30 October 2018

CONSIDERING CORPSES

Museum Innovations | Keelan Cashmore


What do dead animals and museums have in common?

A lot, surprisingly.
I found this article on Facebook one day, and it led me down an interesting rabbit hole, culminating in museums, dead animals, and some incredible stories.

The Natural History Museum Rotterdam features an exhibition entitled Dead-Animals-With-A-Story.

Natural History Museum Rotterdam. Source.

At first glance it may seem morbid.

Dark.

Macabre.

Creepy.

I suppose it is. But if you take a closer look you will understand that it’s not just about showcasing dead animals.


So, what is dead animals with a story?

It is an exhibit featuring animal corpses with peculiar histories.
Museum director and ornithologist Kees Moeliker states that these creatures are not oddities, and that the exhibit speaks to the human-wildlife coexistence (source).

An example of this is the “CERN Weasel”. In 2016, a weasel jumped the fence of the Large Hadron Collider (the largest machine on earth) and crashed into an 18 000-volt transformer. But the story doesn’t end there (source).

CERN Weasel at the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. Source.

The weasel died, but it also shut down the machine for a week.

Another example is the “Domino Sparrow.” 

Domino Sparrow at the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. Source.

On National Domino Day in 2005, volunteers attempted to break the domino-knocking Guinness World Record but were thwarted when a sparrow tipped over 23 000 of the dominoes. The bird was then shot, sparking a major controversy (source).

Then we have the “Parliament Mouse”. 

Parliament Mouse at the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. Source.
The mouse was living in the Dutch Parliament’s House of Representatives in 2012 during a major rodent infestation. Moeliker had requested a specimen for the museum but was denied. One day, however, he came home to find an anonymous letter from the House of Representatives containing a trapped mouse (source).

One example that I believe truly speaks to the importance of understanding human-animal interaction is the “McFlurry Hedgehog”. 

McFlurry Hedgehog at the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. Source.

Hedgehogs love dairy and tend to root around empty ice cream containers that have been tossed away. However, their spines make it impossible for them to exit some containers, effectively trapping and suffocating them (source).


But why is this innovative?

There are countless exhibits on human interaction with nature. Taxidermy in museums, especially natural history museums, is not uncommon.

It’s innovative because it brings the macabre into the light. Humans have a nasty habit of ignoring things that don’t affect us. But bringing these corpses into a museum and telling their stories forces us to re-examine that belief. Despite being quite gruesome, it captures our attention. And even if it’s something we don’t want to remember, it is presented in a way that is impossible to forget. 

Dead-Animals-With-A-Story Gallery. Source.

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