Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Reality Of Nature (News)

In the previous post, “Is it Real?” I posted a picture of a taxidermy mount showing a tiger fighting a python. The question was intended to replicate that of many visitors to museums, particularly children. I was delighted at the responses.We can approach the question from many different angles. At the most basic level, of course it’s real. It’s a physical object standing there in front of you. This isn’t The Matrix, how more real do you want? But in another sense, it’s not real. These are not living animals, just their skin and fur. There is no life left, and so perhaps the ‘reality’ has been removed. But those are two ends of the spectrum. Matt Williams, in commenting on the previous post, addressed this “yes and no” perfectly. When we talk of this specific piece, the question of reality is first addressed by its original owner. The piece was displayed in William Bullock’s London Museum around 1813. When this collection was being sold in 1819, in a letter to Robert Jameson of the University of Edinburgh, Bullock referred to the tiger/python as being the only fake in the collection. So we can see its owner and vendor does not consider it real. Firstly, the python itself is a composite, with two separate bodies joined to make a longer snake. The head is entirely a construct, made of painted wood. So, to Bullock, this made the specimen a fake, something decidely unreal. Secondly, the scene itself is labelled as artificial. The 1893 label suggests taking the piece as an example of the skill of the taxidermist, not a representation of any real event. So we have an artificial scene, and at least one partially artificial animal. So surely it’s not real? I would argue the reality of this artefact comes from its history. It may have been very artificial when made, but in the 197 years since it has acquired a ‘new’ reality.

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