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28/06/2011 / jenniferrobsonartist

D’Arcy’s Tortoise Cabinet

The D’Arcy Thomson Museum is one room at the bottom of a staircase, hidden from the world, no windows peak in. Dissected frogs hang in jars, a sleep infinite, baby-face monkey twists serenely in his glass grave. Kept, recorded, remembered. Specimen.

Tattered winged bats lie like a discarded newspaper – the items look like something you would discover yourself in an old disused cupboard or a locked drawer. Everything is set out like evidence of a particularly peculiar crime. Who would collect such things? Take any exhibit and imagine it found out of the context of ‘museum’ and it could and has made for a juicy elaborate tale, all on its own.

And the best possession for me? An object, a creature? A construction or contraption which in itself holds an enormous presence, yet could be easily missed. A chilling, yet heart achingly beautiful specimen. A tortoise, cut open, internal parts removed long ago, except for hip and shoulder bones and a head. The shell has been re-attached with a hinge and a hooked latch. A hinge and a latch! I fancy it is a book without words, a thousand stories wide.

I mean, who hasn’t wondered if there really is blood and bone underneath those shells? If actually inside, is a complicated clockwork mechanism or has fancied that a tiny man is in there peddling the tortoise, pressing buttons, pulling strings? Who hasn’t thought of the tortoise, sitting inside his shell (at home) with a cup of tea sitting, skinny and wrinkly on his sofa reading the tortoise news?

Look closer and a more foreboding and sinister tale reveals itself. It is far more unsettling to take it – As it is. There is nothing inside the shell. We can open and close it at will. It is empty. Nothing but shell and bone, heavy with the space of the missing tortoise.

http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/zoology/

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