My essay subject is Joan Fontcuberta’s Stranger than Fiction exhibition at the Science Museum in London.
I chose this exhibition for a number of reasons, but mainly curiosity as the preview images offered a collection of weird looking animals, mermaid skeletons and a priest riding the backs of dolphins, all obviously fake images. Strangest of all the exhibition wasn’t in a gallery but displayed in the Science Museum, a place known for all things scientific and factual.
The essay subject, a review of the Fontcuberta exhibition, needed 3 contextual positions to be discussed at length as well as a curatorial position.
Photo no. 1 in the Strange Creatures section of the 5 part exhibition was part of a cleverly crafted display of imaginary animals that defy all logic and sense.
This imaginary animal could be linked to mythological creatures found in celtic and norse tales, Victorian freak show exhibitions found in circus and fun fair stalls, and also to the famous hoaxes of all time such as Piltdown man, the Cottingley fairy photos and the surgeons photo of the Loch ness monster.
Photo no. 2 shows a beautiful natural landscape but in caught in the sunlight across a rock face is what appears to be a fossilised skeleton. Closer inspection reveals the skeleton has a human like head and torso but a fish fin tail where legs should exist, offering a strong suggestion of a mermaid.
The scene begs the question, which parts are real in the photo and which parts are fake as the whole scene looks believable. This offers a perspective on the human need to believe and the blind stupidity of believing anything scientific we are told. A true dichotomy of mystery versus certainty and again the link must be made back to the Victorian freak show stalls which offered the public the illusion of mystery when the emerging modern scientific world sought to explain everything.
Photo no. 3 shows a priest performing a miracle. This links in with the huge subject of religion and belief, which includes the paranormal with its collection of stories related to UFO’s, ghosts, Big foot / Yeti and again our primal need to believe. This can be sub divided into the core elements of Psychology, Biology and Environment as all three play their part in a person accepting weak or no evidence as totally factual and believable.
The role religion has played over the centuries with its plethora of stories related to miracles, can also be examined alongside religion’s resistance to scientific fact and thought. Religion after all believed the world was 6000 years old only 100 years ago, a far cry from the 6 million years nearer the true age of our planet. Therefore does science knowledge destroy religion? Can a scientist be truly Christian or does their belief subvert to a Universal wonder at the ingenuity of God.
Lastly I want to examine the placing of Fontcubertas exhibition within the Science Museum. Would people visiting the exhibition believe it to be true because of its location?