July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
In 1985, the body of Josef Mengele, one of the last Nazi war criminals still at large, was unearthed in Brazil. The ensuing process of identifying the bones in question opened up what can now be seen as a third narrative in war crime investigations—not that of the document or the witness but rather the birth of a forensic approach to understanding war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In the period coinciding with the discovery of Mengele’s skeleton, scientists began to appear in human rights cases as expert witnesses, called to interpret and speak on behalf of things—often bones and human remains. But the aesthetic, political, and ethical complications that emerge with the introduction of the thing in war crimes trials indicate that this innovation is not simply one in which the solid object provides a stable and fixed alternative to human uncertainties, ambiguities, and anxieties.
The complexities associated with testimony—that of the subject—are echoed in the presentation of the object. Human remains are the kind of things from which the trace of the subject cannot be fully removed. Their appearance and presentation in the courts of law and public opinion has in fact blurred something of the distinction between objects and subjects, evidence and testimony.
October 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
“[..] Taxidermy was about the single story, about nature’s unity, the unblemished type specimen. Taxidermy became the art most suited to the epistemological and aesthetic stance of realism. The power of this stance is in its magical effects:what is so painfully constructed appears effortlessly, spontaneously found, discovered, simply there if one will only look. Realism does not appear to be a point of view, but appears as a “peephole into the jungle” where peace may be witnessed. Epiphany comes as a gift, not as the fruit of merit and toil, soiled by the hand of man. Realistic art at its most deeply magical issues in revelation. This art repays labor with transcendence. Small wonder that artistic realism and biological science were twin brothers in the founding of the civic order of nature at the American Museum of Natural History. It is also natural that taxidermy and biology depend fundamentally upon vision in a hierarchy of the senses; they are tools for the construction, discovery of form.”
Primate Visions, Donna Haraway . pp 38-40