Zoo/mbies & nature morte Bodies in museums 1800-2008
The study explores how animals and humans have been displayed in natural history museums. How have bodies been (re)constructed and arranged; what changes can we see over time, and how can we understand that in historical contexts?
Exhibitions can be understood as theatres of science where humans have categorized and staged other bodies to perform ideas about nature, culture, species, race, gender, nation and, on a general level, normality.
I develop the term Zoo/mbie as an analytical tool to understand taxidermy. It is serious word play; a combination of “zoology”, the study of animals, and “zombie”, the living dead, who, according to a dictionary definition, “under voodoo has been deprived of its soul and whose soulless body is used as slave”. I link this definition with the Aristotelian-Christian-Cartesian understanding of "animals" as soulless or mindless, and the way we use, steer and control them for our purposes. The Zoo/mbie is a border-creature who balances on dualisms such as nature/culture, life/death, science/art, craft/art, individual/type (stereotype or type example) and ethical/unethical. The concept also signifies the aim to "zoom in" on individual bodies and their histories, and to "zoom out" to give the bigger picture of systems, discourses and narratives framing them.