Carlin Wing Discusses Bizarre Animals

by Nayeli Rodriguez

Museum of Natural History Artist in Residence, former VES student and professor Carlin Wing (Harvard ’02) discusses her latest project, "Bizarre Animals: An Evening of Contemporary Art Interventions."

Where did you get the idea for this project?

When I was teaching in the fall Rob Moss let me know that the director of the Natural History Museum was interested in reaching out to the contemporary artists in the Harvard community to find ways of bringing new audiences to the museum.

In L.A. there was a was a non-profit group called Machine Project and in the fall of 2008 they did an event at the LA County Museum where they took over the museum with a full day of performances and projects and had something like 60 artists participate. I was living in Nashville at the time and couldn’t participate so when Rob told me that the museum was looking for an engagement with the contemporary art community it seemed like an opportunity to recreate the event on my own and on a much smaller scale.

How did pull together all the different parts?

I thought of who was around town and who would be willing to do something in a quick and dirty way on no budget. Then I basically asked some artists to participate and then give them free reign to propose projects. My role has been more of a facilitator between the artists and the museum.

How has the concept of this show been shaped by the Natural History Museum as a venue?

The impulse for taxidermy is a little like photography. That you want to take the thing hold it still so you can look at it, observe it and learn from it. I think it’s interesting both to for artists and audiences to see contemporary artists work in a context that holds the history of art collecting and art display.

Also the Natural history museum is different experience. It’s not trying to be an art museum but is wrapped up in interesting histories of display and collection. One of the values of art is that it can help you re-see a place or in this case re-experience the collection.

What are your goals coming into the show?

A lot of these artists came through VES and really loved this museum when they were undergrads so part of it was an artist-focused goal to give the opportunity to make work in this space, re-engage with this museum and its audiences, and open up their thoughts about performance art and video art.

I also wanted to provide a sense of venue of this place for video art and installation in Boston. These sorts of engagements are happening a lot in Los Angeles right now and Boston has a lot of great institutions could benefit from having artists coming in to do these kinds of things. It’s not that it doesn’t exist in Boston but it doesn’t exist as robustly.

How does installing these video and performance pieces in a historical museum change the way they may be received by the audience?

Some people dismiss performance or video out of hand because they feel alienated by it but youtube has changed things so much. I feel like now everyone’s a performer. I think were in a really strange and really interesting moment the way information and communication technology is really changing the relationship between producer and audience. Everyone has the ability to be a producer and it’s really different to look at something on the screen as opposed to going to a live performance and having 20 or 30 other people look at it with you.

Can you give me an idea of what the night’s going to be like?

It will be one night temporary event with push towards performance. There are about 15 artists participating and about four or five of them are students, which is great.

The experimental music collective called Lucky Dragons will be there. One of the founding members, Luke Fischbeck,was a VES student and they’re going to be in the gem and mineral room. I don’t really know what that performance will be like yet, they tend to do participatory things. It has something to do with black lights and they have student instrumentalists.

There’s also two tour guide performances, one is by an artist called Lovers v. Haters and she’s going to be guiding groups through the museum and she’ll have a camera that is a ring on her finger so that when she gestures, the camera will get visual input, and based on the visual input that the camera receives the speakers in her costume will emit different samples of audio.

One of the subtler pieces is by three art history students who are inserting some fake didactic texts. They’ll just re-label something, like they might label a fuse box as a Donald Judd sculpture on loan from MOMA or something like that. I think they’ll both be subtle and somewhat easy to find because they won’t be inside the cases but the hope is that people will somewhat stumble across those.

"Bizarre Animals" will take place Friday, March 26. Doors open at 6:30, event ongoing from 7:00 to 9:30. The Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford St., Cambridge MA. Admission: $6:00 at the door, free for HMNH members and HU ID holders.