Friday, October 31, 2014

The Museum Monstrosities

The horror! The horror!
And this isn't one of the freaky ones.
(It’s Halloween. What the hell.)

I haven’t found the ability to mix writing and traveling. Between spending my day doing tourism and writing in my journal at night, I find that there’s no other time for writing. Instead of blogging about my day’s experiences, the last time I travelled, I wrote up a series of blog posts (largely on Esperanto) several days in advance. But in a way, it was good to save writing about the Lausanne Museum of Zoology until now, October 31.

The museum is an a building that houses a number of collections, including a numismatic collection, a geology collection, and an archeology collection. The fine arts museum should have been there, but the collection is currently in storage, awaiting a new home. The museum is open and they have temporary shows, which makes me wonder why they don’t have their collection up, since the new building won’t open until 2017, but I assume they’re doing various behind-the-scenes sort of things, such as preparing new cases, and determining new arrangements.

You may find images below this point disturbing. You have been warned.

Good Lord! What are those things?
The zoology collection is not the sort of thing that thrills me. It’s a big collection of taxidermy animals. As I’ve noted before, taxidermy creeps me out. And old taxidermy just doesn’t seem to age gracefully. In the massive array of cabinets, there are no dates saying when the specimen was stuffed, some of the handwriting looks fairly old and the inks are fading. The glass is the older stuff, with lots of waviness to it.

And then there, deep in the collection, is a group of animals with various birth defects. It’s clear that the zoology professors of the University of Lausanne in some past era sent out word to the local farmers that they were interested in animals that had been born with serious deformations. Now, as I said, taxidermy creeps me out, because it always seems to have an evil twin. If you’re not arranging dead mice in tableaux, you’re stuffing and mounting deformed animals.

The cow found this calf too demanding.
I’m complicit here. Nobody forced me to take these photos. I was actually alone in the zoology galleries. The museum was pretty empty, other than the fine arts collection, where there was a loaned collection of Russian paintings. The people looking at the painting probably weren’t all that interested in seeing a two-headed calf.

I am quite certain that the sheep for which two bodies share one head (sort of averages out, right?) couldn’t have lived for very long at all, and was probably delivered dead. There’s no doubt about the sheep without a head, right? That one clearly never used those legs to walk about.

That's freaky.
All of these specimens looked somewhat old. I don't know when anything was collected. The labels weren't much more informative than a simple “MOUTON,” which just means “sheep,” though I suppose for some of these items, you might instead be saying, “and what the fuck is that?” The text below says things like “monstre double” (double monster) or “monstre sans tête” (headless monster). The six-legged goat (chèvre à six pattes) looks happy enough with its taxidermy smile, but I couldn’t get a good shot of all six legs (three in front, three in back). That one, until you get a good look at it, just looks like a young goat. It's the least unsettling of the taxidermy animals.

Not a big eater.
In a way, the headless sheep is the least unsettling. Yeah, it’s a pretty profound birth defect, but on the other hand, it’s just a sheep without a head. You can make one of those by slaughtering a sheep and removing its head. Instant headless sheep. The merged ones are way more weird. I did look at these with a sort of sick fascination. Creepy, but you can’t look away.

Or is it that you don’t dare look away?

As I noted, I was pretty much alone in my walking through the museum. Everyone once in a while, I would get a glimpse of someone else wandering through the collections. It was middle of the week and there are other things to do in Lausanne. I have no doubt that when the museum put these specimens on display, they knew exactly what they were doing: they meant to shock and fascinate. After all, specimens of the variety of lizards found in various regions of the world can only capture the imagination for so long. After a while, you need your monsters.
Hey there little…ohmigod!

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