MUSEUM OF MISCLASSIFICATION Excerpt
by Lara Michaela Daoud, AA 3rd Year
Intermediate Unit 13
17 December 2013
Architectural Association, London
The ‘wunderkammer‘, since its inception, was intended to display objects in a classificatory manner. The owner would prescribe his own classification to a collection, whether that meant categorising according to material, shape or colour. He had control over how the objects would read alongside one another in his micro museum. Fictitious constructs could be presented alongside factual objects, based on the classificatory stipulation. This subjective classification somehow assumes authority and legitimacy when placed within the glass cabinet.
Zooming out to the macro museum, objects exhibited in public museums serve a didactic role, and therefore have to be classified objectively. The natural objects cannot be categorised alongside the fictional because that would create confusion and corrupt the collection. However, fiction has still managed to creep its way into museums on numerous occasions in the past; most famously, the ‘Piltdown Man’ in the Natural History Museum, London.
In 1912, the discovery of an ape-man was announced. Darwin’s ‘On The Origin of Species’ had been released 53 years prior, stating his theory of evolution. Discoveries of early humans had since been announced in France and Germany, getting much acclaim and documentation whilst Great Britain fell to the wayside. Retaliating in true Imperialist fashion, Great Britain forged an ape-man fossil, formally called Eaonthropus Dawsoni. Its biological makeup comprised a 500-year-old human skull and the 10-year-old jaw of an orangutan.
Uncovering a trunk initialed M. H in the loft space at the museum, the contents revealed a wealth of truths. Martin Hinton was Keeper of Zoology at the time of the hoax, and his trunk contained numerous bones, stained and carved very similarly to Piltdown Man. It is thought that several of the Museum Keepers helped to construct this elaborate fiction, presenting this ‘link species’ to the world and putting Britain on the map once again. Its hegemony lasted 40 years, superseding other link species that came to light because they didn’t fit Piltdown Man’s physiology.
The exertion of creative license in such regimented institutions is what inspired my ‘Museum of Misclassification.’ There is constant debate between fact and fiction in the realm of museums and it is something I wanted to embody in this installation. It is a wunderkammer, a repository of bones from different animals, some of which were the remnants from dinner. Chicken bones, fish bones, alongside the skull of an eagle and a flying squirrel; the idea is to assemble the bones in an ad hoc fashion, as desired. The chimera creature is then documented and archived in the micro museum. Since specific bones exist in different animals but at different scales (for example the femur) I thought that scale could feed the fiction. A fish tail could translate into a mermaid’s tail, while a chicken’s vertebrae transforms into that of a human. Also archived in the cabinet are negatives of historic hoaxes that were deemed fact in natural history museums. Each new animal composed from the repository of bones is documented and added to the ‘Museum of Misclassification’ where fiction becomes fact.
For more information:
Lara Daoud on Projects Review 2012-13
Intermediate 13 Unit Brief
Intermediate 13 Extended Brief