Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Death Diorama

Someone just tweeted me with this question:

@ arresting nature-supernature via taxidermy, how we manufacture nat space for our benefit. Thoughts?

Included in the tweet was the picture above.  So here are some thoughts as requested.

First it's a diorama. Now these objects are very interestingly aestheticized. They are post-Romantic period; they are trying to evoke something beyond the aesthetics of the picturesque, yet they are still a sort of picture (the scene in this picture, I mean, is carefully constructed to appear natural). You are invited to study the scene from many angles rather than just one, to approach the things in the image from the viewpoint of a fascinated scientist. Hence the popularity of dioramas in natural history museums.

I like how the ambient early dawn light (I think, or late evening light) gives a feeling of being surrounded, bathed. Again, the effect is very kinesthetic, 3-D, wraparound, rather than static and picturesque. It's a sort of cinema image condensed into a static image. 

Now everything in this diorama is dead, yet designed to give the uncanny sensation of life. This double edge always makes me feel weird. I am looking at the corpse of a bird, posed as if alive.

Of course this is heightened by the deliberate placing of human industrial detritus in the heron's nest. I'm not quite sure from the image but it appears that the heron's legs are wrapped in plastic.

The image implicates us in guilt. I believe the implication is that the scientific gaze kills and fixes the heron just as the detritus destroyed her and her lifeworld. It's a compelling image. Why do I keep looking at it again and again? Is it simply the message? The message seems obvious. There is a disturbing compulsion, true, about realizing that as you enjoy the image over and over you are complicit in a culture of death. I also like how the image utilizes kitsch rather than trying to rise above it. It goes along with it, in a kind of judo.

Maybe the most suggestive part isn't the nest filled with human made objects. Maybe it's the sudden way in which this world, this diorama just floats in front of a cloudless sky, like a stage set. The way this aspect of the image works reminds me of Henri Rousseau's Carnival Evening, which I spent a whole hour with in the excellent company of Graham Harman:

See what I mean? Those two figures stand almost at the edge of a tiny world, behind which is a twilight space. It's as if they are at the back edge of a stage set. Rousseau interrupts our need for a convincingly deep world, but with a kind of friendly menace rather than the heavy handed aggression of pure abstraction. A frozen moment of drama, a disturbing strangeness, clownlike.

I guess what I'm saying is that I really like the image that David Farrell sent me.

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