The Museum of Copulatory Organs

How cool is science? How cool is art? How supercool is it when they get together in mind-boggling ways? This is what happened with one of the art installations at the 2012 Biennale in one of the old warehouse spaces on Cockatoo Island. The creators are Maria Fernanda Cardoso and Ross Rudesch Harley.

The artist made replicas of insect, spider and mollusc reproductive organs, and pollen, using ceramics, glass, resin and 3D printing, based on electron microscope and other images of them. There was also a giant video of stick insects mating.

Artists’ statement

Each set of models had accompanying quick facts about the creature illustrated. For instance, here’s the display about the harvestman, an arthropod often mistaken for a spider. This display was about 3 metres long …

Artist’s depiction of the male genitalia of a harvestman

… and included fun facts …

General penile functions – more than you’d think

More harvestmen male genitals of different species …

Harvestmen male genitals – the electron microscope images on which they are based are in the foreground

Spermatophores are popular with invertebrate males (spiders, insects) – they are capsules or masses containing sperm, which are transferred whole to the female’s genitals. Here are glass models of some spermatophores of pseudoscorpions …

Glass models of pseudoscorpion spermatophores

Salamanders use spermatophores, too …

Glass model of salamander spermatophores

Fruit flies apparently have the longest sperm in the animal kingdom …

Model of fruit fly sperm

How to do it if you are a damsel fly …

Model of damsel fly penis, with handy instructions

The weevil penis is apparently the spiniest in the world …

Electron micrograph of a weevil penis

Model of weevil penis based on electron micrograph

You’d never think that the somewhat dull-looking Sydney Harbour snails …

Sydney Harbour snails

… would have such curlicule genitals …

Electron micrographs of Sydney Harbour snail genitals

While we’re on the subject of snails, some species make “love darts” …

Snail “love dart” models

Snails are hermaphrodites, and the darts, which don’t have to go anywhere in particular but just lodge in the flesh of the partner, apparently increase the survival rate of the sperm of the “archer”. The courtship of snails is a protracted affair – you can read about it here.

The plant kingdom was not left out – here are models of pollen grains, each about the size of a large orange …

Ceramic models of pollen grains

You can listen to the podcast about this work here.

I had a Gary Larson (Far Side) moment when I overheard one of the many schoolgirls viewing the exhibit eeww-ing over a particularly intricate piece of insectoid male equipment. I imagined said insect looking at human reproductive structures, pulling a face and going eeww, too.

[Update: If you like interesting museums and things that make you go ‘eeww’, there’s one in Tokyo on parasites: check the link here.]

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4 Responses to The Museum of Copulatory Organs

  1. kathy says:

    Done it again, Joy, with your usual meticulously crafted narrative, plus eye-popping pics!

  2. Alan Sandercock says:

    They’d never allow this in Georgia! 🙂 Just kidding of course. I’m most impressed by the excellent set of photos. I presume you took most of the photos. It really would have been hard (no pun intended!) to describe some of these specimens without showing pictures or same.

    • Joy Window says:

      Thanks, Alan! Yes, I took the photos. I was surprised they turned out not too badly – it was a really difficult environment for photography. As always, photos don’t really do justice to “being there”. This is a travelling exhibition, so maybe you could get one of your museums to invite the artist over – even in Georgia!

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