Narryna, 103 Hampden Road, Battery Point, Tasmania.
9 - 21 June, 2017
5 x A3 light boxes framed in black stained wood; 1 x A1 light box framed in black stained wood; Victorian display cabinet with fabric curtain; Medical anatomy model of brain; Audio track: 7:29 minutes looped.
Sound track by Paul Roberts, featuring the voice of Mark Cutler. Duration: 7.29 minute loop.
With special thanks to Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Gerard Willems, John Addison, Julie Gough, Maria Kunda & Scot Cotterell.
Images: Lucy Parakhina.
Death Mask 2017
Death Mask was created for MONA's winter festival, DARK MOFO. The exhibition explores the links between phrenology and the rather gruesome practice of casting the heads of executed criminals to assess their character traits. It features death masks presented in black wooden light boxes; a large phrenological diagram; a medical model of a head with an exposed brain displayed in black curtained cabinet, and an audio track of a male voice lecturing on the principles of phrenology accompanied by the sound of a theremin.
Phrenology is a pseudo science that was particularly popular in the early 1800s and again at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It claimed that the shape and size of a person's skull reflected their personality traits and that it was possible to determine one's character by assessing the lumps and indentations of the head. While it may be discredited today, the concepts underpinning phrenology have a contemporary relevance, especially in this age of terrorism in which judgements about an individual can so readily be based on their appearance.
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With the exception of the death mask of Frank Butler, which is a photographic print in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the masks featured in the exhibition are presumed to be from the J. W. Beattie Collection, originally on display in his Port Arthur Museum that operated in Hobart in the early 1900s. Butler was hanged for murder in 1897 in Darlinghurst Prison in Sydney, but the identity of the other masks is unknown.
The Beattie Collection was purchased by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in 1927; in 1978, most of the masks were found by the Director of QVMAG in a basement under the library. They were seriously damaged by moisture and the majority had lost their identification numbers.
Death Mask is installed in Narryna Heritage Museum, an early colonial sandstone house managed by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. During DARK MOFO, the exterior of Narryna is bathed in red light and features projections of 2 hexafoils, early Christian symbols that ward off evil spirits. An exhibition of phrenology heads, texts and death masks is displayed in an adjoining room.