Neomylodon Listai Ameghino is traveling exhibition and a project raising questions around science, knowledge, collections, and cultures of display. It travels currently between the museums that hold specimens from an extinct species found in a cave in southern Patagonia. It has started in Galleria Augusta in Helsinki in May 2015 and continued to Uppsala’s Evolutionsmuseet in September. It will be on exhibition at Inter Arts Center and from where it will travel to collections in Berlin, London, and La Plata.
Starting in 1895 with the finding in a cave in southern Chilean Patagonia of a peculiar skin, the world was soon to face a sensationalist chase for an animal that was thought extinct. It was a very large mammal, weighing around 1.000 kg, which had both external fur and a protective armor embedded into the skin, which was surprisingly well preserved.
A number of European scientists arrived at the spot or had material sent to their museums for closer scrutiny, creating an intense scientific debate about the animal. This way, some of the material found in the cave ended up in Sweden, other parts in London and Berlin. Some findings made their way much later also to Helsinki.
The popular press was all the more enthusiastic. The Daily Express in London sent off a team to find a live specimen and a British Lord made his way to Patagonia to have the honor of being the first person to hunt one. Over the years the interest faded, as of course no-one could find and shoot an animal that had been extinct since more than 10.000 years. The Neomylodon proved to be a result more of wishful thinking than of science.
Axel Straschnoy’s exhibition Neomylodon Listai Ameghino approaches this footnote in the history of science critically and from a multitude of angles. Four vitrines are designed to host the complete findings now spread to different museums in Argentina, Chile, England, Germany, Sweden and Finland, plus the originals of the essential texts published on the animal during the years around 1900. But while the texts remain the same each time the work is displayed on its tour across the world, two of the vitrines are mostly empty and only show what is available in the local collections. Malmö Museer holds the remains dug up by Erland Nordenskiöld in 1898. In collaboration with Malmö Museer, these remains will be on display during the exhibition at IAC.
Thus mirrored, the story of the Neomylodon becomes less a story about science than about the construction of myths as well as of truths. It is also a study of colonialism at work. It clearly displays the ironic truth that barely any findings ended up in the country where they were excavated.
Not the least, Neomylodon Listai Ameghino addresses the cultures of display, as well as the roles of the spectator in science and art. By moving between different ways of seeing and of showing artefacts, the vitrines themselves become witnesses of how authority and “truth” is transferred through the methodologies of display.
Axel Straschnoy (born 1978) is a visual artist from Buenos Aires based in Helsinki. His long-term and research focused projects include Kilpisjärvellä (2011-12), a planetarium film on exploration in northern Lapland under the Northern Lights, La Figure de la Terre (2014), a short film based on the book The Figure of the Earth by 18th century French mathematician and explorer Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, the lecture-performance series Notes on the Double Agent (ongoing), and Le rappel à l’ordre, a film on the packing and shipping of artworks. Straschnoy has participated in Le Pavillon residency at Palais de Tokyo (2008-09) and trained in Art History at University of Buenos Aires.
Straschnoy’s Le rappel à l’ordre will be part of the KUMU Museum’s Film Festival in Tallinn (29.09-02.10) and his photo series Planetarium Stills will be on view in Milan as part of Naturalia et Artificialia, opening on 12.10 as the launch exhibition of Eccentric. In the beginning of November, Kilpisjärvellä will be projected in Lübeck as part of the Nordic Film Days.
The exhibition is produced by Kolme Perunaa with support from Frame Contemporary Art Finland, Kulturkontakt Nord, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse, AVEK, and the Arts Promotion Center, Finland. It is organized by Inter Arts Center in collaboration with Malmö Museer.
Opening on 14 October 17:00
Open Thursday-Saturday 12-17