Cleveland’s near west side gallery SPACES is a preeminent force in presenting artists who push the envelopes of expression and exploration. SPACES described its winter exhibition, The People’s Museum of Revisionist Natural Itstory (PMRNI) as a “collaborative effort seeking narrative justice.”
Artists from across the United States and abroad collaborated to present the installation of PMRNI as an actual but also satirical natural history museum. Complete with a gift shop, an historical timeline, and exhibits featuring multiple departmental disciplines, PMRNI illustrated the often-comical representations between real and bogus artifacts and their descriptions.
This exhibition posed questions to the viewer with a contemplative series of stages that encourage visitors to move throughout the space, examining fact versus fiction, alternately eliciting acute awareness and keen speculation.
With installations for disciplines including geology, anthropology, zoology, archives, astrophysics, and hydrology, each room of PMRNI stimulated the viewer to ponder how everyday information is consumed through interactive, multimedia, and tangible objects both ironic and engaging.
Evidence Room: Captured Counterfeit Moon Rocks highlighted the US government’s practice of gifting moon rocks to 135 countries following NASA’s Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 lunar missions. These rocks became a controversial oddity in the 1970s; some were stolen while others were fabricated and sold as the “real thing.” PMRNI showcases the fake rocks, posing questions about their validity and questioning why these rocks were considered valuable in the first place.
Curated by the PMRNI Astrophysics Department, the installation Venus Vault was installed in SPACES’ converted brick-walled walk-in safe, a compact mini-gallery that in this instance was reimagined as a feminist planetarium. The walls are adorned with black and white star-shaped cut outs of the female anatomy, and a screen featuring a series of short films. Both satirical and informative, various films by more than a dozen artists asked the spectator to contemplate such ideas as perpetual sexist doctrines, dreamlike sequences, the gift of birth, and a K-9 astronaut in space. One such film highlights the real and influential contributions of female scientists, and how female involvement in history has and continues to be overlooked too often.
The Zoology Department exhibits included handmade dog models made with real canine fur to demonstrate the cultural obsession of acquiring taxidermy animals as a way to showcase one’s place in society. Most of the dogs were created with purebred fur, and are displayed headstrong and happy. Models of mixed fur are portrayed with hung heads, sad, and with messy coats, signaling a less desirable genetic ideal. As a whole, the installation commented on the notion that pure breeding must be upheld at any cost.
Along with the physical galleries, PRMNI developed a website that functioned as a research platform. Delving into each department of the museum, the website provides visitors with tools to study each of the museum’s subjects.
A primary goal for the PRMNI exhibit was to encourage awareness in people. Speculative information is often justified, and many historical texts and museum portrayals don’t always present the objective and factual story. “Rightfully so, this exhibition has been piquing people’s interests and getting them talking about how we consume this information…” explained Christina Vassallo, Executive Director of SPACES.
Social media, mainstream media, and other modern technology platforms expect one to accept information, often regardless of its validity. PRMNI asked for this information to be questioned, and for the viewer to decide if what we see is an accurate representation of reality.
The PMRNI exhibition team is comprised of: Amber J. Anderson (Cleveland Heights, OH), Lauren Davies (Broadview Heights, OH), Jacob Feige (Collingswood, NJ), Keith Freund (Akron, OH), Jonathan Gitelson (Brattleboro, VT), Brandon Juhasz (Berea, OH), Heather Kapplow (Allston, MA), Marc Lefkowitz (Cleveland Heights, OH), Michelle Murphy (Chicago, IL), David Politzer (Houston, TX), Kristin Rogers (Lakewood, OH), Corrie Slawson (Cleveland Heights, OH), Christina Vassallo (Cleveland, OH). Additional contributors to the gift shop include Pita Brooks (Lakewood, OH), Catherine Butler (Cleveland, OH), Ryan Dewey (Lakewood, OH), and Heidi Neilson (Queens, NY), among others. – See more at: http://www.spacesgallery.org/project/the-peoples-museum-of-revisionist-natural-itstory#sthash.rtjYK8Ib.dpuf
Rebecca Groynom is a freelance writer, photographer, and resident of Cleveland Heights. Her writing has appeared in Fresh Water Cleveland and in several scientific journals. Her photography has been showcased in exhibitions throughout the US. View more articles by Rebecca Groynom.