Tag Archives: Skull

New Twitter Page for Black Calavera

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Hey there everyone, I finally created a Twitter page! I have wanted to create one for a while but I just needed to find the time, now I’m just getting used to all the different settings…this is kind of fun. I’m specifically using the social media sites as a way to record / reference my inspiration for future blog posts and reviews. I discover so many different artworks and designs featuring the skull, it’s often difficult to keep up with everything.

I thought I would sneak in another photo with me experimenting with the skull makeup, I would love to create some additional patterns / designs and I’ll have all next week to devote to some experimentations, yay. I just need to work on the shadows and the shape of the teeth but I’ll release a post later in the week anyway.

You can now follow me on Twitter, just click on the link below, stay tuned!

https://twitter.com/blackcalavera22


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


Interesting Skull Illustration in Melbourne

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Illustration I discovered in Melbourne – Artist Unknown

While I was walking through Melbourne, I have discovered quite an interesting illustration that has been posted onto the back of a road sign. Most of the alley ways in Melbourne do contain graffiti and some other quirky illustrations; there some incredible designs especially in Hosier Lane! This illustration in particular features a skull, while the design itself is rather simple, the skull does feature some interesting characteristics.

I’m not too sure who has created this illustration, although I was definitely intrigued by this particular image, I decided to take a quick snap shot on my to the train station. So I have noticed something very interesting, I have suddenly decided that Melbourne is saturated with skulls! Every time I visit the city I cannot help recognising all the skull t-shirts, illustrations, graffiti art, coffee mugs, paintings, books, pencil cases and yes the list will just keep going and going!

Every time I walk down an alley way, I notice skulls imprinted onto the wall, they are just everywhere. Why is that? why are we all so fascinated with the skull? It’s who we are, under the layer of skin is a human skull and all of these images may encourage us to realise that death is an inevitable thing.

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Illustration – Artist Unknown

Well that’s not all to say that every person in this world is attracted to skulls, of course popular culture is completely saturated with the image of the skull that may emphasise our fascination with something that we all fear the most, the idea that we will never live forever, the idea that we can die at any given moment, as referenced by Elizabeth Klaver’s publication ‘ Sites of Autopsy in Contemporary Culture’1

Ok so I don’t want to go too deep, I was purely fascinated by this one particular illustration that I stumbled upon in the city. The image is quite minimal and there are some humorous features / attributes, to be honest the design would make a fantastic t-shirt design! Why it has been attached to the back of a road sign, I’m not entirely sure, although I do enjoy finding all these quirky patterns and designs around Melbourne. Stay tuned as I will try to find some information about the artist who has produced this image!

1. Klaver, Elizabeth. Sites of Autospy in Contemporary Culture.  New York: State University of New York 2005.


Emma Allen’s Ruby, an Extraordinary Animation of Incarnation

Animation from YouTube (Link attached below)

A couple of days ago, I received a very interesting video from the Black Calavera Facebook Page that was posted by Ryan Fehily. The stop motion animation was originally uploaded onto Vimeo, this particular clip was produced by Emma Allen an artist who specifically works with ‘animation, face painting and body painting’, as referenced by Allen’s official website. 1

When I first viewed Allen’s clip, I was particularly fascinated with the level of craftsmanship, the face paint featured some decorative patterns and designs that gradually changed throughout the stop motion animation. According to Allen’s Vimeo Page, the animation features the artist who has painted her own face in order to present ideas of ‘incarnation’. The artist animates herself ageing, Allen’s face slowly transforms into a skull that suddenly makes a rapid transition into a living creature.

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Allen’s Transformation 

So I began to wonder, what is the definition of incarnation? According to the Australian Oxford Dictionary, incarnation is a psychical ‘manifestation’ from an abstract concept. In reference to Allen’s stop motion animation, the artist becomes an embodiment of life and death through the application of face paint. 2

The name of the clip, Ruby is rather intriguing, this does add a level of mystery to the animation, I have wondered whether the title has a reference or a connection to Allen’s work?

I was intrugued by the skull that Allen had painted onto her own face, for me personally the surrounding darkness becomes a reminder of death and disintegration. Allen presents the processes of ageing, the artist’s facial features gradually change throughout the clip, which is quite a unique concept!

From a personal perspective, the animation does question what actually happens after death? I’m not too sure if there is a specific answer to this question, although it is interesting to view Allen’s own interpretations of ‘incarnation’ 

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Images from Allen’s Animation

Throughout the clip, the black and white skull is composed with colourful / decorative designs; Allen’s face suddenly transforms into a range of leaves, branches and flowers that also provides a unique aesthetic. There is a very interesting composition between the skull and the floral patterns / designs, from a personal perspective the face paint does question what happens to the soul when a person dies? Is there another life or entity waiting for us on the other side?

Who knows really, these are very difficult questions to answer, when I first viewed the animation I was convinced that the concept was inspired by ‘reincarnation’ as Allen depicts herself slowly decaying, the clip explores the transition from death to another physical entity or form.

The use of glitter also adds an interesting composition that significantly contrasts with the surrounding darkness. I was instantly captivated by Allen’s extraordinary designs, the glitter also disguises Allen’s features that also provides another creative approach to the animation. Towards the end of the clip, Allen’s face suddenly transforms into a wild cat and the designs appear similar to a lion or a leopard.

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Notions of Incarnation

It is interesting to view how the designs change over time, I wasn’t quite expecting to see a lion or a leopard towards the very end, although this does reflect the idea of reincarnation. Allen’s designs are definitely creative and imaginative, it is also interesting to view the combination of face paint and stop motion animation. If you haven’t seen this clip before, I would definitely recommend visiting Allen’s Vimeo page!

Click on the link below to view Allen’s official website!

1. http://www.emmaallen.org/about/

2. Moore, Bruce (ed) The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary (Australia: Oxford University Press, 1996) 

3. http://vimeo.com/72670988

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Ch4A9PnZI

Image Citations

http://www.123inspiration.com/ruby-reincarnation-in-75-seconds-by-emma-allen/

http://www.broadsheet.ie/2013/11/09/reincarnation/

http://www.slrlounge.com/ruby-life-death-reincarnation-amazing-stop-motion-video


Skull Frenzy in Melbourne CBD!

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Skull Merchandise in Typo

Ok so I know I haven’t posted in a while with moving house and working full-time, life has been pretty hectic at the moment! so where do I begin? well at the very start of the year, I posted a blog post each day and now I am convinced that I should start posting more regularly. I know I haven’t posted for a least a few months, so I began to wonder…..where do i even start?!

So I started to browse through the images I have taken on my mobile phone, I normally take photos with my SLR camera although there are several times where I have found something interesting and I didn’t have all my equipment with me at the time. In Melbourne there is always something new or interesting to find, I remember taking a short cut to the station, at first I was just walking down a dull, dark and grungy alleyway until a recognised an entire wall of graffiti that featured vibrant and intricate designs.

So here I am standing in awe in a deserted alleyway admiring some of the extraordinary and incredible designs that were right in front of me, this is what I enjoy about the city, there’s always something new to discover.

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Ceramic Skulls in Window Display

So I use my phone to take snap shots and then I revisit the same place with the proper equipment including my SLR camera, gee what would we do without mobile phones? Ok so I know my trip to the station is slightly off topic, although I have come to realise that my phone has been used to document graffiti, window displays, billboards, posters and even those random events or festivals that I occasionally walk into on a saturday afternoon.

So as many of you know by now I am particularly fascinated with the skull in popular culture, contemporary art and design, as a matter of fact the skull is everywhere, you could be eating a taco and you’ll see a skeletal figurine next to the hot chilli sauce! So what is the first photograph I find stored in my mobile phone?

I discovered a photo of two ceramic skulls outside a two dollar shop within the middle of a small shopping centre, the entire window display was rather strange there were ceramic skulls placed with crystal ornaments, I wasn’t too sure what was going on.

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The reason why I had taken this photograph is because I was particularly fascinated in the way the skull is commercialised, the skull has become a product, a commoditized item that can be purchased for only a few dollars. It’s quite strange to think that our skull that holds all of our most precious and vital organs has become a mass-produced item. I have often wondered whether all of these skull t-shirts, banners, posters, figurines etc actually remind us of our own humanity or existence?

So do I think of my own mortality when I view an image of the human skull? for me this is a hard question, at times I do start to contemplate upon life and death, then there are times where I feel nothing at all. Personally the context would have a strong impact, a two dollar ceramic skull in a shopping mall would surely generate a completely different interpretation to a skull that is displayed in a film or an exhibition space?

Ok so these cheap ceramic skulls were rather eclectic but I was interested in the random and unusual display, so I decided to take a photograph for future reference.

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Clear It Warehouse / Factory: Dangerfield & Pulp Kitchen Collection – Melbourne, Fitzory 

As I browse through my photographs, I have realised that I do take quite a lot of photos of Typo. Typo is a retro stationery store that often sells a range of popular skull merchandise, in fact every time I walk into Typo I instantly find an entire display of skull notebooks, pencil cases, pens, cups and metallic storage containers. It appears that Typo have used the skull because it’s a popular image, in fact I’m convinced the skull will never loose popularity as this anatomical part of our body is something we can all relate to.

I also remember taking photographs of a retail warehouse in Fitzroy, I remember finding skull printed scarfs, jeans, bandannas, t-shirts, skirts, dresses, even swim suits, in fact the entire warehouse was full of skull printed outfits! Ok so Fitzroy is a fantastic place to find random and spontaneous items, it’s the type of place where you’ll find sofa’s, old bicycles and stacks of milk crates placed on every street corner.

Fitzroy have all sorts of quirky stores and gallery spaces, almost every second window featured a skull, my phone definitely ran out of battery life towards the end of the day!

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Skull Painting in Window Display, Artist Unknown – Melbourne, Fitzroy 

So there we are the skull is everywhere, I suppose I’m continually trying to find new and interesting representations of the skull. It’s actually interesting to think how the symbol of death and mortality has become one of the most popular commercial products within the contemporary visual culture! I can’t walk to the end of the street without recognising at least one person wearing a skull printed scarf, jumper or t-shirt, we just continually purchase these products and never really stop to consider the actual meaning or significance behind the image or the item we’ve just bought!

It’s ironic really, death is still considered as a taboo subject within Western culture, although the majority of products are literally plastered with images of skulls, even baby clothes have skulls on the front! None the less, it’s just a bit of fun just to wear a skull printed t-shirt or a scarf to the supermarket, well everyone else wears the same thing now!

So if you are bored and want to find something interesting to do, take your camera and travel to Melbourne, you’ll be surprised with how many random objects you’ll find 🙂 I know I haven’t posted regularly in a while, now that I have some extra time on my hands I be able to keep on top of things, stay tuned!


Nathan Sawaya

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Sawaya Lego Skulls

Nathan Sawaya uses Lego Bricks to Produce Three Dimensional Installations. 

On a very warm Sunday afternoon, I discovered an impressive installation constructed from individual lego pieces, Nathan Sawaya has produced a series of lego skulls in blue, red, yellow and green. Sawaya is a contemporary artist who uses everyday materials to create large, three dimensional installations; his most famous  and his most memorable works are constructed from a range of colourful lego bricks.

I remember visiting Nathan Sawaya’s exhibition at Federation Square in Melbourne a few years ago, “The Art of the Brick” featured Sawaya’s most unique installations, the actual size and the proportion was extraordinary! I remember walking straight into the gallery space and standing right next to this giant tyrannosaurus rex made from lego bricks, Sawaya’s installation was almost the same size as the gallery space and the level of detail was rather impressive.

As I continued to walk throughout the gallery space, I was just amazed by the number of installations that were displayed within the exhibition, every corner featured a completely different body of work, which is good in a way because I always had something interesting to look at. Within the very last gallery space, I recognised a red, blue, green and yellow skull mounted to the back wall, the display and the presentation feature similarities to Andy Warhol’s Pop-Art Paintings from the 1970’s.

Colorful Skulls - Nathan Sawaya

The lego bricks in particular create a very interesting effect, the four different skulls on the back wall appear pixelated when they are viewed from a distance. Once you begin to walk closer to the installation, you are able to recognise the detail around the eye sockets and the jawline. Sawaya has successfully transformed an ordinary, everyday object into a masterpiece, the artist has used the lego blocks to create unique and rather extraordinary installations.

In fact I was so inspired by the exhibition that I decided to purchased 13,000 pieces of lego in order to create my own installation, it was a very interesting obsession that lasted for an entire year. I’ve always enjoyed working with lego and the thought of using this particular material for an art project was just way too exciting! If you make a mistake, all you do is remove the bricks, what more could you possible ask for?

I’ve always wondered how the artist assembles his large scale installations, I’m assuming the artist would use a special glue to hold everything together, otherwise I could not imagine how anyone would be able to produce a large three dimensional installation without the lego bricks falling to pieces. Of course my favourite installation in the exhibition were the lego skulls, in a way Sawaya has used the individual colours in order to create a unique style and aesthetic, it wouldn’t deliver the same effect if the colours were all mixed together.

So what does it mean to create a skull from individual lego bricks? Well the skull and the lego bricks are continually manufactured and reproduced on a regular basis, they’re two recognisable symbols that have influenced popular culture and contemporary art, I would say that lego and skulls just work really well together!

While the exhibition is no longer exhibiting at Federation Square, I would recommend viewing Sawaya’s work in person if you ever have the chance.

For more Information please click on the link below

http://brickartist.com/about/

http://pix.alaporte.net/pub/USA/New+York+NY/Art+and+Statues/Brick+by+Brick+Lego+Sculptures
+by+Nathan+Sawaya+Agora+Gallery/


Black & White Sugar Skull Part II

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15/1/13 Work in Progress Part II

In my previous post I have explained that the sugar skulls have provided inspiration for my black and white self portraits. Over the past week or two, I have been decorating the sugar skull moulds I produced last year; the floral patterns around the eye sockets have inspired me to reproduce this particular design for my self portraits.

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I do prefer using the black backdrop as the surrounding darkness does provoke an emotional response. These photographs I have uploaded are very dark compared to the photographs in my previous post; to me the darkness becomes a reminder of death. Something very strange had happened to me the other night; as I continued to stare at my self portraits, I was disturbed at the fact that I was looking at another version of myself. It’s a strange feeling when you view a photograph of yourself and you begin to see a completely different person.

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In a way I have created a character, a persona that emerges from my own self portraits. I then begin to wonder, what would I look like if I was dead? Would I just be buried in a coffin, surrounded by darkness? The Mexican sugar skulls on the other hand have become an area of interest for the past 12 months; the sugar skulls are associated with the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico where death becomes just as important as life itself. I have been fascinated with the fact that the Day of the Dead is portrayed in vibrant colours and designs; I have always associated death with black and white.

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In my own photographic work, I have decided to replicate the sugar skulls via black and white self-portrait photography. As a result, the absence of colour does provoke a response towards death. In this particular project, I have combined both Mexican and Western / European perspectives of death.

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I have also realised that the dark backdrop does distort the shape of the face, the backdrop almost creates a triangular shape, which also creates a rather interesting effect. While some of the photos are blurry; this effect does add a distressed appearance to my self portraits, it does impact my own understandings of death.

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