_ Plant life

A label engraved with the text, The recorded songs of extinct birds hangs in the Glasshouse in the Royal Botanic Garden. Beatrice Colin discovers who put it there.

you really notice the labels and where they’re placed, and the text on the labels makes sense.‘

A profound and personal comment on Western exploration of tropical regions and colonialism. this work only rings true because Baumganen has such a love of the region. ‘He went to,try and learn about the lndian's culture and how they live their lives.’ pointed out Nesbitt. ‘So he has this very extensive knowledge of tropical rain forests and the way things work there. That's why he’s been able to make this work. it comes from about twenty years of involvement with the tropical forest region. He knows the place and he's also read thousands of texts written by immigrants over the years and has selected

ofthe nationwide Reading Room Project.

Few Europeans know the tropical rain forest as well as artist Lothar Baumgarten. He spent eighteen months living on the banks of the Orinoco river with a native lndian tribe. Few people have heard of Baumgarten either. Even though he has several pieces in the Tate Gallery and recently created an installation for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, he has never been an Art Star. This is about to change in Scotland with the installation oftwo works; one in Glasgow’s Transmission and one in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, which form part

Prize-winning curator Paul Nesbitt is behind the organisation ofthe Edinburgh show which was hastily added when Glasgow‘s Botanical Gardens pulled out. Conservatory is another version of an

installation first realised in 1974 in Cologne and involves 400 texts engraved on botanical labels.


texts which mean something to him.’

But how effective are texts in a glasshouse? “it gives you a different agenda for walking round the houses because, instead of walking through a strange sort of tropical paradise, which you tend not to observe very closely because it‘s so alien, these i labels draw you in. They create this imaginary reality

iLOihiU Spent a CONSideblc time PlaCing them ' or realisation which embodies human culture just as among the plants.’ says Paul Nesbitt. ‘The labels

which relate to Victorian water-lilies are in the Victorian water-lily pond, the ones which relate to things, snakes and jaguars are placed low down among the plants and those relating to conquistadors, explorers, botanists and anthropologists are hung quite high up in the branches ofthe trees. He’s so attentive to visual criteria that when you go round

much as it embodies the natural history of each particular area. So it works on a number of levels, aesthetic as well as conceptual.’

The texts of Conservatory can also be seen on a computer screen as part of Silenct'utn Baumgarten’s installation in Transmission.

Conservatory is at the Royal Botanic Garden until 16

_ Through the glass case, darkly

When Richard floss dies, he wants to be stuffed and positioned in the comer of the kitchen holding the phone, in his own miniature museum tableau. ‘Just to annoy my wife and her next husband,’ he explains. It’s not as strange an idea as it sounds. In Boss’s photographic series, Museology, the subjects are preserved animals, objects and paintings in their museum environments. Here, the stuffed, the ancient, the beautiful and the exotic are showcased to assume an appealing familiarity.

Boss claims to have been fascinated by museums from an early age. ‘When I was a kid of about seven or eight,’ he says, ‘my father used to work on an early shift and would drop us off at the Brooklyn Museum before it opened. We got friendly with the guard and he’d let us in and we’d run around when it was completely empty. Whenever I’m stuck for ideas, i go back to my childhood for inspiration.’

Yet the museum is a fairly recent phenomena. The louvre in Paris was the first to open, in the late 18th century, but by World War ll, museums

were still confined to a few, prosperous large cities. low even the smallest towns proudly display their own precious hoard of objects, and across the globe communities are preserving culture and nature for educational, moral and environmental purposes in their own way.

floss has spent ten years travelling around the world taking photographs of the interiors of museums. Lions mangle the necks of crouching buffalo in the Cotton-Powel Museum In England, crocodiles are frozen in snapping poses above cases of seals in the Museum of Natural llistory in Cairo and in a specially commissioned series for Portfolio, some of Scotland's most famous paintings

hang in red velvet and gilt galleries

with chairs for the weary below them. Apart from focusing on the child-like

choreography of the positioning of the

A melancholy yet hilarious show

subjects, Richard Boss’s photographs are revealing about each culture, highlighting the difference in what is regarded as precious and in the artificing of nature. lie believes, however, that contemporary museums have lost the thread.

‘Museums are changing but they’re not giving enough respect to the viewer,’ says Boss. ‘Frequently you’ve

got a wonderful painting or an object in a hostile environment with sterile white walls and with very flat lighting so you’ve got the object with no context. If you look back at the past, these things were often put in tableaux or with projected back walls which gave the viewer a sense of reality.’

But there is a certain irony in Boss’s work which makes it both witty and poignant. A pair of stags peer out of polythene bags in an image of the British Museum and five giraffes look vaguer puzzled as they gaze over dinosaur bones in a museum of natural history in Paris.

‘People always ask if the animals are real,’ floss says. ‘Of course they are.

They’re dead and they’re stuffed and made to look as if they’re still alive.’

And there is another layer in which illusion and reality clash as the photographic image fixes the subject in its fake surrodlng. it prompts a double-take as rhinos and hippos look set to charge out of their glass cases on to spotless marble floors. With its inherent spontaneity, the camera almost seems to bring animals and classical sculpture back to life. Boss takes this further in his series of untitled triptychs, where blurred fragments of old masters are merged together like memories.

A melanchon yet hilarious show, Museology is a celebration of preservation of the undead. (Beatrice Colin)

At the Portfolio Gallery until 7 May.

52 The List 8—21 April 1994