Monday, November 27, 2006

Ch. 7 Revived and Remade- Joan Fontcuberta

Joan Fontcuberta is a prolific artist who works in many different methods and media, including several projects which could be categorized as "fictitious history," or works of fiction that are presented in the language and style typical of documentary films, history textbooks, or museum exhibitions.

One such project, titled Fauna, is the story and "archive" of one of Fontcuberta's alter egos, Professor Peter Ameisenhaufen, a zoologist. Fauna documents Dr. Ameisenhaufen's childhood and career, and speculates about his mysterious untimely death. The bulk of the project concerns the controversial discovery of a number of previously unknown species of animals.

The Fauna project is more fully explained here and here.

Some exerpts from the project-

Peter Ameisenhaufen was born in Munich on May 5, 1895, as the first child of the explorer, big-game hunter, and safari guide Wilhelm Ameisenhaufen, pictured above (b.1860 in Dortmund, d.1914 in Dar es Salaam) and his wife Julia (b. 1873 in Dublin, d. 1895 in Munich).

Peter and his sister spent a happy childhood in Dortmund in the care of their aunt. They attended a Catholic school, where Peter was remarkable for his exceptional diligence. When he was ten years old, he traveled to his father in Africa for the first time.

Hermafrotaurus Autositarius- Not a particularly sociable animal, but pacific; it lives in the foothills and preferably in rocky areas. Its diet consists of reptiles and small wild rodents. Its pseudofalse hermaphroditism results in complete monogamy, and sexual relations with itself are quite frequent. Given the division of functions between the two branches of the spinal chord, Hermafrotaurus Autositarius could be considered to be two differentiated parts converging in a single head. One of these parts is female and particularly sensitive to gastronomical and emotional stimuli (love for its offspring). The other part is male and very sensitive to sexual stimuli (the female part is constantly in heat) and to somnolence (the male part is almost always asleep, unlike the female part, which suffers from total insomnia).

Alopex Stultus- An herbivorous animal, completely inoffensive and very timid. When it senses the proximity of an enemy, it finds a shrub of the species Antrolepsis Reticulospinosus and digs a hole in the earth, into which it sticks its head, leaving the rest of the body suspended in a vertical posture in an attempt to mimic the shrub. Unfortunately, the outcome is not particularly satisfactory and both men and predators usually capture it at this point.

Cercopithecus Icarocornu- the sacred animal of the indigenous Nygala-Tebo tribes, for whom it represents the reincarnation of Ahzran (he who came from heaven). The females give birth inside a large cabin in the village to which only the great shaman has access. The baby animals remain inside the cabin until they have completely developed their ability to fly, at which point the tribe celebrates a lavish ceremony during which Cercopithecus undergoes an operation in which it is grafted with the skin of the silver fish of the Amazon, which covers all of the pectoral and abdominal zone. Once this has been done, the animal is set free, although it never strays very far away from the village, and participates by its presence in all of the sacred festivals of the NygalaTebo. During these festivals the animal is given a spirituous beverage which it drinks eagerly, sinking into a state of complete inebriety, at which point it begins to flap its wings so madly that it hovers in mid-air with its body immobile, singing like one possessed.

Centaurus Neardentalensis

Micostrium Vulgaris- A gregarious animal which lives in colonies of varying numbers of individuals (6-30). Extremely sociable, it does not flee human contact and has shown itself to be playful and affectionate. It is only disturbed by the sound of the human voice, so it must be approached in complete silence. It has a tremendous capacity for mimicry in semiaquatic environments. It is worth noting that it makes use of "weapons" (normally very hard sticks or branches which can be found on the banks of the river) to capture the fish which make up its diet. The courtship ritual is particularly curious. The male follows the female for three days, uttering the characteristic cry of "Kree-ee-ee- ah Klook," to which she replies with vertical leaps and pirouettes. On the fourth day the female (which is three times smaller than the male) crawls completely inside the shell of the male and mating (which lasts some three seconds) occurs. During this brief period of time the shell of the male emits a tremendously intense whitish blue luminous radiation which makes it an easy target for birds of prey.

Solenoglypha Polipodida- Extremely aggressive and venomous, it hunts for food and also for the pleasure of killing. It is quite rapid and moves forward in a curious and very rapid run, thanks to the strong musculature of its 12 paws and the supplementary impulse which it obtains by undulating all of its body in a strange aerial reptation. When facing its prey it becomes completely immobile and emits a very sharp whistle which paralyzes its enemy. It maintains this immobility for as long as the predator needs to secrete the gastric juices required to digest its prey, which can vary between two minutes and three hours, as determined by the size of the victim. At the end of the whistling phase, Solenoglypha launches itself rapidly at its immobile prey and bites the nape of its neck, causing instantaneous death.

Felix Penatus

A stuffed specimen which was found without any documentation in the professor's research.

  1. What are the visual elements of Fontcuberta's work that make it convincing as a historical document? What about the written elements?
  2. How does Fontcuberta's work raise questions about the assumed "truth" of the photographic image?
  3. How would you compare and contrast this work with that of Yinka Shonibare, from Ch. 2?


Holly Wilson said...

I have seen some of Joan Fontcuberta's work in another course just last week and remember how fascinating it was. The Centaurus Neardentalensis was the first image we saw and I didn't know what to make of it, but I knew it was fake because of the circumstances I saw the image in.

I think that all of the work and thought he put into the project adds to its ability to be convincing as a true historical document. I remember in the class mentioned before, that he would display his notes, pictures, etc. in actual natural history musuems. This confused many people and made them question the authenticity of the work, but why should they? It was in a legit museum afterall.

The images do make you question the "truth" of photographs, just as other staged events and images do. How often can we really trust any documentary images, even famous ones from our past? Many photographers have been guilty of staging documentary photographs to get the full effect of their subjects, but it works and people believe the images to be genuine.

Fontcuberta had the resources and the imagination to carry out such an extensive piece of work and I think it is very bizarre and one of those things that you can't stop looking at. The animals are so odd and I remember that in a picture not shown here of the Cercopithecus Icarocornu flying, it looked very akward and not quite right. I suppose though that with a photograph, Fontcuberta can get away with more authentic looking images because the camera does freeze one instance in time and stops motion. Therefore you can get the feeling of movement, but you have to take it at face value. If film had been used it would be a very different story because we would have needed to see the actual movement occuring in real time, which would not have worked obviously because the animals were stuffed.

mandy james said...

i dont think that there are any visual elements that render the photo's to be believable. Fontcuberta has such a wonderful imagination that can be presented to the public in such a way that causes intrest, speculation, and a humorus outlook on the project. the photo's and the detailed descriptions of each, reminded me of a book that could also be catagorized as "fictitious history" about dragons. it's a "how to" book on the study and befriending qualities of dragons. i think that the comblination of photo and written elements give the reader potential evidence of such a creature. but this satisfies the need humans have in searching for the mystical and unknown.

Autumn Hill said...

Most of the works we've studied this semester are truthful, organic accounts of reality. Fontcuberta is a refreshing change of pace. At my first skim through the images, I asked myself, "what's the point?" But, she's almost created a photo-fantasy world, which engages us in much the same manner as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. We accept the conventions that the artist has created, and even through we know that the stories take place in fictional worlds, we play along and become emotionally and intellectually engaged anyway. They're fun, humorous images that invite us to use our imaginations.

junior brise� said...

The visual elements are that these animals are stuffed. Stuffed animals have real skin, fur, and etc. that makes it real and not only that the pictures have no color to it. Also his written documentaion makes it real because I have not seen animal such those in my life.
Fontcuberta's work raise questions about the truth of his photographic photos is because nowadays photographics and objects have been manipulated just to get attention. It's been proven that people do such these things.
The way I see the comparing and contrast is that Yinka has more subjects than Fontcuberta's in contrast and in comparing is both like to be sometimes in the photos.

Nicole said...

i absolutely love these photographs. the fact that he takes parts from actual animals and has a taxedermy put them together and then puts them in an environment makes them very believable. also fontcuberta gave each image a story and created such an elaborate back story, there are almost too many facts and too much information for them to be fake.
this questions the truthfulness of photography because these look very much real, but they are fake so it makes viewers question other photographs that may seem faked but are in fact real.

Anonymous said...

These are definitely my favorite pictures so far. The realisism of them made it hard to said "that's fake" even though logic told me they were. Normally you'd think that if you photograph something it's real. But this arist found a way to take a picture of something that's real but fake. And then includes imformation that sells it as fact. This throws the whole perception of the reality into question. I think this teaches us to take a closer look at what we see and not take everything at face value.

Yashar said...

It's the combination of documentation and realistic looking images that make this project seem legitimate. The photohraphs are also style like museum photos you'd see in sci-am or some other similar publication. Also, giving things fabricated genus names? That's perfect.

His models are very convincing too - even on their own.

About the "truth about photographs" quote. This reminds me of the images "taken" of big foot and the lockness monster. Both seem to be driven by some desire to create something that never existed - at least that's my guess. It seems that truth is compromised in photographs when the artist attempts to make his/her images more fantastical.

Shimmy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shimmy said...

Fontcuberta's work is amazing. I love how he blatantly messes with your mind. I had to clearly decipher the true elements from those that were part of his "fictitious history," which are so believable. I automatically thought of evolutionary aspects, and the human chimeras. When I first learned of chimeras I was amazed. I NEVER heard of it before, so I assumed that these hybrid animals were just another amazing specificity of nature (or of humans editing nature) I had never been introduced to. (BTW--Ligers DO exist!)

I suppose I should have read the introduction before I assumed they were real, but I was attracted to the photographs. The photographs themselves are believable simply by being shot in black and white. There is something about B&W photography that makes things seem a bit more valid, more serious, and very real. Usually in color photography one would assume that the color enhancements would be more easily adjusted, along with all the programs to edit digital photographs. Sometimes, even with "natural" subjects shot in color, one still wonders how MUCH they were enhanced.

The written elements sound so technical you just assume they are real. Then if you know any vague amount of Latin, Greek, or etymology and apply it to the terms it just makes sense. With the "Solenoglypha Polipodida," you automatically scratch your beard and think "coiled, many feet...YES I remember seeing one of those last week!" (I'm was more like three months ago.)

He also describes their actions as if he were observing them, and that adds to the richness of the information. I also like how he leaves some "unknowns." That's hilarious! It's so believable, yet absurd.

(I'm in awe of the Alopex Stultus. What an UGLY animal! It's absolutely horrific, and at the same time adorable. You just want to love it and give it a big hug, because it's so ugly. By far my new favorite animal--poor thing!)

In any case, I love his work. I feel so involved, it's almost like an artistic adventure, and it makes me want to see more of it.

-Shyma El Sayed

amdylong said...

I believe one of the view visual elements expressed is just the simple way the photos were taken. They look old, which could be one aspect of an old documentary. But the actualy images of these creatures hardly look believable, at least to myself. But I believe that there are people out there who believe, that since a photo was taken of it, it has to be real (as if a sort of image that would be captured in a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" museum ). The written elements, seem to be more far fetched than the image itself. I found a lot of the descriptions particularly amusing, especially the one describing the Hermafrotaurus Autositarius. I just could not help but laugh a little, imagining even a species like this. I give it to Fontcuberta for having a such a vivid imagination, but a lot of his exaggerations make me question the actualy truth behind them.

Wendy said...

I think when I saw Joan Fontcuberta work I saw that what ever he was taking he tried to make it look as a true historical document. Using animals and bones can be listed as true historical document or maybe one. If we look back and see how researchers study on dinosauars or animals or weird bizarre type of stuff you could similaize what Fontcuberta is trying to point at. I do know that the photographs are fake or maybe question if the photographs are true. I would be sitting staring at the blog questioning myself if that photo is real or not. After reading about Joan Fontcuberta I realized that theres more to the photograph than just look and trying to find the truth about it.

Jeremy said...

The use of black and white photography makes the photos very historical looking. The creatures are very convincing because the shots are so canted, like they needed to be taken quickly before the animal moved out of frame. Then the written elements are thought out and presented very professionally.

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