Where the wild things shouldn’t be

By Nardine Groch

Rod McRae’s new exhibition, Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders at Deakin University uses bizarre taxidermy installations to break environmental fatigue.

Whether it’s a headless baboon holding a mirror or a group of foxes cascading from a shopping trolley, artist and taxidermist Rod McRae seeks to confront his audience with society’s deepest environmental concerns.

“If there is environmental fatigue out there, it’s because artists, journalists and scientists aren’t doing a good enough job to shake people out of their complacency,” he said.

“Rather than just making us fearful, maybe they should be engaging us in a different way, a more proactive, more positive way.”

McRae’s work places taxidermied animals in unnatural human situations to explore issues of overpopulation, climate change, human-animal relationships, stewardship, biodiversity and hunting.

He uses ethically sourced skins from animals that have been hunted, culled or medically euthanised to create a more authentic experience.

“If we want to create a real dialogue between us and the natural world then let’s go back to the real thing,” he said.

“Making animals out of bronze, clay or marble or even faux fur doesn’t have the same effect as showing people the real thing.”

Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders features taxidermied animals in unusual situations such as this male lion reclining on a bed.

One of the more provocative pieces, Born Free, displays a fully grown male lion reclining on a double bed like a pussy cat.

McRae says it is a metaphor for the way we interact with the natural world.

“There is no such thing as true wilderness anymore,” he said.

“Wilderness now refers to reserves, parks or corridors which are all definitive spaces but not wilderness. This lion is in a fixed space his shackles have been removed but he is still at the mercy of the humans that have domesticated him.”

The exhibition’s central piece, Crying out in the age of stupid, is the least subtle of all and depicts a male polar bear balancing dangerously on a freezer.

Curator of the Deakin University Art Gallery, Emma Cox, says McRae’s work is confronting but consistent with the emerging style of contemporary art at the moment.

“Rod asks the viewer to consider a range of issues,” she said.

“He asks us to relate to these animals and consider the dichotomy of where they should be and where they are now.”

The exhibition runs until April 5 at Deakin University Art Gallery in Holland Avenue, Burwood.