Thursday 12 September 2013


This week I went along to Orange Regional Gallery to see Rod Mcrae's extraordinary exhibition Wunderkammer (The Cabinet of Wonders). I knew a little bit about it from media articles, and knew it would be special. But it was beyond special.  I had the most amazing experience I've ever had in an art gallery. It was visceral, like a kick in the guts actually.

Rod McRae is a Sydney artist who makes extraordinary, thought provoking sculptures from ethically sourced animal skins. They are the results of death by natural causes, medical euthanasia, hunting, culling and food production. He uses them to make us think long and hard about global warming, habitat destruction, pollution, hunting, population dynamics and our own all too human behaviours.

Crying out loud in the age of stupid 2010
As you walk into the exhibition you see many things, but this young male polar bear (hunted by an Inuit community for meat, and the skin traded) teetering on the brink of cataclysm caused by refrigeration stopped me in my tracks. Polar bears may be extinct in the wild in our lifetimes. It is awful beyond sad. 

Operation Foxtrot 2010
With Operation Foxtrot Rod McRae is putting foxes into human environments to question whose populations are out of control, and who is the real vermin. 

One of the most surprising works for me. 

Pacemakers 2011
Here he is questioning the expense of pacemakers in our health system (each figure is holding a pacemaker removed from a deceased person), the inequity of access to pacemakers in the third world, and the possible reuse of pacemakers (something I'd never heard about before). The work also illustrates "the uneasy relationship between scientist, doctor, patient and the victims of experimentation- the animal".

The Case of the Laughing Hyena 2012
A rather confronting display where a typical museum glass case is turned into a crime scene. A young boy visiting at the same time as me was greatly moved by this display. "This work asks us to think about how we represent nature often in sanitized, ordered worlds. The reality is often messy, violent and visceral. Animals do not live by human morals, standards or values." Which is pretty much why I have a hard time watching nature documentaries these days. 

War and Peace 2010
Magellanic penguins- native to the Falkland Islands, Chile and Argentina, nesting on toy soldiers. "Even in peace the actions of man weigh heavily on the survival of many species as a result of climate change, land clearing, over fishing and pollution. This work speaks of nature's ability to adapt against, and in spite of the tide of human activity that seeks to strangle it."

Are you my mother? 2010
An extremely moving 'family' group where the adults are only represented by trophy heads. 

Return to Sender 2012
Also very disturbing. Here twelve penguins are wrapped ready to send to the leading Natural History Museums of the world. This work is said to represent the plundering of Australia's native populations for museum use- dissection, classification and display. I'm a bit torn about this one, museums do perform an important role, particularly in recent times, historically it may have been more plundering than benefit.

Born Free 2013
Named for the iconic movie of course, Born Free explores wild animals and subjugation and domestication of certain species. The artist said that he studied the behaviour of his cat in posing the lion. He's contrasting the typical aggressive posing of lions with the playfulness of a domestic cat lolling about on a bed. It's a very striking work. 

Z is for Zebra
Z is for Zebra explores animals raised specifically to be hunted for pleasure in America. It references a number of biblical passages and organisations. This zebra was bought on ebay! It had never occurred to me that you could buy a zebra on ebay. Another modern tragedy.

Untitled (with toxic additives) 2012

I'm always a bit disappointed at Untitled as a title for a work of art. Particularly in this exhibition, as most of the titles of these works are important, apt and added to my understanding of the works. Here five penguins skeletons are filled with plastics to draw attention to the horrific Pacific Garbage Patch- estimated to be the size of France! The exhibition said there is a similar sized disaster in the Atlantic Ocean. Birds eating plastics is a very real problem.

Serengeti 2012
I think I found Serengeti the most disturbing overall. The antelope here are bodies discarded after their heads have been taken for trophies. It was haunting.

There are many other fascinating works- the dome series are particularly brilliant. Mere pictures can't express the feeling of what it was like being in the gallery space with these sculptures, with these animals. For the first part of my visit I was the only person there, I was glad for the solitude actually.

Go see it for yourself if you can, Wunderkammer is touring regional NSW and Queensland- I can't find a schedule online though. I'll certainly be going back, and taking Master Wicker although I'm not sure how he'll react (you can check out a video of the exhibition being installed here).

Orange Regional Gallery
Byng St, Orange
Until October 13
Tuesday-Saturday 10-5
Sundays/Public Holidays 12-4
Free entry


The Daemon said...

Looks amazing! Glad to see that in this day and age of digital visual overload that a young person had a visceral reaction to a solid, 3D object.

skiourophile said...

That sounds like a challenging exhibition - the bit about the pacemakers is fascinating; I guess if we can reuse organs, then mechanical bits and pieces shouldn't be different. The question of who gets to reuse them is an interesting one.