Saturday, July 18, 2009

the ghostliness of the V & A

I really went to the V & A to take some photographs of the Beasts of Dacre, which have been in the museum since 2001.   Before that, they stood in the Great Hall of Naworth Castle, in Cumberland - two either side of the fireplace (the red bull and the black gryphon), and two either side of the front door to the Morpeth Tower - a.k.a. the front door to where I lived between the ages of 3 and nearly 7.   Our two were the King Salmon (though the V&A wobbles a bit about whether he may be a Dolphin - obviously he's a salmon), and the White Ram.   I was always told that the Salmon was the original for Tenniel's Fish Footman - certainly Tenniel would have known George Howard, 9th earl of Carlisle, who was a great friend of the Pre-Raphaelites and other artists.   (I should maybe point out that in no way do I have Carlisle Blood - my parents rented this tower from the then Earl when my father was site manager on the ill-fated Blue Streak rocket project on Spadeadam Waste, which is another story entirely...).

But as ever in the V & A I was distracted, and ended up not just talking to the Beasts, which I always like to do when I'm in London, to give them some kind of continuity, but looking at some of the Aesthetic Movement stuff on the top floor - hence this Miss Havisham like figure, and a curiously pert model wearing mourning costume.   Better yet (though no photography allowed) was the Telling Tales exhibition - not the best title - too redolent of secrecy, which took fairy tales and myth as its starting point, and then invited one to think of designed objects - a wardrobe, say, or a fire-blackened mirror - in this context.   What's more (as the website suggests) it's a very aural show too - the first room had much bird song; the second added dissonantly chiming clocks; the third, rather uncomfortably visceral one, a beating heart.   But it was brilliantly inventive, and so today's post is very much in the spirit of the spooky (and of course, is haunted by my own childhood, too).

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