Last Updated on Monday, 04 November 2013 01:04
Cultural collections with a morbid twist
I was watching Carrie with a friend at the Pike the other night, and the infamous prom scene came on. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, this is the scene where the eponymous main character goes on a horrific, bloody, gruesome killing spree. As she caused people to burst in flames and strangled them with electric wires using her telekinetic powers, I felt a sudden surge of delight and I could not help the smile on my face as I kept murmuring, “Yesssss, kill them” under my breath. Granted, I was mad at those that hurt her and enthralled by the idea of revenge, but it still served as a moment when I realized how sick and twisted I could be. But with this also came the realization that there are others out there who are intrigued by what drives people to doing such deranged things.Still in the spirit of Halloween, we wrote about museums that don’t exactly give you the feeling of inspiration one generally gets when walking through the contemporary art exhibits of MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) or the date-sy, quasi romantic bright lampposts of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). This feature on museums is dedicated to those that make you feel squeamish, melancholic, suspicious, angry or downright likely to throw up. Take a break from the Renaissance exhibits and take a walk on the dark side—a world of conspiracy theories, mass homicide, manic obsessions, and death.
Museum of Death
Before they let you into this atypical museum located on Hollywood Boulevard, the staff at the Museum of Death make you look at ‘test pictures’ to see if you’re too squeamish to handle what they have to offer. Apparently people have fainted while looking at their exhibits.
This place definitely caters to those fascinated by anything sick, morbid and twisted (exactly why I went there in the first place). It has sections for serial killers, cannibalism, a step-by-step explanation of the embalming process, suicide, and other horrid topics. They had a TV playing the creepy recruitment video of Heaven’s Gate, a religious group that committed mass suicide in ’97 in order to board an alien spacecraft following the comet Hale-Bopp. They had an actual bunk bed from the scene of the crime, where they recreated the suicide. Next door, they had a room filled with the most gruesome pictures of murders, which included the Black Dahlia and other forms of mutilation. Trust me when I say that this isn’t for the faint of heart.
I guess what gave me the most heebie jeebies was the section on serial killers, which included some of their actual artwork and journals. Reading that some of them escaped and are currently living among us doesn’t exactly make for a good night’s sleep.
They also had a collection of different coffins, the actual head of Henri Desire Landru (The Bluebeard of France), executed in 1922, and a room filled with stuffed pets such as chihuahuas. Enjoy.
Psychiatry: An Industry of Death Museum
On a sunny afternoon, I decided to take a tour of Psychiatry: an Industry of Death with my good friend Kelsey. The museum is in the Los Angeles chapter of The Citizens Commision on Human Rights (CCHR), on Sunset Boulevard. While we were outside taking pictures, one of the staff members was nice enough to offer to take the pictures for us. Kelsey and I soon agreed that the staff of CCHR were probably the nicest museum curators we had ever met. They greeted us, let us park for free in their lot, and led us into the first room.
Once we were inside the museum, we got gradually uncomfortable. The first section of the museum is devoted to the initial forms of psychiatry, including bloodletting and surprise baths. As we walked through other sections, such as the ones on humans as animals, eugenics, the Holocaust, segregation, and lobotomies, we just felt more uneasy. In each of the exhibits there were tools, examples of propaganda, and artifacts that exemplified the organization’s argument about the lethal nature of psychiatry. Although there were many examples of the barbarity of psychiatry, there were few, if any, acknowledgements that it helps some people. Granted, with evidence such as the items in the first half of the exhibits, it’s difficult to present a well-rounded view of the practice, but once the exhibits started covering modern medications, they were noticeably one-sided.
In the last part of the museum, the CCHR had collected testimonials from victims and families regarding the damaging effects of psychiatric drugs. There was also a section on how psychiatric drugs ruined celebrities such as Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, and Stevie Knicks. The organization’s prized exhibit is the one that covers the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which contains illnesses that psychiatrists vote into existence without any medical tests.
Overall, I would say that the museum was an eye-opening experience. The museum definitely has its own cause, so if you do plan on going, be prepared to be exposed to it. My visit was educational, and I would recommend going because of the fantastic service and the elaborate timeline. Just keep in mind that some people may not agree completely with CCHR’s opinions regarding psychiatry.
Museum of Tolerance
There’s nothing treated with more gravity and solemnity than the Holocaust. The event has had such an effect on our cultural consciousness that merely the act of denying it is met with hostility and exclusion (I’ve never heard of folks being excluded because they didn’t believe in the Cambodian Genocide, but that’s a whole other story).
So naturally, my trip to the Museum of Tolerance was treated with the utmost austerity. My first clue that this wasn’t like any other museum was the intense security. Almost nothing is allowed inside in the museum besides the clothes on your back, and even those are scanned with metal detectors, as though you’re entering a courthouse.
The tour is highly interactive, including plenty of exhibits that compel you to break out of your jaded shell and feel deeply for the victims of the Holocaust. The museum is not only about the Holocaust—exhibits on things like women’s rights and slavery are also given their proper attention—but it was the exhibit on the Holocaust that stuck with me the most. Everything from graphic pictures of the massacres to replica gas chamber are featured in this exhibit, giving it a sense of realness you just don’t get when reading about it in a history book. At the beginning of the tour, you’re given a card that when inserted into various machines, details the life and experiences of a particular family during those times. Unfortunately, there are very few happy stories to tell from those cards.
The gravity of the museum really sinks in when you find that some of the older docents were Holocaust survivors themselves. With that particular tragedy being 80 years in the past, I urge you strongly to go and visit so that you can hear the stories from those who lived the tragedy themselves. You won’t be able to have this opportunity for long.
I love finding hidden gems, and the Watts Towers are definitely a treasure of Los Angeles. Granted, they’re not located in the best of neighborhoods, but that doesn’t decrease their value by any sense. Thankfully, people lobbied to protect these structures, and they are now officially a National Historic Landmark.
This work of art is composed of 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach over 99 feet, and were handmade by the use of steel rods wrapped in wire mesh and coated with cement. The structure itself is in no way morbid or macabre, but what makes this sad is the story behind its creator. Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant who worked as a construction worker, developed a maddening obsession and created this over a period of 33 years (1921-1954). Despite the bright colours of the tiles and mosaic, after hearing this man’s story, I could not help but feel melancholic throughout the rest of the tour. Essentially, Rodia went mad, and nothing in his life mattered more than the creation of these towers, so much so that his family disowned him and left him to die. He developed such a deranged fixation over this that he spent every spare second of his life building the structure while neglecting his loved ones and everyone else around him. His wife, as she threatened to leave him, said that he didn’t have three children (which they had), but two (referring to the towers).
Despite this tragic ending, I recommend you go ahead and discover this beauty yourself. Take the Metro Blue Line and get off at the 103rd St/ Watts Towers Station.
Dia de los Muertos Exhibit at MOLAA
The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) has an exhibit on Dia de los Muertos that shows us a lighter side of death. Part of a much larger exhibit on the modern globalized Latino, this Day of the Dead celebration provides the people of Long Beach and the surrounding areas with an insight into Mexican tradition. Unlike its American counterpart, the Day of the Dead is not about receiving, but rather giving. During its observance, families visit the gravesites of lost family members and leave many treats for the departed. Overall, there’s a general sense of optimism in the celebration.
During the celebration, local vendors and artisans had booths and kiosks with their skills and objects for sale. T-shirts, portraits, and face painting were available for everyone. I saw a group of kids donning skeleton face paint and smiling and laughing. There was something beautiful about that. Seeing a young, curious face expose all its white teeth against the dark contrast of death made me feel a strange warmth that is hard to describe in words. Death may have surrounded me that afternoon, but I have never felt more alive and appreciative of my culture—and people as a whole. The exhibit shows us how everyday folks like you and I manage to adapt to our environment and provide a living for our loved ones. I may be using morbidity in its loosest sense, but nothing is more morbid than living.
The rest of the exhibit focuses on Latinos from all across Latin America and their roles and lives in Western and other societies. One piece that stood out, and follows our theme of costumes, was a series of photos that depicted everyday working-class Hispanics as superheroes doing their daily errands. One construction worker was disguised as The Thing (Fantastic Four), a mother with her children sported a Catwoman costume, and my personal favorite was a window wiper squeegeeing the side of a building while wearing a Spiderman costume.
If you’re in the Long Beach area and want to check out an eye-opening art show, then I say you look to none other than MOLAA.