• Posted: Dec 10, 2012

a curated exhibition by FRITHA LANGERMAN that examines the display OF SPECIATION WITHIN MUSEUMS OF NATURAL HISTORY.

Iziko South African Museum from 8 December 2012 until 8 December 2013,

25 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town

An exhibition that uses the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, as a means to explore the representation of species within museums of natural history entitled R-A-T: an associative ORDERING, the exhibition opens at the Iziko South African Museum, 8 December 2012.

The rat, an urban creature abhorred within the anthropocentric city, has been largely excluded from presentation in museums of natural history. Rather than a discrete display, R-A-T is an exhibition dispersed throughout the museum, furtively making its way into disused corners and cabinets. This spread introduces the rat in relation to ranging themes, forming a narrative of connections, while suggesting manners in which museum display impacts on the understanding of species.

The human relationship to the rat is schizophrenic. It is the loved pet and character of children’s books, movies and shows while at the same time domestic rat killings are proudly posted on the internet. Yet, it is an animal closely related to the development of human populations.  The rat speaks as much to a cultural and social history as to a natural one. It is an icon of modernity: of disease, migration, stereotype, destruction, behavioural psychology, literature and pharmacology.

The exhibition uses labels and labelling as a central device – referring both to a history of museum practice and to classification and naming as a divisive societal process. In this way, terms such as ‘vermin’ can be ascribed to categories of animals that become lesser, according to some allowing for their extermination on a mass scale.

The rat straddles definitions, and in so doing questions the premise of museums of natural history – what is meant by nature, and what is natural? The exhibition, curated by Fritha Langerman, builds upon particular ideas around display that were first presented in Subtle Thresholds (Iziko South African Museum 2009-10). These exhibitions were made possible by the UCT Research Committee, CCA, National Research Foundation, National Arts Council and Iziko Museums of South Africa.



ABOUT Iziko Museums of South Africa

Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and 3 collection specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections which reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation which brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, as well as unlimited free access to individuals aged 18 and under (excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium).

ABOUT the curator, fritha langerman

Fritha Langerman is an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town where she teaches printmaking at the Michaelis School of Fine Art.  She trained at the University of Cape Town (BAFA, MFA) and is currently registered for a PhD. Her research is of an interdisciplinary nature and research interests include curatorship; scientific representation of the body and the display and ordering of information. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and has number of public commissioned works. Her awards include a UCT Junior Fellow’s Award (2007) and the UCT Creative Works Award (2010). Her 8th solo exhibition Subtle Thresholds at the South African Museum (2009 - 2010) examined modes of display within natural history museums with reference to the representational taxonomy of infectious disease. 



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