What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads at UCL – Octagon Gallery, University College London

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I read about What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads at UCL online and went to check it out after work; it’s a tiny exhibition, covering the walls in the Octagon space within UCL’s Wilkins Building (entrance via Gower Street).

For several decades, the preserved heads of Jeremy Bentham and Flinders Petrie – two intellectuals related to UCL – have been hidden from view. Following on from a project to extract their DNA, this exhibition asks: what does the scientific interrogation of our dead bodies tell us about how we think about ourselves?

There are four cases: one concerning the archaeologist Flinders Petrie, one on cultural views on death and commemoration, one focusing on Jeremy Bentham, and the last case focused on DNA sequencing.

It’s a rather brief exhibition, but worth glancing at if you’re in the area.

I didn’t take any pictures of the preserved heads, feeling that this would somehow be inappropriate. I did, however, walk down the corridor and take a picture of Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon. (Yes, that is his actual, preserved body; the head, however, is wax).

Bentham auto-icon

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Jewellery brand of the month: Miss Golly Gosh

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I’ve chosen this brand for my October edition of ‘jewellery brand of the month’ simply because of its amazing selection of Halloween jewellery. I definitely want to get hold of at least one of these pieces. The brand in question is:

MISS GOLLY GOSH

Miss Golly Gosh is an Aussie brand, based in Melbourne, run by Christine. There are interior design and Art Deco influences in her work, such as in this Palm Springs brooch.

Palm Springs Breeze Block House Brooch

Palm Springs Breeze Block House Brooch

These monstera earrings are also pretty cool.

Monstera Earrings

Monstera Earrings

My favourite things are the Halloween accessories: this cauldron brooch is amazing.

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble Brooch

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble Brooch

I also love these broomstick earrings.

Get On Your Broomstick Earrings

Get On Your Broomstick Earrings

My ultimate favourite, though, is this haunted house brooch, inspired by Victorian houses.

Victorian Haunted House Brooch

Victorian Haunted House Brooch

Check out Miss Golly Gosh at the following links:

Website: missgollygosh.com

Etsy: etsy.com/uk/shop/MissGollyGosh

Instagram: instagram.com/miss_golly_gosh

Facebook: facebook.com/missgollygosh

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics – V&A

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As soon as I found out about the Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition at the V&A I knew I wanted to go. So did my auntie, who loves opera, so I booked tickets for her visit in October – not long after the exhibition opened in the new Sainsbury Wing.

Rather than covering every single thing to do with the history of opera, the exhibition organisers have selected seven key dates and places in the history of this comparatively modern art form, and used them as pegs on which to hang a broad history of opera.

Venice 1642
Venice is traditionally regarded as the home of opera. During the seventeenth century, the importance of the city in international trade was in decline, but it was still a key centre for culture. With no Royal Court and a relatively lax attitude, the new art form was able to grow. The key work of this section was Claude Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione Di Poppea, the first public opera (I’ve seen his earlier L’Orfeo, but that was privately performed). It was based on historical events.

London 1711
By this time London was important on the world stage, having recently been rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. In 1689, Henry Purcell composed Dido and Aeneas, while Handel later wrote Rinaldo. A theatre opened in the Haymarket, specifically showing opera, though this blatant display of Italian influences on the English stage did not impress many critics. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden opened in 1732.

Vienna 1786
Like the other cities, Vienna was enjoying a golden era of creativity during this period, when Mozart penned Le Nozze di Figaro. His opera was revolutionary in the sense that it brought servants to the fore.

Milan 1842
The opera house La Scala opened in Milan around this time, when Verdi composed Nabucco. Based on a biblical story, it nevertheless struck a chord with many Italians who sought to see their country united (which happened in 1861). ‘Va, pensiero’ became an unofficial Italian anthem and is still sung as such today.

Paris 1861
It seems to be a pattern that the upsurgence of opera in a particular city leads to the building of a new opera house: this did happen in Paris. This section focused on Wagner and his revolutionary opera Tannhauser. Wagner believed in the idea of opera as total work of art, and wrote all his libretti himself. He believed that the music should form one continuous melody, rather than being made up of separate arias and works.

Dresden 1905
This period is exemplified by Richard Strauss’ Salome, a one-act opera inspired by Oscar Wilde’s play. It tapped into contemporary ideas around the changing role of women.

Leningrad 1934
Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk shocked contemporary audiences with its depiction of female sexuality. At first acclaimed as a composer for ordinary people, Shostakovich was later accused of anti-Soviet behaviour, and Lady Macbeth was banned. 1934 was an important year in Russia because it marked the end of artistic freedom and the imposition of Socialist Realism.

The exhibition ends with a ‘world’ section in which you can see video clips from all over the world.

The exhibition has some fascinating artefacts on display: tableware used by Venetian nobility, busts of notable composers, original drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Soviet posters advertising Shostakovich’s work. I would have liked to see more costumes, but the ones they had were impressive, including a dress covered in stars. There was a beautiful selection of items that would have been worn by fashionable Parisian opera goers, including a lace mantilla, opera glasses, and a collapsible top hat for the gentleman opera goer.

The exhibition does miss quite a bit out: I was sorry not to see more about my own favourite, Puccini. However, with such a big subject to cover, it does do a good job of exploring the history in an accessible way without overwhelming with information.

An evening in conversation with Arne Dahl – North Finchley Library

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Just a quick note on an event I went to at North Finchley Library – a talk by Swedish author Arne Dahl (real name Jan Arnald). I love a bit of Nordic noir and I’ve enjoyed several of Dahl’s books as well as the TV series they are based on.

Dahl spoke a bit about his most popular series, the Intercrime books, as well as his upcoming work. At the end there was a question and answer session, which I didn’t contribute to (I never do, to be honest). It was definitely worth the trek to North London after work, though.

Jewellery brand of the month: Kaiju Candy

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This month’s brand is yet another based Down Under. Kaiju Candy is the brainchild of Donna Mizzi and her husband Christian. Donna used to run Heidi and Gretel (I have a couple of H&G designs). Her new venture is bright, colourful and fun. Kaiju Candy say:

“We are inspired by Japanese Kaiju monsters, kitschy horror movies, carnival freaks and the strange.

We also love all things Aussie and like to create kooky versions of some of our fave local furry and feathered friends.”

Kaiju Candy

The store itself doesn’t offer international shipping, but various stockists are available, including Lottie & Lu who are based in the UK.

I own the Audrey II brooch from Heidi and Gretel; this Mean Green Mother brooch is completely different but equally awesome.

Mean Green Mother Brooch

Mean Green Mother Brooch

This terrifying clown brooch is absolutely incredible, and you can get matching balloons too.

Clown and Red Balloon Brooch

Clown and Red Balloon Brooch

This crab brooch is really sweet, despite the name.

Attack of the Monster Crab Brooch

Attack of the Monster Crab Brooch

Halloween fans will love this cute little cat in a party hat.

Spooky Party Cat Brooch

Spooky Party Cat Brooch

Finally, the Finger Monster brooch brings back memories of my childhood!

Finger Monster Brooch

Finger Monster Brooch

Check out Kaiju Candy, including news on new releases, via the links below.

Online store: kaijucandy.bigcartel.com

Lottie & Lu (UK stockist): lottieandlu.co.uk/collections/kaiju-candy

Instagram: instagram.com/kaijucandy