Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Quiet Parlor of the Fishes


Late in the 1980's, before the Zymoglyphic Museum existed, I had an idea to make an aquarium, not with water, but a scene with a sandy bottom. This would be a big version of the surreal scenes in sandtrays that I had been making at that time. I was recently married then, and the theme was of two fish making a home in a strange world. I liked the idea that the result would be a piece of furniture you would have in your house, rather than a piece of art intended for a pedestal in a gallery. It was even rather practical, in that it would be very low maintenance for an aquarium. The aquarium was made of various things that I had found and had been given. My wife was making intricate hinged fish out of metal and plexiglass, and I thought an aquarium would make a nice home for some of them.

Even the title, "The Quiet Parlor of the Fishes", is a found object, taken from Thoreau's "Walden":


I cut my way through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

"Walden" was one of my favorite books in high school. It provided a mythic and spiritual dimension to nature that transcended the mere collecting, naming, and classifying of specimens, which had been the focus of my original museum. The summer between high school and college, I even tried a brief emulation of Thoreau's year-long stay at Walden pond. I camped out by myself for four days on an island in the middle of a small mountain lake in Olympic National Park. I paddled out to the island on a primitive boat made by tying driftwood logs together, read Walden, and wrote a short journal, trying to emulate Thoreau's 19th century style.


In this dry aquarium, the two fish have a little television set in their parlor and are watching a program that features one of the Judy's art-fish. They also have their own little dry aquarium, foreshadowing the worlds-within-worlds theme of the museum-to-come. This first aquarium was followed by a series of small dioramas inside standard 10-gallon aquariums. Some had a terrestrial theme and some were aquatic. The serenity of the underwater world, eternal and unchanging, gave way to the archetype of the primordial ooze, a crowded, dense, active, messy world of creation, decay, and conflict, and a Walden-like mythological cycle of death and rebirth.


In recent years, I have been trying to capture a sense of the little worlds inside the dioramas in close-up photography and I think this is one of the more successful attempts. It is the little aquarium in fishes' parlor. This picture was, in fact, my entree into hallowed halls of the Museum of Dust.


In the past couple of months, Judy has been experimenting with pinhole photography, using homemade mini-cameras. I was not convinced of the true potential of this technique until she took some photos of the aquarium, which gave the whole thing a dreamlike air. The full set of photos can be seen here. One of the those photos, of an astronaut from the moon who is coming to visit the fish, resulted in her own initiation into the Museum of Dust.

Monday, August 28, 2006

U.S. Postage Stamp Honors Shop Customers!


The U.S. Postal Service has issued this stamp featuring the first and so far only people known to have purchased Zymoglyphic-branded apparel from the museum shop. This daring couple plunged into unknown retail waters some 2 1/2 years ago and are now rewarded with owning a pearl of great rarity, as well as being thrust into the avant garde of the fashion world. The resale value of rare Zymoglyphic merchandise is literally incalculable as none has as yet been offered for sale. The couple's name is being withheld in order to forestall any rumors that the shop has yet to make an apparel sale outside the curator's immediate family.

-- Museum Shop Marketing Dept.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Kaolithic Curiosities at the Wonders of the World Museum

I don't recall exactly what drew me to Port Costa in the late 1970's. It's a tiny town in the outer reaches of the Bay Area, on the road to nowhere else, on a bank of the Sacramento River. Downtown consisted of some old buildings, a relatively large restaurant/bar popular with bikers, and a few antique store/curiosity shops. My attention, however, was immediately drawn to a storefront that housed the Wonders of the World Museum ("Stands Alone on Earth"), presided over by one Dr. George Gladstone.

Wonders indeed. There were many fascinating exhibits, many of which dated from the Pre-Credulous Era of the Bone Age, when fossils metamorphosed into ceramic instead of rock by a process known as Kaolism. Hominids in that age came in a huge variety of sizes. There was an 8-foot high Bigfoot with a triple-jointed penis bone, whose variety of functions Dr. Gladstone described in detail, and a numerous lilliputian race dubbed Homo Ceramicus. Two skulls of the latter were later acquired for the Zymoglyphic Museum's curiosity cabinet. Shown above is a rockpecker, whose skull could be used as stone-shaping tool. As a complement to the fossilization process of Kaolism, I learned how life can be created from mud, albeit with some unusual results.

The visit turned out to be good timing, because the museum was only in existence for a few years. It left a lasting impression on me, though, and when I finally had my own museum, I thought I would seek out the man behind Dr. Gladstone, Clayton Bailey. Three years ago, in July of 2003, I contacted Clayton via e-mail and he was gracious enough to give me a tour of his studio. He still lives in Port Costa, behind a fence topped by ceramic gargoyles of his own making. The big studio contains a large herd of robots, all of which are descended from a single robot originally designed to retrieve specimens for the museum from outer space. Instead, that first robot took over Clayton's brain and commanded him to create more robots. The Kaolithic Curiosities are now resting picturesquely in the yard (see above), maybe to be re-excavated and analyzed by a future generation.

Although seen by some as a "mad scientist", Dr. Gladstone's archaeological research methods have been an inspiration to the Zymoglyphic Museum curatorial staff.

Check out the Ceramic Wonders, especially the face jugs

More photos from 2003

Reference book: Clayton Bailey: Happenings in the circus of life

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

World's Smallest Viewing Stones Made From Cosmic Dust


Our director at the Museum of Dust has recently acquired a lovely speck of cosmic dust, and those clever guys in the Zymoglyphic Museum's curatorial department have mounted it as a viewing stone, carrying "miniature" to its logical extreme. The curator has gone the director one better by finding an even smaller cosmic mote, this one a scant eight micrometers high (below). I will leave it to Dir. de Plume to figure out how exactly to incorporate these prizes into the MoD bonsai garden. Obviously they won't take up much room!


Original cosmic dust grains from J. Freitag and S. Messenger via LiveScience.com (top) and D. Brownlee and E. Jessberger via Wikipedia (bottom)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Mysterious Document Surfaces

The Zymoglyphic Museum has somewhat of a reputation as a "museum of decay" (undoubtedly a factor in its recent targeting by the Museum of Dust). A mysterious document has recently surfaced that may or may not help explain the origins of this phenomenon. This loose notebook page was found deep in the curator's personal archives. It appears to be the record of some sort of archeological dig, apparently in his closet. The manual timestamp on the document indicates that the dig was most likely in preparation for leaving home and heading off to college a continent away.

Here is a literal transcription of the document:

2 very stale pieces of bread w/casts of pupae, presumably carpet beetles, as dead same found there also. Open can, no mold on bread
Cardboard can w/mistletoe, dead and moldy
Separate substance so moldy as to be unrecognizable
Piece of wrapped cheese, brown liquidy and stinking like hell
Dried leaf of lichen, brown but not moldy
Plastic dish with spoon and white powder
Nylon plankton net
Mold on plate under glass, indicating square outline of something that had been there. No smell.
Jar with moldy prunes - now only moldy pits are left & some gunk on sides & bottom of jar. No smell. Rotting for many years
Old spider nests in jars found in closet - explains spiders in here. Jar w/bread(?) explains beetles. Now how did sow bugs get in here?