experience that spans six floors of a warehouse space in New York City. The production borrows elements from Macbeth and several Hitchcock films to create a labyrinthine, nightmarish meditation on guilt, madness, and witchcraft. Punchdrunk’s new production, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, is inspired by Georg Büchner’s play, Woyzeck. Like Sleep No More, it is a self-guided, walk-through theatre/dance/art installation experience in which audience members are masked. However, The Drowned Man occupies twice the physical space of Sleep No More—200,000 square feet of the old post office next to Piccadilly Station—and is even more ambitious in its vision and set design. One full floor of the space is a sand-covered desert, and another floor features pools of water and a working movie house. The sprawling size of the production makes it difficult to follow narrative or character threads, but The Drowned Man is nonetheless an eerie, unsettling, and captivating cautionary tale about what happens when our identities are effaced by the masks we wear and the roles we play.
The ledger of the Senior Combination Room, Christ's College, Cambridge.  
A wager between Charles Darwin and a Mr. Baines is noted on February
 23, 1837.  The two men bet a bottle of wine over the height of the room's 
ceiling, and Darwin lost.  His name was crossed out when he settled the bet.

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