SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET Klaus Pichler
RESPECTING OBJECTS Herbert Justnik
Is an essay supposed to start with the author getting caught up in looking at a picture of the head taxidermist’s stuffed dog while leafing through the collection of photographs he is writing about? Well, why not? Klaus Pichler’s photographs from the depots of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna touch on so many stories and create such a dense and far reaching network that this coincidental moment may well be an adequate introduction. It actually turns out not to be that much of a coincidence at all as viewers are immediately gripped by what they see – a coincidence that stops them in the tracks – and it takes a while to fully comprehend. So, the model of a not particularly attractive dog, probably quite old at its moment of passing, comes with a personal story reaching far beyond the fact that it belonged to the sub species of domestic dogs. We know that the reason for this creature to be placed in the museum is its relationship to the head taxidermist. In this case, the abstract order of the museum and of sciences in general is confronted with a specific case.
Historically, one of the predominant functions of museums is the sorting and classification of phenomena – in this case phenomena which are traditionally described as ‚nature‘. This is captured in all its glory in Pichler’s photographs of butterflies, pinned down in neat rows in display cabinets. There are several stories about them, including accounts of when, how and by whom these insects were captured, for example. We rarely know them, however, as many are hidden away on index cards in archives and are usually not shared with the public by museum staff. We do know the one about the head taxidermist’s dog, however. It draws attention to the concealed idiosyncrasy of things – of the fact that museums present a certain kind of orderliness as a natural pheno menon which, in fact, was only created by the sciences and the museum. The dog alerts to this historically contingent situation which started to be enforced in the 18th century. Only then sciences according to modern day structures started to form and only then did museums become established as institutions which played a major part in the formation and stabilization of the newly developing nations. If museums are all about categorization and, beyond this, generalized knowledge, why is so much effort involved in the presentation of exhibits? Why is a lion presented ready to pounce, a bear on a platform designed to depict its natural habitat and why does the museum take pride in the fact that the zebra’s display cabinet contains genuine animal faeces? Indeed, museums are not merely centers of the collection and classification of objects and the creation of knowledge, they also serve the purpose of d isplaying and showcasing exhibits. Devised classifica tions are distributed and rehearsed. The animals had to be killed, taken out of their original context and immobilized in order to make them accessible to scientific examination which causes their inherent con nections to be revealed. Only then can they be lead back to the museum display of a secondary natural order. This, however, is only a narrative pattern. This method of bringing to life the dissected is one of the main narrative threads of Klaus Pichler’s photographs. When he captures a coincidental encounter between a fox and a fawn in a depot, it may not be as much of a coincidence as it seems as it is the photographer who sees and demonstrates – a doubling of the museum’s showcasing function which highlights the fact that the gesture of s howcasing was attributed to these stuffed animals and objects, only waiting to be noticed. Not only museum staff which are involved in institutional conventions have a tendency to reanimate exhibits, however, the photographer equally does so and we go along with this in our role as spectators. This offers the opportunity to make a
connection to the hegemonic history of museums as places which were, and still are, major contributors to the strengthening of structures which are now outdated or, at the very least, highly controversial. Nonetheless, they are outdated structures. The perception that humans are the jewel in the crown of evolution has been questioned for a good while, the racist and sexist narratives, a constant thread running through museums, are being rewritten – also in displays – and it is a constant subject of debate whether animals are really just objects without rights. Structures like these do still exist, however, and even seem to see a revival in some places, but we may see these photographs in a different light: as an attempt, framed by the eye of the photographer, to draw attention to a certain kind of respect for objects and to highlight that it is not ‚just‘ dead animals we are confronted with but that it is, indeed, dead animals.
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
Photos by Klaus Pichler, 2009–2012 First Edition, 2013 ISBN: 978-3-200-03097-8 Print Run: 750 copies Graphic Design & Layout: Klaus Pichler, Roland Hörmann (www.phospho.at) Texts: Julia Edthofer, Herbert Justnik, Klaus Pichler Translations: Christiane Pichler Printing: Holzhausen Druck GmbH, Wolkersdorf (www.holzhausen.at)
Thanks to: My parents Christine & Peter Pichler, my sisters Regina, Christiane & Maria Lisa Pichler, my grandmother Elisabeth Lozej, Heidi Kubart, Julia Edthofer, Herbert Justnik, Roland Hörmann, Melanie Pilat, the staff of the Natural History Museum Vienna, especially Christian Köberl, Reinhard Golebiowski, Irina Kubadinow, Silke Schweiger & Alexander Bibl, Regina Anzenberger, Agnes Reinthaler, Alexandra Rockelmann, Waltraud Sommer, Eva Lerbscher, Anzenberger Gallery, Rockelmann& Gallery, anika handelt Gallery, Photo Festival Belfast, Circulations Festival Paris, Photo Annual Award Teplice, Voies Off Festival Arles, Delhi Photo Festival, Clemens Marschall & Rokko’s Adventures, Flo Rainer, Andi Jakwerth, Lorenz Graf, Philip Stroomberg, Irene Bittner & all the friends and supporters, clients, buyers and exhibition visitors: Thank you!
www.kpic.at All rights reserved © Klaus Pichler, 2013
This project was funded by Land Steiermark – Kultur & Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur