After gobbling up dim sum over on Baker street we meandered about and passed by the Wellcome Collection. We decided to wander into Making Nature: how we see animals. An unintentional exhibition visit seems to bring a magic to it just because I had not anticipated or expected anything.
I told myself that I would visit this exhibition differently than I normally do. I would glide through. I would not read every panel, I would not examine each item closely. I wanted to just experience it. This to me was a great way to encounter Making Nature.
Marcus Coates’ collaboration with Volker Sommer was a striking and powerful way to begin with a full wall of questions about shared traits between homini apes: humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees, (eg. Do you remember things from your past? Do you shake your fists in anger? Do you perform oral sex?). I’m not so shocked that we’re not so different in our actions, abilities to form memories, but I am definitely amused. Palette whetted and interest piqued.
I stepped into the first room and one of the first things I am drawn to is a list of animal classifications that Jorge Borges references from a fictional”Chinese encyclopaedia”:
(a) those that belong to the Emperor
(b) embalmed ones
(c) those that are trained
(d) suckling pigs
(f) fabulous ones
(g) stray dogs
(h) those that are included in the present classification
(i) those that tremble as if they are mad
(j) innumerable ones
(k) those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
(m) those that have just broken a flower vase
(n) those that look like flies from a long way off
I saw this list first in college, and stumbling across it again, here, felt a little like giggling at an old joke or satisfying symmetry. I’m not sure if making nature had the whole list printed on the wall, but either way, it’s brilliant. We humans are magnificently ridiculous and arbitrary, and this list pokes at our idea of science and defining nature.
From some beautiful legless birds of paradise to taxidermied squirrels playing cards, to a tiger lapping up water in an apartment, our attempts at displaying nature feel so sad and absurd.
We attribute so much romanticism to the idea of the wild. We have romanticized what, from our moral, human perspective, is brutal and necessary for survival. We are animals ourselves, but we don’t know how we fit into it all, into our planet, into relationships with other animals. Why do we still tend to have a post-imperial attitude towards animals? Sorry for keeping you in a metal cage, bro, here’s a fake mountain with a “stream” pumped from municipal water, it’s just like Africa. I think that deserves a good pat on the back.
Image and video from Wellcome Collection.