Sunday, 17 July 2011

In Which There Is Science Fiction, Religion And Theatre (Part 1)

The reason I was rushing around like a mad thing to catch a train on Friday was in order to travel up to London to visit my cousin J & his partner and to go to the theatre. The origianl plan also involved meeting up with more family mambers for a meal, but due to their ill-health that fell through, but the silver lining was that it left more time for visiting museums.

First port of call was the Bristish Library, to see their Out of this World exhibition about Science Fiction. When we got to the library we realised that there was also a mini exhibition about Mervyn Peake, which was a bonus!

The Science Fiction exhibition was very good, starting with the ancient Greeks, and moving on to Sir Thomas More, Bishop Godwin and Voltaire, and of course many more modern writers, and ones more likely to be thought of as SciFi writers.

I like seeing books I know and love and own being displayed and taken seriously in the British Library.

I particularly liked finding the Discworld Mappe displayed alongside the Bronte sisters' maps of "Gondal", and coming upon Diana Wynne Jones' Deep Secret  (although not the edition with the Charles Vess cover|), and finding The Absolute Sandman (open to the start of 'Season of Mists') rubbing shoulders with Lord Dunsany and George MacDonald Fraser and H.P. Lovecraft. Then of course there was Frankenstein, The Handmaiden's Tale, 1984, Children of Men, The City and The City, FlatLand .....

The majority of the exhibition was, inevitably, of books, but there were also some sculptures - a wonderful (War of the Worlds) Martian Tripod, the TARDIS, and an awesome miniture steampunk K9, plus various film and audio snippets, computers set up for chat (to see whether they could pass the Turing test) and selections of music to listen to.  Sadly you aren't allowed to take pictures in the exhibition.

I was expecting to enjoy the exhibition. My cousin J, who I think was mostly there in his capacity as a Good Host (he's not into SciFi) came out saying how interesting it was, which I think counts as a win on both counts.  Well worth a visit!

Then, (after a brief pause for tea) we went on to the British Museum, to see the Treasures of Heaven exhibition, which is all about saints, and relics, and reliquaries. I found it interesting that the exhibit starts with a little background, with an Etruscan (and so of course very much pre-Christian)sarcophagus showing an 'angel', to illustrate that the images we associate with angels go back well before chritianity, and also some Roman glass - one showing a couple with a figure of Mercury being asked to prtect them, and a second, almost identical one, with a figure of Christ, but otherwise indistinguishable.

The majority of the exhibits however were reliquaries from the medieval period, most of them showing amazing craftsmanship (if also considerable credulity!). I particularly liked the Franks Casket (which is an amazingly detailed box made from carved whalebone, with runes and images of pagan myths., as well as saints) and also a reliquary for the arm of St George (who would appear to have had fairly short arms, if it is to be believed), which was topped with a delightful little silver-gilt dragon.

I have decided that I thoroughly approve of St. Hedwig of Silesia, who not only had a very cool name, but also had the enviable gift of turning the water in any beaker from which she drank into wine. She must have been a popular party guest.

I learned some things I didn't previously know. In particular, did you know that after the 2nd Nicean Council (in the 8th Century) you weren't allowed to consecrate a church & alter unless you had a relic to go with it? (and that relics used to be kept under the alter, with a hole to allow pilgrims to dangle bits of cloth down to soak up the holiness).

And did you know that King Charles II was made into a saint (the only one ever created by the church of England) after the Restoration? A more unlikely candidate for sainthood it would be difficult to imagine, and either Queen Victoria or her ministers apparently thought the same, as she rescinded his Sainthood.

The exhibition finishes with a short film showing images of devotion - including not only events such as Mother Teresa's funeral, and worshippers venerating St Theresa of Liseux when her coffin went on tour a few years ago, but also images of the queues to visit Lenin's tomb, Mikhail Gorbachev visiting the British Museum Reading Room to see the desk used by Karl Marx, The flowers left outside Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana's death, and Elvis's grave at Graceland.

Both exhibitions are well worth visiting, should you find yourself in London.


Anonymous said...

I am so envious! That would be wonderful. Sigh. At least we are getting a Shaun Tan exhibition in Brisbane soon.

Marjorie said...

Thanks for stopping by.
Grass is always greener, isn't it? A Shaun Tan exhibition sounds wonderful!