Monday, 1 July 2013

Skeletons in the Closet

Skeletons in the Closet is the latest book by Klaus Pichler (who did this story on Viennese Allotments - I love stories on allotments - and One Third, his series of Rotting Vegetables).

Skeletons in the Closet features photographs from the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, photographs of stuffed animals that are found moments of out-of-placeness. Pichler explains in the book that exhibits are continually being moved to special exhibitions, cleaned, loaned, returned and retired. Whatever archiving and storage system a museum has, it is almost inevitable that something will be out-of-place at some time. Skeletons in the Closet shows those out-of-place moments - some of which last only a few minutes, some of which become almost permanent informal displays.

So we see a badger looking into a mirror held up by a monkey, two wolves staring down a dog and a giant toad sitting on a filing cabinet next to a radiator (all these animals are stuffed). These are found compositions but you do get the feeling that at times staff have put things into particular places, as with the roaring bear facing a door or the three neanderthal figures sitting on the green leather sofa and chair seemingly arguing the toss about some bureaucratic matter or other. These have almost become part of the museum staff but the reason for their presence in the office is quite simple - they '...had been returned from a special exhibition... but were due to be loaned to another museum two weeks later. So, instead of transporting them all the way to the basement storage depot for this short space of time, they were simply placed in the most convenient location close by; the sofa in the office of the head of department.'

When the exhibits are taken out of their natural museum siting (which is not natural at all), they gain a new life and (as an accompanying essay indicates) new possibilities and meaning come to the surface. They also reveal something about how institutional spaces are made and the frames of meaning that are built into them - and deconstructed in Pichler's photographs. This deconstruction ties in with Pichler's other projects, projects which are all to do with the awkward, constructed fragility of the places we inhabit, the food we eat or the cities we create. It's work where one project connects and builds on another, and gets more complex in time - but is also very simple and direct, a commentary on the absurdity of the worlds we make and how we believe in them.

The book of Skeletons in the Closet is also very simple and direct, but is beautifully made with a hard cardboard cover with a cut-out window for a bear to roar through.

Buy the book here.

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