• Carmen Marie Fabio

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Like any mother, mine, a former journalist herself, duly clips out all my articles and columns and keeps them in a scrapbook, refusing – akin to many of her generation – to read them online, preferring the tactile experience of paper. And that generational divide recently resurfaced when she chastised me for using the word ‘penis’ in my column in reference to a game of challenge and dare described by my youngest son.

The subject again came to a head this week when I perused the upcoming choices for Hudson’s annual Documentary Film Festival that, this year, among the usual fascinating selection of offerings, from Art and Craft all about fine art forgery to the Academy Award nominated Citizen four chronicling the American techie who leaked classified info to mainstream media, includes a little film titled The Final Member. This film explores a tiny museum in Husavik, Iceland reportedly devoted exclusively to, “painstakingly preserved male genitalia.”

The curated collection includes samples from across the fauna spectrum, from field mice to killer whales, though is missing the most coveted specimen of all represented by an empty glass jar – the human.

The film poster brought to mind a classmate when I was completing my undergrad degree in design years ago. Maria (let’s just call her ‘Crazy Maria’) was stumped on an assignment with the annoyingly vague description of ‘Venus and Mars’ that had to incorporate a form of containment. While some classmates explored the male/female aspects associated with the title, I went for a literal representation of the planets (throwing in Earth for balance) and built a three-dimensional micro-ecological model of the respective planets’ surfaces. I was about to be way out-done.

Maria took a long time and finally opted to approach the assignment after reinterpreting its name. ‘Venus and Mars,’ through a likely alcohol-infused logic lens, became rechristened as ‘Penis in Jars’ and that’s exactly what Maria built. A fine wooden shelving unit stacked with plaster-cast phalluses (reportedly taken from a group of friends) each standing erect in a Mason jar, and painted a bright colour, just for effect. The final jar stood empty with the teacher’s name written on the label affixed to the lid. Saying it was far too political to grade, he refused to mark it but Maria’s efforts achieved exactly what a good design project should by promoting discourse and controversy though, unfortunately, causing the foreign exchange student to uncomfortably leave the room.

I’ve long since lost touch with Maria but hold many memories, not the least of which was her quirky, unconventional approach to an assignment that not only stepped outside traditional boundaries but also brought us all along with her for the ride.

It’s a good memory. Just don’t tell my mom.

For more info on the Hudson Doc Fest, consult www.hudsonfilmsociety.ca/docfest.htm

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