Friday, October 17, 2014

A Love Letter to The Field Museum

Dear Field Museum,

I was debating if I should write an entirely new post or if it's acceptable to pull from a previous post. It would be a raging pile of horseshit if I denied something I love the words it deserves, so in the end of course I have to write another.

The Field Museum's objective is "the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge and the preservation and exhibition of objects illustrating art, archaeology, science and history.” What's better than that? Answer: nothing. Nothing is better than that. 

The first time I went to the Field Museum, or the first time I remember, I was in first grade. The Nature Walk blew my fucking mind.

I knew about the pros and cons of a zoo at the tender age of seven: I loved the zoo because I loved the animals and I hated the zoo because they were caged. Let's not start a debate about zoos. 

Field Museum
The Field Museum was like a replacement zoo: it was full of these frenzied, gorgeously creepish dioramas piled with taxidermy animals, some of them living in their natural habitats, grouped by geography and species and like, foraging habits or something. There's a poetry to immortalizing an animal that most humans will never see in its natural habitat. They were shrewd and outlandish and I learned things.

There are greater and lesser gnus. Hyenas were the most bizarre and bewitching animals in all the kingdoms. Deer can be the size of squirrels. The streets near my parents' house are named after common North American birds: warbler, swift. I took notes and wrote an article about birds, streets, and what I learned at the Field, then submitted it to the neighborhood homeowner's association, and they totally published it in the local paper. I was seven.

Natural History Museum in Ireland
It's not as if I have a great appreciation for taxidermy as an art form, although I know that many people do. And there's a difference between the delicately prepared specimens at the Field Museum and the fucking fantastic bullet-holed nightmares at the Natural History Museum in Ireland, although both are hypnotic in ways that open up a world of questions...how did this animal die? Who skinned, stuffed, and mounted it? Are the bones on display somewhere else? Did it have a family? What was its last meal? Did it have a favorite tree? Why did the taxidermist choose to display it in that particular pose, with that snarl or furrow or bend? Is it because of a meticulous love for science, for art, or for both? Do they only stuff animals professionally for museums, or do they mount family pets in their spare time just for giggles? If an animal has a soul, would this animal feel pride or despair knowing what happened with its body?

We can google a diagram of bears and their relative sizes, we can go to a zoo and hope the bears are outside at the same time we are, but at the Field Museum they're lined up in a row and you can feel their sheer size, marvel at the biological diversity, wander around just generally overwhelmed. Full of whelm. There's so much goddamn whelm that if we measured whelm on a scale of sun bear to polar bear, my whelm would be arctic as fuck.

Then there are the cultural exhibits: everyday items are presented fat with memories and purpose, arranged in relation to other pieces that have their own story. Each object is used to create a narrative that helps visitors understand how things were made, used, valued, and discarded. But why is that relevant? Why...why does it matter?

I have a favorite piece in nearly every exhibit. I watch every single video and I try to imagine how to use each tool, because everything has a purpose. Every thing was chosen for a reason. Every damn thing is significant and part of the narrative, even if it's a needle or a spoon. Especially if it's a needle or a spoon. Now all other needles and spoons are trite in comparison yet fundamentally extraordinary, designed so efficiently they haven't been improved upon for thousands of years.

It matters because museums facilitate understanding. They exist not to pass judgement, but to share things that are extraordinary and true. Collect, question, display, involve, educate, connect: good verbs all.

Here's a chicken and egg scenario: do I love certain things because they fascinated me at the Field Museum when I was younger, or does the Field fascinate me because it exhibits things that I love? Animals and biology, evolution, travel, cultural exploration. I've always had a weird thing for jade...is that because of the Hall of Jade at the Field? Or vice versa?

Most likely I love those things because of the Field. A good museum should make you yearn for more knowledge and boost your aspirations, and no place, nowhere, does that like the Field. Fuck this, I'm going there tomorrow.

Love,
Rassles

5 comments:

Chris said...

Holy shit, I was just in Ireland! If I had known about the museum I might have gone to Dublin. I did see some crazy shit at a castle, but that's for another time.

I remember going to the Smithsonian when I was around seven and standing in front of the polar bear. It was a life-changing moment. I am not generally a fan of taxidermy, but I make an exception for museums.

daisyfae said...

In Huntsville, Utah, i went to The Shooting Star saloon. There is St. Bernard head mounted on the wall. The taxidermist didn't have a head form for a dog that was large enough, so he put it over a form for a Grizzly Bear.

It is awesome.

http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/3640

Jessica said...

Okay, I'm going to leave an asshole comment. Did you change your font size? It looks smaller than 12 point and I think it'd look better bigger. Or maybe it's always been this size, but I was using a feed reader? I dunno.

Kono said...

Somewhere Morrissey is weeping... and Hemingway is smiling...

Rassles R. said...

Chris, exactly. It's not the taxidermy, exactly, it's the display itself. I guess. MUSEUMS!

Daisy, I wish I'd known about that like four months ago when I drove past Huntsville after murdering a deer with my car. On accident, but still.

Jessica, I have absolutely no idea what's going on with this font. It's driving me nuts, too.

Kono, well...I've always been more prone to choose Hemingway over Morrissey anyway. Nothing against the Smiths - LOVE the Smiths. But I'd rather drink and travel with Hemingway. Kind of like how I prefer Obama to GWBush, but if I could only take one of them out for a beer, I'm picking Bush. Actually, I'd pick Clinton.