So I gathered up the three kids and we all went to Rosny Barn to view the exhibit Memoriam, by Launceston artist Amelia Rowe. This was described on the Facebook Event page as “bringing together of taxidermy and personal narrative. Transforming Rosny Barn into a walk-in memento mori, into a place to contemplate the relationship between humans and animals.” In this, Amelia Rowe succeeded admirably.
The first thing to ask my children then was, what is taxidermy? From the Greek taxis (arranging the battle order) and derma (skin) - taxidermy is the arrangement of skins. We discussed the various uses of taxidermy, for example in a museum, if a beloved pet has died. Like in an episode of New Tricks, where the greyhound trainer had the bodies of her champions displayed in her office.
It occurred to me that with all the death littering the sides of our roads my children have seen, for example, more dead wombats -- two on a recent trip to Nugent -- than wild wombats.
What is meant by memento mori? We warmed our hands over the wood fire brazier. Misquoting Tertullian in his Apologeticus (33.4) we get "Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!" This is the chant a slave would whisper into the ear of the triumphal general. “Look behind you! Remember you are mortal, remember you must die.” - More or less.
And we wandered about -- Would you like this or that piece in the house? -- and talked about Victorian traditions, postmortem portraits, black ribbons, mutes, and more. All these crystalline jet Victorian mournings were most likely the source of my association of the work Tinkerbell with the Lewis Carroll Duchess and Pig poem.
Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes
he only does it to annoy
because he knows it teases.
I greatly enjoyed a piece called Stolen Memories. This image of the ancient, wise, cunning, majestic Crow rising skyward, carrying a trail of stolen nests, an egg in her mouth, allowed the viewer room to add layers of meaning. Trickster crow, or the crow as an omen of death?
And many of the works whispered covert to me, requesting my touch. I abstained.
Lucian's description of the place of punishment on the Isle of the Damned: “for on this ground daggers, razors, spikes, stakes, thorns everywhere bloomed like flowers.” Two rainbow lorikeets arranged on a dead, trimmed, painted rose bush.
So we talked about the art works, the youngest girl ran outside and made friends with some other girls and they played their follow the leader games. We read through the catalog and we were surprised at times by the distance between the ideas that came into our heads looking at the art, and the descriptions by the artist.
This thinking about things can be a way of looking deeper into the art work, it is a type of taxidermy, in the sense that the viewer is forced to order, to arrange, their skin in response to the art, the raw and the cooked. For art can make one a seer, a type of divinator “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.”
But we agreed that in the same way that art can be more than the traditional practice of oil on canvas, or pencil on paper, so to the viewer is not constrained by one single manner of seeing.
And then we got ice cream and drove home and my pal was, after a hot shower and a glass of wine, feeling better.
More information and contact details and etc can be found on Amelia Rowe's blog.