Barbed wire cuts across more than just property, war and politics. This most vicious tool of control has played a critical role in the modern experience, be it territorial expansion or the settlement of local and international conflicts. However, it has other histories: those constructed through image and text in the arts, media and popular culture. These representations – in painting, photography, poetry, personal memoirs, cartoons, novels, advertisements and film – have never before been critically examined. In this book, Alan Krell investigates the place barbed wire holds in the social imagination.
Invented in France in 1860, barbed wire was developed independently in the USA, where it was used to control livestock on the Great Plains, both to "keep out" and "keep in". Promoted as the Ideal Fence, barbed wire’s menacing qualities were soon made manifest. The epithet, "The Devil’s Rope", anticipated its transformation into a tool of war in the late 19th and early 20th century. Henceforth, it would become synonymous with repression. Barbed wire’s conflicting character makes it an appropriate symbol of modernity, and Krell shows how the use of this symbolism in contemporary art has given barbed wire meanings beyond the historical and political realms.
The foot—we know it well. Small or large, attractive or unsightly, clean-smelling or foul, it is quite literally the support that carries us through the day. But while the foot may seem nothing more than banal and basic, this familiar assemblage of heel and toes also treads unlikely ground. Some of these sites are real, others are imaginary, and in this quirky and surprising history, Alan Krell strolls the many planes of the foot’s meaning. Looking at the absurd and abject, the innocent and the nastily subversive, the romantic and fetishistic, Krell reevaluates the foot’s place in society and frames it as a thing both commonplace and exceptional.
The Mummy’s Foot and the Big Toe explores the innumerable appearances of the foot in literature, photography, art, sports, and film. Walk with Krell as he discovers gothic tales by French writer Théophile Gautier, disturbing photographs by François Boiffard, and religious paintings by Giotto, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio that all exalt the foot. Marvel with him at the sporting exploits of elite barefoot runners such as Abebe Bikila and Zola Budd, and the surprising representation of the foot in films such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Kill Bill. Blending insights from the humanities, language studies, the social sciences, and anthropology, and presenting a wealth of tantalizing new images and ideas of the foot, The Mummy’s Foot and the Big Toe will help us all to be better acquainted with the soul and sole of our bottom-most appendage.