Urban Museum Reality Service
4 June - 23 June 1997
Closet archaeologist or armchair anthropologist? Ragpicker Terry Urbahn sifts through rubbish found on his doorstep. The starting point for this show is a collection of portable museum displays constructed in earlier times by the Dominion Museum Education Service to lend to schools and libraries. Many cases dealt with the exotic lifestyles of 'primitive' peoples; others addressed aspects of natural history.
These obsolete displays do not live up to current expectations of cultural sensitivity and aesthetic merit. Despite their retrograde politics and clumsy manner, or perhaps because of it, Urbahn found them charming. They brought back childhood memories of model-making: Humbrol modeling paint and the aroma of Uhu glue. Urbahn reworked the displays, responding to each case individually. For instance, into a case representing the lifestyle of the Eskimo, featuring an igloo, fishing rods, and dog-drawn sleds, he inserts a TV set and antennae, an AK47, and hand guns. Hastily researching Inuit culture, Urbahn was pleased to discover that Inuit men resolve disputes through 'abuse slinging' contests. As an oblique comment on this, he adds the text of an argument between Mr Blonde and Mr White from Reservoir Dogs.
Perhaps inspired by Duchamp's Box in a Valise, Urbahn completely cleaned out some of the cases to recreate some of his own previous installations in miniature. 'With their quaint depictions of forbidden continents and natural sciences, these small traveling cases are flowers in the dustbin for Urbahn's anthropological anarchism', writes Robin Neate.