Township Museum and Creepy Long Fingers

Getting down to writing this text has been a struggle. Battling a recent and obsessive addiction to the game Township has meant that moments between paid drone-work are filled harvesting digi-corn and carrots, feeding cattle and trying to level up to the point where I can buy a museum and a ship to sail to the other islands and collect ethnographic digi-objects for it.

That’s the dream. It will be like Pitt Rivers without the politics. I hope I can get a shrunken head.

Image 1 - Township Screenshot

However, on a completely different subject…

Having just completed an article on Rebecca Horn’s photograph Scratching Both Walls At Once (1974-5), in which the artist fabricated a pair of grossly elongated finger gloves to be able to reach, and scratch, both walls at once from the centre of a room, and also discovering the Salad Finger cartoons on YouTube, I have been mulling over the idea of creepy long fingers, and have designed the bones of an intensive seven week course involving a series of seminars, lectures and workshops on the subject of creepy long fingers. It might go something like this:


Creepy Long Fingers 1.0


Week 1.

Morning: General introduction to course

Afternoon: Lecture ‘The Mythology of the Creepy Long Finger’

We look at long-fingered figures from mythology and storytelling through history, from Tartaran half-peasant/half-monster Şüräle who tickles to death those lost into the forest, to the ape-like Moehau and the vampiric Nosferatu. How do these characters influence the monsters of popular culture today?

Evening Screening: Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau. 1922).

Shurale Ballet. Image credit: Production still from ‘Shurale’ ballet. 1950 Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Leningrad, USSR.
‘Shurale’, 1950, Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Leningrad, USSR. Image:


Week 2.

Morning: Lecture ‘Filmic Fingers’

We examine creepy and non-creepy long fingers in film and television. Starting with Edison Studios’ Frankenstein (1910) we examine the filmic timeline of long fingers, both animated and otherwise, from extra-terrestrial long fingers within the Alien films  to animated long fingers such as Jack’s Skellington’s from The Nightmare Before Christmas, the witch and  bedlam from 2009’s Coraline and the horror-fied long fingers found in The Thing, The Babadook and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Afternoon: Visit/talk/Q+A with actor and contortionist Doug Jones who portrays both the pale man and faun from Pan’s Labyrinth.

Evening Screening: (opening short: Frankenstein, 1910. 10 mins). Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro. 2006).

Pans Labyrinth. Image credit: Still from Pans Labyrinth
Still from ‘Pans Labyrinth’


Week 3.

Morning: Lecture ‘Lord of the Creepy Long Fingers’

This lecture will delve into the world of creepy long fingers in contemporary literature and fiction. Referring back to our mythology class we will refocus on the modern through the Gollum of Lord of the Rings, Voldemort and elves of Harry Potter and the foot long spider fingers of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. We will also look at a selection of short stories including Stephen King’s The Moving Finger.

Afternoon: Reading group and fiction writing workshop.

Evening Screening: The Witches (Nicolas Roeg. 1990).


Week 4.

Morning: Lecture ‘The Longest Finger on Earth’

We look at the life stories of those who have been, are renowned for or who hold world records for their long fingers and fingernails. Covering genetic long fingered-ness such as Robert Wadlow, who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest hands (and longest fingers) in the world, and long fingers that come about due to a disorder or disease such as Marfan Syndrome, which is sometimes characterised by very long thin fingers, or macrodactyly, a rare condition that caused Shanghai man Lui Hua’s thumb to swell to over 10.2 inches. We will also look at those who grow their fingernails to extreme lengths such as Chris Walton, who owns the current world record with combined fingernails over 20ft.

Visit: We will be visited by Lee Redmond who, with each measuring over 3ft long, previously held the record for the world’s longest fingernails, but unfortunately lost all ten in a car accident in 2009.

Evening Screening: My Strange Addiction: Rampant Rats/Extreme Fingernails (TV Episode. 2011)/At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (José Mojica Marins. 1963).

Lee Redmond. Image credit: Lee Redmond.
Lee Redmond. Image:


Week 5.

Morning: Lecture ‘Creepy Creatures’

The aye-aye lives in the forests of Madagascar and uses its exceptionally long fingers to poke around in small holes searching for grubs. Legend has it that if the aye-aye points at you with its middle finger you are marked for impending death. This lecture will explore the creepy long fingers of the natural world from bats to tarsiers and through to the consideration of legs and tentacles as fingers in spiders, lobsters and jellyfish.

Afternoon: Visit to Bristol Zoo to see the world’s first aye-aye twins born in captivity.

aye aye. Image credit: Aye-aye at Bristol Zoo. Image courtesy Bristol Zoo Gardens
Aye-aye at Bristol Zoo. Image: Bristol Zoo Gardens, UK


Week 6.

Morning: Lecture ‘Depressingly long fingers’

In this session we will explore how long fingers can be read and interpreted through the field of palmistry or hand analysis. Some people believe that having long fingers means you are more likely to be depressed, others that your finger length can predict how well you will do academically. There is a belief that the temporary elongation of your fingers can result in a rapid hypnosis effect. We will work through the different theories and research and also look at  those who try to lengthen their own fingers by exercise or even surgery – why do they do this?

Afternoon: Visit to British Library where curator will give presentation on palmistry charts and finger philosophy within the print and book collections.

Evening: Optional session with palmist Gary Marwick who will give individual readings to group.


Week 7.

Afternoon: Lecture ‘Creepy Long Finger … Painting’

Looking at the use of creepy long fingers in art from the last century. Using Rebecca Horn’s performative work Scratching Both Walls at Once as a starting point, we travel through the strange gestural contemporary hand work of Nico Baixas, the paintings of Samuel Manggudja and the large-scale public works of Jose Revelino amongst many more.

Evening screening: N/A.
Closing colloquium with invited speakers TBC.

Rebecca Horn. Image credit: Rebecca Horn, Scratching Both Walls at Once (1974-5). Image courtesy Tate Liverpool
Rebecca Horn, ‘Scratching Both Walls at Once’, 1974-5. Image: Tate Liverpool


Examining some petrified Jurassic wood samples at the museum recently, the curator commented on how much they looked like little fossilised mushrooms. They seemed like rotten  but still cute versions of the foam mushroom sweets I loved as a child. The concept that they were  ‘petrified’ was also intriguing. I imagined them cowering and trembling, scared out of their wits at being buried within the museum store. It was easy to feel sorry for the little poppets. I considered slipping one in my pocket in rescue.

Image 1 - fossil mush
Petrified mushrooms

The petrified mushrooms have, rather tenuously, led me to think about being frightened. I am frightened of a lot of things, mostly to do with the sea and other watery situations and entities. Still bodies of water are even more sinister and unsettling – canals, for example, water tanks or even a bathtub left full overnight. Then there are the land-based things to be frightened of: nightgown-wearing Japanese girls with long black hair; the stiff legs of a BBQ-ed Tarantula poking from the mouth of a Cambodian child; as well as be-winged flying insects, cliff edges, caving, Alzheimer’s and a wealth of illnesses and diseases that I self-diagnose on WebMD.

Canals and diseases have, rather tenuously, led me to think about the last time art frightened me. Gregor Schneider’s strangely muted domestic environments complete with bodies and black, black spaces always have the capacity to jolt; Cathy Wilkes’ creepy sculpture folk are always given wide berth lest they reach out and grab my arm; Richard Wilson’s oil installations have the aforementioned Japanese teen lurking within, but perhaps also exist as a version of a Jonathan Glazer alien syrup world containing the bodies of desperate horny men lured back to a Glasgow flat by Scarlett Johannson.

Richard Wilson standing in 20:50. Image courtesy: Saatchi Gallery
Richard Wilson standing in ’20:50′. Image courtesy of Saatchi Gallery, London

A couple of works encountered during a recent visit to Dia Beacon provoked some shivers. The building itself has a grey mortuary feel. Michael Heizer’s North, South, East and West – giant black holes in the ground – have the feel of Woman in the Dunes. Once you fall in, a gallery attendant would probably come and fill the hole , burying you alive and thus completing the fly-trap artwork. This is nothing, however, compared to the giant Richard Serra spiral sheet metal mazes found on the basement floor. The mazes seemed tighter than I remembered from Guggenheim Bilbao, heavier and altogether more terrifying. This time I could only make it a few layers inside before shrinking back, careful not to touch the walls with even a fibre of clothing lest the steel decide to contract and crush my soft edible bones.

Torqued Ellipse, Richard Serra. Dia Art Foundation, Beacon. NY
Richard Serra, ‘Torqued Ellipse’, Dia Art Foundation, Dia: Beacon, New York

Food & Drink Notes: Peppermint tea, feta on crisp bread. Bulleen, Melbourne. 13.50

Loompanics, Bik Van der Pol and how to fake an arts residency

Of course, the most important thing is to appear busy and active. Around midday, make it look like you have left the building already. Wear sunglasses to suggest you have been on a walk and not in bed watching Amy Schumer videos. Buy food and drink in advance and produce it at regular intervals to suggest you have just been to the shop rather than drinking a bottle of Chardonnay and eating instant noodles in the bath.

The artists Bik Van der Pol visited this week and spoke about their 2006 project Fly Me to the Moon in which they exhibited a moon rock in a small tower of the (then-closed) Rijksmuseum, allowing access by way of guided tours. The rock had been presented to the former Dutch prime minister during a visit by the three Apollo 11 astronauts after the 1969 moon mission. NASA had, by 1970, distributed over 100 moon rocks to countries all over the world. Three years later, in 2009, the lunar rock was subsequently exposed as a fake which was actually nothing more than a lump of petrified wood of unknown provenance. The wood is still kept in the collections, a bit of tree forever associated with the moon.

It was a treat to be reminded of Bik Van der Pol’s practice which I admire for its strong methodological research base, sense-making Dutch finish with a tabasco dash of quirk and wry smile. The first work I experienced was the 2007/9 Loompanics library at Van Abbe Museum which exhibited 140 books by the now defunct subversive US publisher: How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found, Surviving On The Streets, How to Make Driver’s Licenses/ID on Your Home Computer, How to Hide Things in Public Places

Bik Van der Pol, Loompanics library, Plug In #28 Pay Attention, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 2 June 2007 – 1 November 2009.

Loompanics book covers
Bik van der Pol, ‘Loompanics’, book covers

Apollo 11 Lunar Module. By NASA / Apollo 11 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Apollo 11 Lunar Module. Photo: NASA / Apollo 11 [Public Domain], Wikimedia Commons

Fake Moon Rock at Rijksmuseum
Fake moon rock at Rijksmuseum. Inscription on plaque: ‘With the compliments of the Ambassador of the United States of America J. Williams Middendorf II, to commemorate the visit to the Netherlands of the Apollo-11 Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin jr. RAI International Exhibition and Congress Centre Amsterdam, 9 October, 1969.’

Bik van der Pol, 'Loompanics', 2001/2008, installation view. Courtesy of Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven
Bik van der Pol, ‘Loompanics’, 2001/2008, installation view. Courtesy of Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Food & Drink Notes: Virgin Mary, Tortillas. Arbroath, Scotland. 13.51.



Certain objects in museum collections can never be taken out of storage and exhibited. Buried in the mineralogical stores of the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow, is a collection that poses a particular risk – Asbestos. The numerous samples are either in solid rock form or the more interesting and dangerous fibrous types which look like beautiful lush hair or candy floss.

Crocidolite, blue in colour, is the most dangerous form of asbestos. Most Crocidolite mines have now been closed and, as is the case with Western Australia’s Wittenoom, have also been erased from maps and road signs. There was an abc news story a couple of years ago about a love affair between two of the last eight residents: an Austrian who moved there to herd cattle and the lady that ran the gift shop that sold bumper stickers reading ‘I survived Wittenoom’. You can get these sometimes on eBay. The mineralogical curator told me that extended exposure to Asbestos, like radioactivity, can sometimes be better than a shorter exposure, followed by withdrawal.

You can just about handle the Hunterian Museum asbestos samples as they are sealed in plastic bags, but their packaging poses another unexpected risk: mice are very partial to nibbling the bags. Mice will not live long enough to die from asbestosis, but the more the fibrous sample bags are compromised and handled, the more likely they are to shed their fibres and ‘puff up’, meaning potential inhalation by staff.

There are several towns and cities called Asbestos (none in Australia) – towns that are named after or celebrate certain industries or products: Port Sulphur, Louisiana;  Sodium, Wyoming; Neon, Colorado; Toyota City, Japan; Bournville, UK; and Woodfibre, British Columbia.

Former Wittenoom Road Sign. Photo: Five Years at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (sa/3.0], Wikimedia Commons
Former Wittenoom Road Sign. Photo: Five Years at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (sa/3.0], Wikimedia Commons

Hunterian Asbestos Collections. Photo: Sacha Waldron and John Faithfull
Hunterian Asbestos Collections. Photo: Sacha Waldron and John Faithfull

Port Sulphur. Photo: Dr Warner (Flickr: IMG_4276.JPG) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Port Sulphur. Photo: Dr Warner (Flickr: IMG_4276.JPG) [CC BY 2.0], Wikimedia Commons
Food & Drink Notes: Left over cold crispy chicken from bedside drawer/Tea cup of Cointreau/S.Water. Wirral, North West England. 12.44.