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The Medicine Chest

On the External Characters of Minerals

An extract from the Tabloid textbook serves as the starting point for this curriculum and initiates the connection between the chest and the themed subject matter presented. Entries are drawn from the larger depository of materials for this curriculum and each entry builds on the previous one in an associative manner and should be carefully considered, before moving on to the next item.

"The chest is designed to meet the requirements of travellers, miners, missionaries and others who need a chest of sufficient capacity to take a good supply of medicines without undue bulk and weight. It is very portable, and, on account of the material of which it is made, capable of standing hard usage" (BWC 1934: 24).

"Exasperated by the poor quality of the graphite in the pencils he used for his sketches, the British artist and explorer William Brockden invented a mechanised method of crushing graphite to a fine powder, then compressing it to produce better-quality lead. In 1843, he was granted a patent for his invention, and the drug firm John Wyeth and Brother hired him to make compressed medicines using the same technique (Bailey 2008). 


​The sole agent for the American drug firm John Wyeth and Brother in London, Burroughs had been importing and marketing pharmaceuticals since 1878. The company’s compressed pills  offered a much safer, standardised dose than medicines prepared by pestle and mortar, and Burroughs realised that he might be able to make his fortune by importing and marketing them in England and Europe" (Liebenberg 2021: 42). 

William Blake
Ancient of Days

"The work Breath of a Physicist is one she (Cornelia Parker) formulated while engaging with the academic communities of the University of Manchester in 2015. Parker worked closely with the scientists of the institution, most notably Kostya Novoselov, who, with Andre Geim, was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of graphene — the world’s thinnest and strongest material. After being inspired by the discovery of a graphite drawing in the university’s art collection by William Blake (The Ancient of Days), Parker facilitated a collaboration between the gallery staff and Novoselov during which he took microscopic samples of graphite from the Blake, as well as some from a Turner, Constable and Picasso, and a sample from a pencil-written letter by Sir Ernest Rutherford (who split the atom in Manchester). With these samples, Novoselov then made graphene which Parker used to make an artwork, as well as a Blake-graphene sensor which was activated by breath of a physicist (Novoselov), and which set off a firework display, returning iron meteorite into the Manchester sky on the opening night" (Liebenberg 2021: 31)

Cornelia Parker
Breath of a Physicist

William Blake, 1794, Ancient of Days
Inscription: "In his hand, he took the Golden Compasses, prepared in Gods Eternal stone, to circumscribe This Universe, and all created things One foot he center'd, and the other turn'd Round through the vast profundity obscure, And said, thus farr extend, thus far thy bounds, This be thy just circumference, O World"

​"In the process of realising this work, Parker facilitated the collaboration of scientists from the physics department, with those from its art gallery. She also drew attention to the scientific qualities of the artwork and, through the performative act of igniting a firework display, the symbolism of scientific discovery" (Liebenberg 2021: 31).

June 1, 1937

On June 1, 1937, Amelia Earhart took off from Oakland, California, on an eastbound flight around the world. It was her second attempt to become the first pilot ever to circumnavigate the globe.

Extract from What to Observe, 1841, written by Julian Jackson (The Royal Geographical Society)

"We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait."

On July 2, 1937 Model 10 Electra 1055 piloted by Amelia Earhart with navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae Airfield, New Guinea and was never seen again. Earhart's last radio message was estimated to be within 200 miles of her destination Howland Island.

Burn holes made with a magnifying glass on a handkerchief which corresponds to the positioning of the stars as observed from the place, date and time Amelia Earhart sent her last broadcast.

Nina Cannell
Perpetuum Mobile (2400KG)
Water, bucket, hydrophone, mist-machine, 2 400kg
cement, relay timer, amplifier and cable.

Water is set in motion by means of ultrasound (at times amplified by loudspeakers), generating steam that slowly spreads through the exhibition space and envelops sacks of cement whose mass is changed as the exhibition proceeds by the meandering atmospheric humidity.

                                                                         Amelia Earhart explaining her flight plan

Rachel Whiteread
Lokrete with metal armature
Grove Road, London, E3 (Destroyed 11 January 1994)

Label in the Natural History Museum, London, 2017

The 1984 film, The Neverending Story, features Pyornkrachzark, the Rockbiter, a large creature made of stone. The Rockbiter species are named due to their diet of rocks and earth-based materials. The Rockbiter seen in the film particularly has a liking for limestone. In the novel and the first film, the Rockbiter appears early among the messengers sent to see the Childlike Empress at the Ivory Tower during the Nothing crisis. In the first film he ultimately reappears, encountered by Atreyu. He has lost faith in himself after failing to save his travelling companions from the Nothing, and advises Atreyu to flee.

"Big good strong hands"

Henry De la Beche's portrait of Mary Anning, the English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for finds she made in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. These cliffs consisted of alternating layers of limestone and shale, laid down as sediment on a shallow seabed early in the Jurassic period (about 210 - 195 million years ago).

As a woman, Anning was treated as an outsider to the scientific community. The increasingly influential Geological Society of London did not allow women to become members, or even to attend meetings as guests.

An object from BC666: Walter  Floyd's physiology notes from when he was a student

Extract from Ian McEwan's  'A Child in Time': "Later, in the sorry months and years, Stephen was to make efforts to re-enter this moment, to burrow his way back through the folds between the events, crawl between the covers, and reverse his decision. But time – not necessarily as it is, for who knows that, but as thought constituted it – monomanically forbids second chances" (McEwan 1987: 14).

"If only one thing had happened diferently..."

"The conquest of time" 
The Goodwin Collection (BC290/39), University of Cape Town

An extract from an email from archaeologist and former head of African Studies, Prof Nick Shephard (Jan 21, 2021, 11:33 AM):

"Disciplinary practices and regimes of care constitute a kind of bureaucratization or governmentality of elapsed time and its material remains and human relationships, placing these remains and relationships under a kind of administration. We think of the elaborate structure of regional typologies and chronologies, the immense work of correctly assigning artefacts and sites to these imagined categories, and the vast institutional apparatus that supports these endeavors – all of which constitute archaeology as a formidable disciplinary enterprise. In the face of this enterprise, the “many worlds” of local claims to the past have little chance of success".

End papers of Julian Jackson's What to observe; or, the traveller's remembrance (1841). 

Published in 1841, Jackson’s guide was the first of a series of guides published during this period which offered notes for the traveller on appropriate conduct in the field – from providing methods for training the eye to observe what was deemed as relevant details, to instructions on which precision instruments should be carried and how to use them to record and inscribe the results of observations made (Withers 2013: 170). As Jackson states, his guide pointed out to the “uninitiated Traveller what he [sic] should observe, and to remind the one who is well informed, of many objects which (…) might escape him” (Jackson 1841: i).

Observing marbling in Edirne, 2012

A marbling demonstration observed during a 2012 trip to Istanbul and a visit to the neighbouring Edirne's Health Museum. Opened in Sultan Bayezid II külliye in 1488, the hospital treated patients for over 400 years, until 1909, along the tradition of Turkish-Islamic medicine, which included the treatment of diseases by music.

A wounded post-mortem ledger
Pathology Learning Centre

In Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the protagonist Billy, is abducted by aliens and taken to their planet, Tralfamadore. Throughout the novel, Billy imparts what he has learned from the Tralfamadorians, whilst there. In one instance, in a letter to a late night radio station, he writes about their views on time:

"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads in a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that someone is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ''So it goes" (Vonnegut 1969: 24 - 25).

Amelia Earhart explaining her flight and the welcome she received

175 chalk-board dusters
Gwen van Embden, Pippa Skotnes, Fritha Langerman
175 chalk board dusters sourced from 175 UCT lecture theatres.

For the exhibition, Curiosity CLXXV, the curators took an old duster from each teaching venue and replaced it with a new one.

Cornelia Parker
Einstein's Abstracts
Microscopic magnification of Einstein’s equations from a blackboard that had been preserved in the History of Science Museum in Oxford

Nina Liebenberg
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
Histopathology slides of the brain (human and animal) sourced from the UCT Pathology Learning Centre, scanned and converted into video projection

An artwork purchased in 2015 from the Michaelis School of Fine Art Graduate Show, created by then student, Tess Metcalf.

"We shed many skin cells — at a rate per hour it comes close to a million cells per day. New cells generated at the bottom of our layered epidermis push their way to the top, where they are weathered by the environment and our daily activities.

As the living body breaks down, it becomes lodged in skin pores and clothing fibres. It is inhaled, irritates, is sneezed out and blown afar; it collects in corners, and gathers on surfaces. It welcomes company, joining with soil or, lifted by weather patterns, combines with volcanic eruptions, pollution and plant pollen, or with animal bodies, minerals, and even with burnt meteorite particles —  all the while becoming increasingly microscopic and indistinct.

The body, now fluid and divisible, transgresses boundaries. Transformed and nomadic, it inhabits spaces without detection. That is, until a ray of sunlight reveals drifting motes hovering in the air, or a missing shoe leads to the surprise discovery of a copulating fluffle of dust bunnies under the bed. In Gutspeak,  these former remnants of ourselves are gathered by the artist Dominique Edwards from the tools used to seemingly eliminate them, and turned into sheets of paper.

On closer inspection, these sheets reveal a multitude of its separate components: eyelashes, cosmetics, grains of sand, diminished chewing gum wrappers and pubic hair. There is also glitter. And a surprising amount of it. Are these cosmetic ingredients? Or...perhaps meteorite particles?"

Extract from opening address by Nina Liebenberg, April 23, 2015 for Dominque Edwards's exhibition, Buikspraak/Gutspeak at Commune 1

"How to look at the night"

Extract from How to Use Your Eyes, 2007, written by James Elkins:

"Even fainter is the galactic light, a diffuse glow that scatters off the dust in the space between the stars. It is said to account for an additional 6 percent of the light of the night sky, too faint to be distinguished from the integrated starlight and the nightglow. Dust accounts for another of these nighttime lights, the zodiacal light. It is caused by the zodiacal cloud, the name astronomers give to the dust that orbits the sun along with the planets and asteroids. Sunlight that reflects off the zodiacal cloud is called zodiacal light" (Elkins 2000: 214 - 215).

Tom Friedman
Space Station
A space station made with objects found around the house, spray-painted with white enamel and suspended from the ceiling with monofilament.

A gold miner using a rock drill with a water spray in an attempt to prevent the occupational disease silicosis, caused by dust inhalation. 

Catalogue No:  R3-d55-0331    
Origin:  UCT Anat Path museum    
Old Museum No:  V:x:6    
Year:  not recorded

Clinical data:
No further clinical or laboratory details are available other than that the patient was an emaciated 50 year old man.

The specimens preserved are both lungs, the heart, kidneys, spleen and and portions of liver. In the thorax, both pleural cavities were completely obliterated by a fibrous pleurisy of long-standing and both lungs were universally adherent throughout. They were stripped off with difficulty and were found to have thickening of the pleura over the upper lobe on the left side and the upper and middle lobes on the right. The lower lobes on both sides were soft and spongy while the upper lobes were dense and firm on palpation but on section there was no cavitation and no evidence of tuberculosis. The left lung showed a dense fibrosis of the whole of the upper lobe and the upper third of the lower lobe; no crepitant lung tissue could be found in the upper lobe while the lower two-thirds of the lower was crepitant and showed emphysema of a hypertrophic nature. The lung was a dull brick colour and haematite dust flowed out with the fluid when the lung was sectioned. The right lung presented a similar appearance to the left. There was a solid dense fibrosis of the upper and middle lobes and the lower lobe showed fibrosis with hypertrophic emphysema. There was no evidence of tuberculosis and on palpation, a dense fibrosis was found with no nodular formation whatever. On section, it showed a similar appearance of a brick-dust colour, dilated bronchi and uniform fibrosis of the upper and middle lobes with no crepitant lung tissue. The pericardial sac was slightly increased in size due to a hypertrophied and dilated heart. The hypertrophy was mostly on the right side and there was a terminal dilatation of the right atrium; the valves and coronary vessels unremarkable.The liver was small and on section showed venous congestion and cloudy swelling.

On microscopy, sections of lung show a diffuse fibrosis of both upper lobes with no recognizable lung tissue. The fibrosis in areas has a slightly whorled arrangement, the centre of which is hyaline and contains no iron pigment and surrounding it is a zone of cellular tissue containing masses of iron. In the upper part of the lower lobe where the lung tissue is recognizable as such, a few nodules definitely resembling silica nodules are to be seen. In the both lower lobes a solid oedema was noted and emphysema marked. The fibrosis was not present to anything like the same extent in the lower lobes, the emphysema being the most marked feature. No evidence of tuberculosis was found in either lung, though a calcareous gland was found in the hilum. Under polarised light, the iron showed up as a golden brown with a few points of light, clear, needle-like in contra-distinction to the iron lying free in the fibrous tissue. The macrophages are beautifully shown lying inside the alveoli filled with iron dust. Percentage of Ash 16.6 Percentage of silica to ash 6.6 Percentage of silica to dry lung 1.1 Percentage of iron to ash 10.3 Percentage of iron to dry lung 6.7

In summary, the post mortem findings were of: Dense pulmonary fibrosis; hypertrophied and dilated right ventricle; failure of compensation. This condition is described as haematite miner's lung or sidero-silicosis, caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica and ferric oxide which is the principal component of the ore. The fibrosis is thought to be caused primarily by the silica and the exact role of the iron pigment in the pathogenesis of the lesion is not clear. The earliest lesions occur as small densely fibrous, sub-pleural foci usually in the upper lobes; these grow by coalescence of adjacent foci until a diffuse fibrosis of the whole lobe is produced. Haematite miner's fibrosis is commonly associated with tuberculosis and other chronic lung infections; in addition there is quite a high incidence of carcinoma of the lung reported in these cases.

Nina Liebenberg
2018 - 2019
Chest: a botanical ecology, Iziko South African  Museum

The cabinet featured below "extended the ideas of fragility and fallibility (...) through the display of five ‘breath sculptures’ made by the five individual breaths of a group of children who suffer from asthma: Thaakira Salie (age 8), Ziyaad Small (age 10), Blake Leppan (age 9) and Jessie Allot (age 11). Working in collaboration with the Allergy Foundation of South Africa and Andre de Jager, UCT’s resident glass blower in the Chemistry Department, I facilitated a workshop in which the children were taught the practice of blowing glass and produced their own sculptures through breathing into the molten glass. The breath sculptures made by these children were far removed from the functional bespoke glassware usually produced in the workshop for experiments in Chemistry as well as for those conducted in Physics and Chemical Engineering" (Liebenberg 2021: 263).

Gabrielle Orozco
Breath on a piano

Post from the Pathology Learning Centre's Instagram account, April 7, 2021

Extract from Bettie Higgs's reading of rocks in Visual Practices Across the University:

"Most of the rocks in this photograph are about 360 million years old, so the grains that comprise them are substantially older. The grains came originally from a mountain range, as large as the Himalayas, whose roots can still be seen in counties Mayo and Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland. The grains were carried south by rivers and deposited in this area; the smallest grains were carried all the way to the ocean, which was far south of Cork at the time, in what is now the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland. (There was very little rainfall at the time: the portion of land that is now Cork was 10° south of the Equator. This can be deduced from the properties of the iron in the rock.) The water in which the grains were transported was oxygenated, and the iron precipitated out as iron oxide (haematite), which cemented the grains and which accounts for the red color" (Elkins 2007: 74 - 78).

Robert Hooke

Engraving, magnified view of the forms of small diamonds or shining sparks in flints (fig. 1), "the forms of gravel in urine (fig. 2), and a variety of regular for resulting from various combinations of globules (fig. 3, 4)"; Schem. 5.

From 'Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and Inquiries thereupon' by Robert Hooke, Fellow of the Royal Society, 1665.

In 2008, the exhibition Unconquerable Spirit: George Stow and the landscapes of the San opened at the Iziko Museum of South Africa. Curated by Pippa Skotnes, the exhibition featured the work of a relatively unknown figure in 19th century South African history. George William Stow was a British born, South African geologist, ethnologist, poet, historian, artist, cartographer, and writer who was responsible for a creating large collection of watercolours and drawings that documented the rock art he found in the caves and shelters of South Africa. The exhibition brought together a vast range of materials representing Stow’s life and the period in which it was produced – from his drawings and paintings; his letters, documents, and poems; to his maps, and field diaries.

The display shows one map in particular which is kept as part of the National Library of South Africa collections, and was drawn by Stow during the period he was conducting geological surveys of the country surrounding the diamond fields of Kimberley, down to the junction of the Orange and Vaal rivers and beyond. It shows amongst other things, the diamondiferous deposits of the Vaal river during the late 19th century and, as part of this section of the exhibition which focused on Stow the geologist, Skotnes displayed it alongside relevant disciplinary materials she sourced from the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Educational graphs spotted en route down to the Mantle Room, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town

Situated in the bowels of the Leslie Social Sciences Building on upper campus, the Mantle Room "houses a collection of upper mantle-derived materials (mantle xenoliths and xenocrysts, kimberlites and related rocks and megacrysts, as well as deep crystal xenoliths) that is most likely the largest of its kind. The collection was assembled over the past 50 years and has been and continues to be an invaluable and irreplaceable resource for mantle research. Informally named the “Mantle Room” collection, it is maintained under the auspices of the Department of Geological Sciences”(Department of Geological Sciences 2021).

“The initial impetus for establishing a collection of mantle materials for research purposes in South Africa was provided by Gardner Williams and his son Alpheus Williams in the late 19th and early 20th century. These two American mining engineers shared a great interest in the mining methods and geology of the South African kimberlite-hosted diamond mines they were supervising. Each wrote books on the subject and the two men assembled a collection of scientifically interesting rock samples and minerals from the mines. Subsequent to the death of Alpheus Williams, the Williams family donated this collection to the Geology Department at UCT for teaching and research purposes” (Department of Geological Sciences 2021).

The man who consolidated thousands of small diggings in Kimberley to found De Beers Consolidated Mines was Cecil Rhodes, who then used the profits to extend into gold mining in and around Johannesburg.

Extract from Ritchie, W. 1918. The History of the SA College: 1829-1918. Cape Town: Maskew Miller. 495 – 496.

“UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College, a high school for boys.

The College had a small tertiary-education facility that grew substantially after 1880, when the discovery of gold and diamonds in the north – and the resulting demand for skills in mining – gave it the financial boost it needed to grow.

The College developed into a fully fledged university during the period 1880 to 1900, thanks to increased funding from private sources and the government.

During these years, the College built its first dedicated science laboratories, and started the departments of mineralogy and geology to meet the need for skilled personnel in the country's emerging diamond and gold-mining industries” (University of Cape Town 2021).

George Stow. 1878. 'Geological Map of the Vaal River, from Fourteen Streams to the Kareyn Poort shewing the Various Formations, and the Positions of the Diamantiferous Deposits. Sheet No 11'. National Library

"Stow’s discovery of coal deposits in 1878, found in the beds of the Vaal River,  was of interest to the diamond magnate, Sammy Marks. Marks realised the importance of Stow’s discovery and the opportunity for using coal at the Kimberley diamond fields for energy generation (Leigh, 1968:112). He  believed he could transport the coal from Vereeniging to Kimberley by floating it down-river by a series of weirs to his diamond claims. This turned out to be impractical and he had to resort to using ox-wagons as a method of transport instead (Leigh 1968:17).

Marks & Lewis who at that time owned a quarter of all the Kimberley diamond claims, sold most of their Kimberley claims to concentrate on the coal finds through their newly formed mining company, the Zuid-Afrikaansche en Oranje Vrystaatsche Mineralen en Mijnbouvereeniging (later to become the Vereeniging Estates Limited). In 1892, the small village of Vereeniging was formally established". 

Extract from Liebenberg, N. 2021. Stow: a geological fieldguide of UCT. Digital Bleek and Lloyd.  

Barkly Bridge over the Vaal River and a barge
Woodburytype, 1888, after a photograph by Robert Harris.  

Dominque Edwards
Vaal river mud on paper

Sharpeville, 21 March 1960

The predominantly black community of Sharpeville was established near Vereeniging. On the 21st of March, 68 years after Vereeniging was first established, the Sharpeville massacre occurred.

This object, a leather cartridge case said to belong to Sammy Marks,  occupies a place in the Special Collections of the University of Cape Town. It forms part of the Sammy Marks Papers (BC770).

The train crossing the Vaal bridge in the picture was the funeral train of Paul Kruger, the former president of the ZAR. He died in 1904 in Switzerland and his remains were taken to Pretoria.

Devils Bridge sketched by Lister on his travels through Europe showing a bridge crossing the Gotthard Pass, nothern approach, Switzerland.

The term 'devil's bridge' is applied to many ancient bridges found primarily in Europe. These were stone or masonry arch bridges and, because they represented a significant technological achievement in ancient architecture, were objects  of fascination and stories. The most popular of these featured the Devil, either as the builder of the bridge (relating to the precariousness or impossibility of such a bridge to last or exist in the first place) or as a pact-maker (sharing the necessary knowledge to build the bridge, usually in exchange for the communities souls). The legend attached to the bridge sketched by Lister is of the latter, and was related by Johann Jakob Scheuchzer in 1716. 

According to Scheuchzer, the people of Uri recruited the Devil for the difficult task of building the bridge. In return for his expertise, the Devil requested the soul of the first thing to pass the bridge. To trick the Devil, the people of Uri sent across a dog by throwing a piece of bread, and the dog was promptly torn to pieces by the Devil. 

The Tacoma narrows Bridge, 7 November 1940

The old Tacoma Narrows bridge was named Galloping Gertie because it vibrated rather strongly whenever there was a little wind due to resonance, the property which most objects have, of vibrating more strongly when exposed to an external force which is itself vibrating at the object's natural frequency. 

Crossing Gertie was actually quite a popular thing to do, similar to riding a roller-coaster. On November 7, 1940, things changed for the worse however. It was a day of rather high winds which caused Gertie to take on a 30-hertz transverse vibration with an amplitude of 1½ feet. This developed into a twisting motion of about 14 hertz, which then tore the bridge in two.

​The only victim of the disaster was a three-legged Cocker Spaniel, Tubby,  left in the back seat of a lone car abandoned on the bridge. 

Image from page 137 of the Curiosity CLXXV catalogue, describing resonance and its application in MRI technology.

In Resonance and Wonder Greenblatt discusses  ‘resonant’ moments in regards to museum displays as “those in which the supposedly contextual objects take on a life of their own and make a claim that rivals that of the object that is formally privileged. A table, a chair, a map — often seemingly placed only to provide a decorative setting for a grand work — become oddly expressive, significant not as a background but as compelling representational practices in themselves. These practices may in turn impinge on the grand work, so that we begin to glimpse a kind of circulation: the cultural practice and social energy implicit in mapmaking is drawn into the aesthetic orbit of a painting, which has itself enabled us to register some of the representational significance of the map” (1991: 22- 23). For him a resonant exhibition often “pulls the viewer away from the celebration of isolated objects and toward a series of implied, only half-visible relationships and questions” (1991: 23).

Nina Liebenberg
Flight patterns of Atrial Septal (ASD) and Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD), Patent Ductus Arteriosus(PDA), and Aortic Valve Stenosis (AVS).

Demonstration of sympathetic vibration using the optical (flame) microphone

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