Category Archives: Events / Conferences

The Mystery Behind the Ancient ‘Death Whistle’

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‘Death Whistles’ appear as skulls – models created by Roberto Velázquez Cabrera

Last week, I discovered a fascinating video clip through Facebook featuring the ‘death whistle’ that creates some very unsettling or disturbing sounds that immediately convinced me to down the volume on my computer. This YouTube video features Xavier Quijas Yxayotl holding a skull shaped whistle and I was completely surprised when I listened to the noises from this particular instrument and I was alarmed by the loud, unpleasant sounds.1

There is something fascinating, yet mysterious about this instrument and the noises convinced me to undertake some further research in order to discover the purpose behind the Aztec ‘death whistle.’ This is something I haven’t seen or heard of before until now and I decided to delve deeper in the spiritual, cultural and historical speculations relating to the death whistle. 

I have recently discovered a very interesting article from Mexicolore featuring a Mechanical Engineer, Roberto Velázquez Cabrera who reproduces ancient, Aztec instruments in order to evaluate various sounds or noises.2

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Xavier Quijas Yxayotl with a death whistle

Over the past couple of days, I have wondered why the death whistle features the shape of a skull? Cabrera explains that the skull shaped whistle may feature a connection to certain “death rituals,” as well as ancient aztec mythology, including Ehecatl (the wind god) and Mictlantecutli (the god of death)3 There is limited information in regards to this ancient instrument and it has been rather difficult to find academic research that is written in English, however Cabrera cites the only ‘archaeological’ publication that was produced by Salvador Guilliem Arroyo in regards to these death whistles.4

In reference to Cabrera’s written article from Mexicolore, these death whistles were extracted from the skeletal remains of a sacrificed victim and the young man was “buried in front of the Ehecatl (wind) temple of Tlatelolco.” Cabrera suggests that these ‘archaeological’ discoveries may feature a connection to certain Aztec gods including Ehecatl, as well as Mictlantecutli and the whistles may have been used for “the ritual of sacrifice.”5

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Sacrificed victim buried with death whistle

After further research, I discovered a historical image featuring Ehecatl and Mictlantecutli side by side that has invited me to question the relationship between these two ancient gods. In ‘A Pocket Dictionary of Aztec and Mayan Gods and Goddesses,’ Clara Bezanilla suggests that Ehecatl travelled down to the underworld and ‘tricked Mictlantecutli’ in order to gather the skeletal remains from the people that have died from the ‘fourth sun.’6

According to Bezanilla, Echecatl “mixed these bones with his blood and gave life to the humans who inhabit the fifth sun or the present world.”7 I’m not entirely sure if these stories or mythologies feature a connection to the whistle, however it is interesting to uncover the stories behind Ehecatl and Mictlantecutli.

I have also wondered whether the ‘death whistle’ was used for anything else in particular and Cabrera’s article compares the noises from the death whistle with the Chichtli that is believed to create a ‘chich sound’ and this particular instrument was used during ‘banquets’ where slaves were sacrificed. Cabrera suggests that the ‘death whistle’ may have been used during these ceremonies or banquets.8

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Image featuring Ehecatl (god of wind) and Mictlantecutli (god of death)

I tried to search for an audio recording of the sounds from the Chichtli; while I have discovered some articles and books online, I was unable to find any recordings. I have found this discovery rather interesting, as I’m able to listen to the Aztec Whistle through the internet, although I struggled to find any written information.

Cabrera suggests that many ‘resonators’ have disappeared and the ‘death whistle’ is quite a rare instrument; I have wondered whether the lack of information or research regarding the ‘death whistle’ were destroyed during the Spanish Inquisition, this is just a speculation I have anyway.9 Cabrera’s article also features an audio recording from the ‘death whistle’ that successfully produces some disturbing sounds and the noises remind me of a person screaming for help.

I decided to revisit the youtube video clip with Xavier Quijas Yxayotl who suggests that the ‘death whistle’ was used by tribes in order to scare their rivals during war.10 I tried to search for additional information online, however I was unable to find any other sources relating to the use of the ‘death whistle’ in warfare.

Youtube clip featuring Xavier Quijas Yxayotl playing the ‘death whistle’

I decided to compare Cabrera’s audio recording of the ‘death whistle’ with Xavier Quijas Yxayotl video clip and I have realised that the sounds are slightly different. From a personal perspective, Quijas Yxayotl ‘death whistle’ does sound very sinister or intimidating compared to Cabrera’s recording and I have wondered whether each individual ‘death whistle’ creates a different sound.11

I also noticed that Yxayotl’s instrument features a different shape compared to Cabrera’s models. According to Yxayotl’s website, the musician recreates the whistles in order to provide a sinister or ‘intimidating’ appearance.12 

Examining the ‘death whistle’ provided some very interesting, yet fascinating research that I haven’t discovered before. I was surprised that I discovered this ancient instrument through Facebook and I’m hoping to find some additional information in the future. Please click on the links below for further details.

References

1.Quijas Yxayotl, ‘Death Whistle,’ Jan 15 2013, Youtube, accessed 15/12/14, http://youtu.be/I9QuO09z-SI
2.Roberto Velázquez Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle,’ Mexicolore, accessed 15/12/14, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/music/death-whistle
3.Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle.’
4.Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle.’
5.Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle.’
6.Clara Bezanilla, “A Pocket Dictionary of Aztec and Mayan Gods and Goddesses” (United Kingdom: The Trustees of the British Museum, 2006) p.10
7.Bezanilla, “A Pocket Dictionary of Aztec and Mayan Gods and Goddesses” p.10
8.Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle.’
9.Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle.’
10.Yxayotl, ‘Death Whistle.’
11.Cabrera, ‘The Death Whistle.’
12. Xavier Quijas Yxayotl, ‘Instrument,’ accessed 15/12/14, http://www.yxayotl.com/instruments/

Image References

Images can be found through the Mexicolore website via Cabrera’s article, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/music/death-whistle

http://www.somosprimos.com/sp2008/spnov08/spnov08.htm


Zombies, Skulls and Skeletons parade through Melbourne for the Annual Zombie Shuffle.

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About a week ago, I attended the annual Zombie Shuffle in Melbourne, where thousands of individuals paraded through the streets dressed as flesh-eating zombies, skeletons and other pop culture characters. Many enthusiasts commenced their journey at the Treasury Gardens in Fitzroy and the various costume designs were extremely impressive to say the least!

The level of creativity and imagination was definitely inspiring and I began to frantically take photographs of undead, Disney princesses, skeletons, bridesmaids, nurses, surgeons, cheerleaders, policemen, convicts, school girls and many others. In fact there were so many different zombies, I didn’t know where to look next! It was great to see different age groups attending the event; children were dressed as Zombies along with their parents, while others brought their dogs along for a leisurely walk through Melbourne.

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During the event, I noticed several attendees mixed amongst the gore and the simulated blood with skulls painted onto their faces. I began to ask myself whether the skull is still a popular icon within the contemporary visual culture or everyday life in general?

From a personal point of view, the Zombie Shuffle allows the public to explore the concept of death within a satirical or entertaining manner. The event encourages the community to display their own creativity or imagination and it is interesting to examine the way death is represented.

There was one character in particular who was dressed in an old-fashioned outfit along with the black and white skull makeup. I raced over to take a closer look and I couldn’t stop taking photographs, this costume was definitely my favourite one! While I tried to search for a place to rest, I discovered a young woman with the most extraordinary skull makeup, the overall detail was admirable and the suit complimented the intricate design. I couldn’t leave without taking at least one photograph!

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As I continued to walk through the Treasury Gardens, I recognised a green sugar skull zombie; the colours were amazing and the vibrant designs were certainly intriguing. The make up merged elements of Western popular culture with the Mexican sugar skull designs; these two particular styles provided quite a unique interpretation.

I must admit everyone who attended the Zombie Shuffle looked spectacular and the crowd was throughly entertaining! Towards the afternoon, an amazing ‘percussion group’ known as Maracatu Estrela do Mar paraded through the Treasury Gardens onto Collins street along and the members of the band were wearing black and yellow sugar skull makeup.

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Enthusiastic photographs frantically joined the crowd of zombies that were leisurely following the band down the street and I suddenly began to develop the art of weaving in and out of large, overcrowded groups who began to walk or run besides members of the Zombie Shuffle.

The band in particular was definitely a highlight; I admired the vibrant, sugar skull face paint and the positive atmosphere from the crowd. Maracatu Estrela do Mar reminded me of the Dia De Los Muertos: The Day of the Dead Festival in Mexico and the band provided  a unique twist to the overall event.

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As the crowd reached Federation Square, the Zombie Shuffle collided with a Women’s rights protest and I suddenly found myself in-between a completely different group all together. I would have loved to have stayed to the very end, however I lost my sense of direction and I decided to search for the nearest train station.

Anyway, the Zombie Shuffle was an exciting, exhilarating experience that featured amazing, yet gory Zombies, a fantastic band and a spectacular audience! I would definitely recommend attending the Zombie Shuffle next year for sure!

zombiewatermark31 Check out the Black Calavera Facebook page to view photographs from the event.

https://www.facebook.com/BlackCalavera22

https://www.facebook.com/maracatuestreladomar?fref=nf

https://www.facebook.com/melbournezombieshuffle

ABC, ‘Undead roam Melbourne Streets in Annual Zombie Shuffle,” October 11 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-11/zombie-apocalypse-arrives-in-melbourne/5806796


Brook Andrew: Vox Tasmania at the National Gallery of Victoria

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Human Skull & the Gramophone in Vox Tasmania – Brook Andrew

Yesterday I decided to search through all of my photographs that I have taken over the past year and it’s surprising what you will actually find! I found one photo in particular that immediately captured my attention and I began to wonder why I left this image on my SD card for so long.

In February 2014, I remember visiting the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria that explored Melbourne’s artistic and cultural diversity. According to the official NGV website, the Melbourne Now exhibition featured a range of contemporary works including visual arts, sculpture, graphic design, architecture and performance art.

I was fascinated with one installation in particular entitled ‘Vox: Tasmania’ by Brook Andrew, a contemporary artist born in Sydney whose work depicts certain issues relating to culture, identity and colonialism, as referenced by the NGV website. On Brook Andrew’s WordPress Site, the artist specifically mentions his ‘Australian indigenous / Scottish’ heritage that may feature a connection towards the artist’s work. 

According to Andrew’s WordPress Page, ‘Vox Tasmania’ features a range of books, photographs, images and artefacts that reflect the treatment of the indigenous community in Australia during the 19th century.

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Human Skeleton within Vox Tasmania – Brook Andrew

In reference to the NGV, Andrew’s work is based upon the research and documentation conducted by Richard Berry; an autonomist who collected indigenous remains from Tasmania in order to thoroughly analyse this particular race. The skulls were often used as possessions or trophies and the remains were used for other ‘scientific purposes.’

The installation also features a large, intricate gramophone that is placed next to the wunderkammer; according to Andrew, the gramophone amplifies the way these indigenous remains were perceived or valued back in the 1990’s. As I peered through the gramophone, I recognised a human skull enclosed within a glass container and the installation does provide a very interesting perspective.

From a personal perspective, the gramophone does create distance between the viewer and the skull; it was as if I was viewing the installation from the other side of the gallery space. Once I continued to walk around the installation, I suddenly realised how close I was standing to the wunderkammer. The work itself creates an illusion, to me the installation did create quite a surreal experience.

As I began to walk around the installation, I immediately discovered an entire human skeleton carefully and delicately rearranged within the container. This is definitely my favourite section and I couldn’t take my eyes off the skeleton, I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a real human skull before, well I haven’t actually seen one in the flesh before.

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Photograph Two – Human Skeleton in the Wunderkammer

The human skull reflects a moment in time, a moment in history that is almost impossible to forget. The installation has invited me to question whom the remains to belong to and the actual cause of death, the mistreatment towards the indigenous population stares the viewer right in the face!

The installation was confronting and the skull initiates ideas relating to death or mortality and I began to wonder what happens to our remains once we die? Would our bones last forever or would they eventually disintegrate?

The work itself does provide quite a confronting experience, although I was intrigued by the overall subject matter. While I couldn’t take my eyes off the skeleton I was also quite disturbed by these historical moments and the way these remains were treated.

The installation also features a range of books, images and photographs that also coincides with the human skeleton. It’s interesting to see how these different elements connect to each other in some way. As I continued to walk around the wunderkammer, I began to recognise the minor details that I failed to recognise at the very beginning, it was as if I was searching for the missing pieces for a jigsaw puzzle.

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Artefacts, Images and records within the installation 

Overall the Melbourne Now exhibition at the NGV was definitely worth the visit and the works on display were displayed in a unique, creative manner. Andrew’s ‘Vox Tasmania’ explores an intriguing yet confronting subject through a range of images, photos and historical artefacts including a real human skeleton!

The way the works were displayed was fascinating; although I was shocked to discover the way these remains were used for research or private collections. If you haven’t see Andrew’s work before I would definitely recommend visiting the artist’s WordPress page or the NGV website.

Photographs taken by Black Calavera – Charlotte Pridding

References

Melbourne Now: 22 Nov – 23 March 2014, “About the Exhibition,” National Gallery of Victoria, 2013, last modified 17/7/14, http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/melbournenow/about-melbourne-now

Melbourne Now: 22 Nov – 23 March 2014, “Meet the Artists: Brook Andrew,” last modified
17/7/14, National Gallery of Victoria 2013,
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/melbournenow/artists/andrew

Melbourne Now: 22 Nov – 23 March 2014, Wall Text – Brook Andrew: Vox Tasmania, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Brook Andrew, “Planet Art: The Best Art from Around the World, June 2013, WordPress, last modified 17/7/14, https://brookandrew.wordpress.com/page/2/

Brook Andrew, “Researcher Profile,” Monash University 2014, http://www.monash.edu.au/research/people/profiles/profile.html?sid=51592&pid=4536


Armageddon Expo at the Melbourne Show Grounds!

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Photographs by Charlotte Pridding, works produced by anonymous artist / designer at Armageddon Comic Con

Last weekend, I attended the Armageddon Comic Con in Melbourne for the very first time! There were many enthusiastic visitors dressed as super heroes, anime characters and even zombies, I must admit the costumes were incredible!

I remember walking past someone dressed as Batman, the experience was quite surreal as the costume appeared extremely similar to the one that was used in the movie. You can obviously tell that there were quite a lot of people at the comic con that have devoted a lot of time and money into they’re costumes, although this is adds to the overall experience.

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Gruesome Masks at Armageddon Comic Con, 2013

So there was a massive building in the middle of the Melbourne show grounds that was full of comic books, dvd’s, costumes, outfits and other novelty items. There were so many different booths and I wasn’t too sure where to start, there were various comic book artists that were also exhibiting some of their work, which was really interesting.

While I was wondering around all the different booths, I have noticed that the skull was printed onto almost everything! There were synthetic skeletons, skull printed t-shirts, bracelets, wallets, bags and broaches, there were skulls left, right and centre!

There was one booth in particular that immediately captured my attention, in fact I started to take loads of photographs, I just couldn’t help myself. This booth displayed a range of grotesque masks and three-dimensional skulls that would be perfect if you were producing a horror film.

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Skulls and Castrated Head

These skulls were rather sinister and there was synthetic blood dripping down the sides, that also provided quite a macabre appearance. At the very front of the booth, there was one skull in particular that was displayed right next to a disembodied head that is synthetic by the way! The display was rather interesting, although it was disturbing at the same time, it’s not every day you see a reproduction of a castrated head or a zombie clown mask!

The castrated head was quite realistic especially the blood and the gash wounds, the level of realism was rather unsettling. Both the severed head and the skull do remind me of the Momento Mori, they both resonate notions of death and destruction, although I am more disturbed of the photograph I have taken to be honest!

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Creepy Zombie Clown Mask

I didn’t quite catch the artist’s name, although the level of detail and craftsmanship was just incredible! there were two life sized zombies right opposite the booth that appeared quite gruesome and realistic. The Armageddon Comic Con really does demonstrate that the skull is a very influential icon in contemporary design and popular culture, almost every single booth sold skull merchandise.

There were visitors that even painted their faces in order to replicate the Mexican sugar skulls and there were a range of artists / designers that have frequently used the skull in their own body of work. The gruesome masks and the synthetic skulls were definitely my favourite, their sinister and grotesque nature were substantially different compared to everything else that was for sale.

If you are looking for some extra information, there are a few links attached below. If you are interested in the next Armageddon Comic Con, there will be another one in 2014!

http://armageddonexpo.com/au/

https://www.facebook.com/BlackCalavera22


Posters and Billboards for the Future Music Festival

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4/2/13 – Skulls used to Promote one of Melbourne’s Most Popular Music Festival. 

Over the past few weeks I have recognised advertisements around Melbourne, promoting the Future Music Festival at Flemington Race Course. I have noticed banners, posters and billboards around the city, where the skull has been used as the logo. The festival will feature a Day of the Dead theme; most of the advertisements do feature bright, bold and vibrant colours that also compliment the skulls and the skeletons that reappear within the advertisements.Every year there is a different theme for the Future Music Festival; this is a very clever marketing strategy as you wouldn’t attend the same old festival every year.

Even the website is visually interesting, there are skulls left right and centre! The website is certainly up to date with the recent trends and styles, as the skull is very popular at the moment. A few months ago, I noticed a few A4 sized posters attached to lamp posts and now I’m beginning to see giant billboards all over the city, where the skull has become completely unavoidable. So I have been to one music festival before and you can visit various bands playing at different stages; it is fairly interesting as you can quickly move from one band to the other without waiting for an extended period of time.

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It’s interesting to see how the festival use certain elements from the Day of the Dead Festival; the various colours patterns and designs do remind me of this particular celebration. The Day of the Dead theme definitely works well with the music festival and the event usually contains lots of drinking, singing and dancing. I do have one question in mind when I view the advertisements; has the skull lost it’s symbolic meaning? In a way yes, in these particular advertisements the typography actually distorts the shape of the skull to the extent where you could misinterpret the skull as something completely different. Needless to say, the skull does compliment the Day of the Dead theme; the typography also adds an interesting effect to the shape of the skull and the advertisements definitely captures my attention from the opposite side of the road.

It’s hard not to notice the advertisements, all the different colours immediately jump out at you! The advertisements are very well designed, although you need innovative designs in order to promote such a good lineup! There’s Ellie Golding, Dizzee Rascal, The Prodigy, Rudimental and many more!

For more information please click on the link below.

http://www.futureentertainment.com.au/futuremusicfestival/melbourne/


Rally at the National Gallery of Victoria

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Mural Paintings by Eko Nugroho

7/1/2013 – Contemporary Indonesian Artists, Jompet Kuswidananto and Eko Nugroho display their work at the NGV. 

From my previous visit to the National Gallery of Victoria, I discovered a contemporary exhibition titled Rally that presents the works of two Indonesian artists, Jompet Kuswidananto and Eko Nugroho. The exhibition features a range of contemporary mural paintings and installations as well as digital media that explore’s Indonesia’s cultural, political and historical heritage, as referenced by the NGV Official website.

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As I walked down the passageway to the gallery space, I had recognised several flags that were attached to the ceiling; there was one flag in particular that featured quite an interesting composition. I was definitely intrigued by the illustration; the flag features two unusual characters who appear to be using the skull as a football. The characters use their feet to transfer the skull from one person to the other; if you look closely at the image you can see that the characters also create a basic outline of a skull. As soon as I recognised this particular design, I did not hesitate to walk right into the exhibition.

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Flag for the Rally Exhibition 

I was amazed when I walked into the gallery space, each wall was decorated with mural paintings that featured a vibrant and stylistic design.  Nugroho’s work does feature very unusual characters that are emphasised through the strong use of line, tone and composition. The skull was a very popular image within the artist’s murals and I began to question whether the skull has any significant meaning or purpose within the exhibition.

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Installations by Eko Nugroho & Video Installations by Jompet Kuswidananto

In almost every corner of the gallery, I had recognised a painting or an illustration of a skull. The NGV website explains that artist, Nugroho is inspired by Indonesian “street art and popular culture”,  one may argue that Nugroho reflects the way the skull has become a prominent symbol within popular culture. The skull has become completely unavoidable within the visual culture, although I do find it rather interesting to see how to skull is interpreted within the contemporary gallery space.

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Eko Nugroho & Jompet Kuswidananto in Rally Exhibition 

I began to wonder whether Nugroho has used to skull to raise certain political issues within Indonesia? I am not too sure whether the skull is used as a symbol of death or whether the skull is used as another popular image? While there isn’t a great deal of information about the use of skulls within Nugroho’s work, I am determined to find out the answer to my question.

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According to the NGV, Nugroho adopts a humorous and comical to his own subject matter; I would agree with this particular description as Nugroho applies an entertaining quality to his own work. Nugroho may provide a positive representation of death through the different colours, patterns and designs.

Nugroho’s work is also exhibited along with Kuswidananto’s audio and visual installations that also emphasises the contemporary Indonesian culture from a  political perspective. Both Kuswidananto and Nugroho do work well within the gallery space; the audio installations also corresponds with the mural paintings on the wall. The large-scale installations on the other hand were visually appealing, as I walked around each installation I was then able to view the paintings on the wall. There weren’t small paintings by the way, these paintings covered the entire wall within the gallery space.

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Paintings by Eko Nugroho

I decided to stand opposite the murals, I did feel incredibly small, the works on display provided a completely different perception of scale. Colour was another interesting quality within the exhibition; within the centre of the space was a creature / person who was covered in fluorescent pink flowers. This was definitely my favourite works within the exhibition, I couldn’t remove my eyes from the arrangement of flowers that covered the model’s body.

I then began to realise, that I have not seen another exhibition with contemporary Indonesian art and it is great to see the NGV promote artists from southeast Asia. The director of the NGV explains that “southeast asian artists” are becoming popular within contemporary art; hopefully this trend will develop within Melbourne.

Rally is a fantastic exhibition that is definitely worth the visit and it’s free for visitors of all ages! If you have an interest for contemporary asian art, make sure to plan your next visit to the NGV.

For further information please click on the links below.

“RALLY: Contemporary Indonesian Art – Jompet Kuswidananto & Eko Nugroho”, the National Gallery of Victoria, 2012, Accessed 14/1/13, http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/ngv-media?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHAlM0ElMkYlMkZ3d3cubmd2LnZpY
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http://www.ekonugroho.or.id/


Trip to Healseville Sanctuary

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5/1/2013 – Animal Skulls at Healseville Sanctuary

Last week, I had visited the sanctuary during my trip to Healesville, a small country town in Victoria, Australia. Healesville is about an hour and a half from the city centre of Melbourne, if you are looking for trip out in the Yarra Ranges, I would recommend visiting the sanctuary. The facility features a diverse range of native, Australian wildlife and the sanctuary does preserve endangered species. The sanctuary was fairly large and it did take at least two hours to visit each section, although I did enjoy every moment of it!

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Interactive Screen: The Comparisons between a Koala Skull and a Human Skull.

I did notice that there were a range of animal skulls that were displayed around the sanctuary; it was interesting to see of the different shapes and sizes. I also visited the rescue centre that also featured information about various surgical procedures and preservation. While the facilities were contained within a glass window, I did manage to recognise more animal skulls that were stored upon the bookshelf.

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Comparisons between a Python Skull and a Human Skull

Within the corner of the room, there was a small screen that compared an animal skull with a human skull. It was an interactive screen that allowed each viewer to compare the human skulls with the skull of a koala or the skull of a snake. It did find the facts very interesting, but for some reason I did not write them down! Next time I visit the sanctuary, I shall write the information on a piece of paper so I can remember what they are.

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Kookaburra Skull and a Human Skull

It was quite random, although it was rather interesting to how complex the human skull really is. While most animals do have skulls in order to preserve the most precious organs, the human skulls appears quite structured. It’s just interesting to see how different we are from other animals / species. Please stay updated, I will eventually post further research about the human skull! I think I need to take another trip to the library to borrow some more books.

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Possum Skull and a Human Skull

For further information about the Sanctuary, please click on the link below. The Sanctuary is also apart of the Melbourne’s Zoo, it is just great to see a facility protecting native wildlife! The area does have quite a lot of space and it’s not like any other zoo I have ever seen before, the animals have the space to actually move around. The location is also worth a visit, it’s actually a relaxing place to spend a sunny afternoon!

http://www.zoo.org.au/healesville