DESCRIBING THE SHADOWS, 2010-11

In CURIOUSER: New Encounters with the Victorian Natural History Collection

Six Installations, curated by Eric Carlson and Erica Carpenter

THE PROVIDENCE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, Providence, Rhode Island
 

In this installation I was inspired by the multitude of bird skins in the Museum’s collection. The skins were gathered for study purposes, and not meant to be exhibited.

The title of the installation comes from a 1936 essay by the French philosopher, Roger Caillois, which is introduced by a quote from the 19th century poet Baudelaire, and footnoted referencing another 19th century French poet, Rimbaud.

Caillois’ text weaves together strands of thought related to research, art, science and society, formulated under the imminent threat of Fascism. The text is complex, but presents important late 19th century and early 20th century ideas, equally relevant today.

The entrance area of the Museum is already heavily embedded with historical, philosophical and religious imagery and texts. This installation is an invitation to a different “reading” of the artistic and scientific study of nature and culture.

The text also expresses a deep disappointed with Surrealism and its promise of new reality. It questions art as a means of investigation, but perhaps not as a means of revolt.

The bird skins could be read as a metaphor for ideas that once were alive and “able to fly,” but are now no more than empty, albeit, beautiful and alluring feather dresses. 

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