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Now this is really unusual
Are You My Mother? (Image: 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable, courtesy Rod McRae)
Sydney artist Rod McRae started his career as an author and illustrator of children's books before teaching Graphic Design and Illustration from the 1980's until the present day. Since 1980 he has exhibited his works quite prolifically in Australia and around the world. Rod has received accolades for both his artistic and teaching ability, and was a finalist in the Wynne Prize for the Australian landscape/figurative sculpture in 2007 and 2010.
Somewhere along the line McRae took a correspondence course on the art form, and started experimenting with stuffing and mounting dead animals using taxidermy. This led to some hilarious situations with housemates discovering dead roadkill in the most unexpected places around the house, but it did not deter Rod from his developing passion.
Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders is an expression of artist Rod McRae's insights and feelings about the relationship between humans and animals. The relationship can be slightly uneasy, even when the animals are alive. When the animals are dead the relationship is even more complex.
Born Free (Image: 2013 mixed media installation courtesy Rod McRae)
There is no easy way to put this, so it needs to be said up front. Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders is an exhibition of dead animals. The animals are stuffed, and exhibited in ways that will provoke thought, challenge you, and may even make you laugh.
As the name implies, this travelling art exhibition is designed to elicit wonder - almost a lost dream in this age of science and technology. Krzyszt of Pomian writing in his book Collectors and Curiosities suggests "Objects were not seen - but seen through". In other words the objects become like portals to other worlds, exotic lands, adventure, mystery and the excitement of the unknown, all without the inconvenience of travelling to them. Wunderkammer consists of 15 portals into what was, what is, and what could be.
Operation Foxtrot (Image:2010, mixed media, dimensions variable, courtesy Rod McRae)
Each animal in Wunderkammer is a snapshot that develops a theme in the human-animal relationship. By using real stuffed animals this snapshot has immeasurably more impact than using a model of an animal made from some other material. You know that these animals once lived, breathed and had feelings; were as real as you and I.
The setting of each work draws upon issues such as biodiversity, pollution, climate change, conservation and stewardship. You need little encouragement to think about these issues, and our responsibilities as other animals on the planet. A polar bear teetering on a sinking fridge for example, is a powerful symbol of the effects of consumer culture on global warming and in particular on the polar regions of our world.
Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders is a free exhibition at the Flinders University Art Museum and City Gallery, running from December 5 2015 until February 7 2016. The City Gallery is centrally located within the State Library of South Australia in Adelaide. The exhibition opening times are listed on the City Gallery website.
As an animal lover I initially found the idea of this exhibition somewhat confronting. However I look forward to seeing how these once discarded animals skins can make a statement that is relevant to us all. Even after death, these animals are giving something back to humans.
Artist's statement: All the animals in Wunderkammer have been ethically sourced from South Africa, South America and the USA. No animal has been harmed to make this work in the first instance; the skins are the result of death by natural causes, medical euthanasia, hunting, culling and food production and have been traded on, sometimes multiple times before they became part of this body of work.