Rod McRae’s exhibition Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders uses the unlikely art of taxidermy to discuss conservation issues, climate change and animal/human relations.
The work itself transcends space in many ways,” McRae says. “It’s somewhere between a travelling zoo, a sculpture show, a conservation show and a natural host show. It’s a strange hybrid.” McRae’s interest in taxidermy dates back to his 20s when he and his brother set up a shop in Sydney called Animal Fetish. It was around this time that taxidermy was having somewhat of a revival and even became quite trendy. In Wunderkammer, McRae uses a range of pieces that have been repurposed – some pieces are second-hand others new. “None of the animals have been killed for the purpose of the work,” McRae says. “I’m very particular about where the skins come from and, where possible, I try and leave the history of the animal and its demise in the work itself so it has a little more authenticity.” The essence of taxidermy – the idea of immortalising these animals – is by no means lost in McRae’s work but he comes at it from a di fferent perspective. “It’s like the animal tells its story beyond the grave,” he says. “ The idea is to use the taxidermy or the actual animal skins, the real animal, as a means of telling real stories and asking people to think carefully about their relationships with non-human species.” While some people might initially find the use of taxidermy uncomfortable and a little shocking, once they get past that and read the text that accompanies the work, it’s clear what McRae is trying to say. “ The exhibition has been a very engaging way of talking about conservation issues,” he says. “I’ve been enormously interested in nature and I’m really interested in the narrative, issues around animals and their stories.” For example the work Serengeti displays a tableau of headless springbok. It references the fact that in South Africa antelopes, in particular the springbok, have pretty little heads that are being used as decorative elements but instead of displaying the heads McRae shows their headless bodies. “It explores what’s left when we claim parts of the animal for commercial use or for purely decorative purposes and how the rest is discarded,” McRae says. “It’s a pretty confronting piece. But it’s clear and I try to keep it really clear. I’m not making it di fficult for people to understand.” Another work, Born Free, referencing the movie of the same name from the 60s, shows a fully-grown male lion rolling around on a king size bed waiting to have his stomach rubbed like a domestic cat. “It’s about the whole relationship of what actually happens when we domesticate a wild animal and the tragedy of commercialised hunting.” The exhibition travelled around regional Victoria and Melbourne before arriving in Adelaide, and has already been well-received by audiences. It will continue its run until 2017, showing throughout New South Wales. McRae hopes that the exhibition will make people think about their relationship with animals. “One tiny seed is planted in somebody’s head. Who can say where it goes or how someone is going to act on it? I’m doing what I can and the rest is up to those who look upon it to decide how they can progress with the idea.” Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders Flinders University City Gallery Saturday, December 5 to Sunday, February 7 flinders.edu.au/artmuseum