To a young Joanna Ebenstein, a bird soaring through the air was just as fascinating as one lying cold and motionless on the ground. As she grew older, she discovered girls who think dead birds are cool are seen as creepy and kind of disgusting, but her fascination remained intact. Her father even encouraged her unconventional interests by bequeathing her the gift of formaldehyde to preserve all her little pets and turn her room into her own personal natural history museum.
It became clear Ebenstein’s morbid interests were not a passing phase. In 2007 she embarked on a project titled ‘Anatomical Theatre’ where she photographed a bunch of medical museums worldwide. In order to organise her material, she turned to the Internet to create a “web based something”. Thus the Morbid Anatomy blog that “surveys the interstices of art, medicine, death and culture” was born.
Morbid Anatomy muses over issues such as the duplicity of beauty, death and its ability to elicit both excitement and disgust. To Ebenstein, context is key. A dead bird in your front yard will provoke a different reaction to one in a museum behind glass.
The interest Ebenstein received in her work was so overwhelming it transformed from the net to the world of (rotting) flesh. Her studio space turned into a library, where her morbid materials were available to all who seek them. She now hosts lectures and a class series that attract scholars, museum curators, artists and enthusiasts.
Ebenstein hopes her classes will help de-stigmatise discourse on death. Last century's fight for open discussion on sex without sounding like a creepy pervert is over. This century is all about talking about death without sounding like a depressive emo or psychopath.
Check out her blog here.