Thursday, 24 September 2009

There's something in the cellar

On our visit in the summer we were lucky enough to go down into the bowels of the museum building, down in to the basement, where the taxidermy division is based. A little bit of back ground information here - the modern museum was built in the 1970's on the site of what had been the main jewish bank in Kaunas. This building sat oppostite the main synagagogue on one side and the main pedestrianised boulevard of the city, Laisves Aleja, on the other. Before the second world war, over a third of Kaunas's population was Jewish, and by the end of the conflict, they had all but been liquidated. Most of the survivors owe their lives to the work of two diplomats , Jan Zwartendijk who was the dutch consul (and Phillips Lighting rep in Lithuania) and Chiune Sugihahra who was the Japanese Consul. In the summer of 1940 they signed over 6,000 transit visas to get jews out of then soviet territory and out to safety through Japan. It was a remarkable act, especially for a japanese official of the time. When asked many years later why he had acted in defiance of his official orders and risked his career to save other people, he quoted an old samurai saying: "Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge."

The old synagogue in Kaunas - the only synagogue still remaining in the town, I think.

Anyway, slightly digressing, but the musem sits on the site of the old bank which also housed a shopping arcade and from what I can understand was quite a focus of jewish life in the city. Here is a photo of the building as it used to look:

All that is left of this now are the old bank vaults which are the stores and taxidermy section for the museum. Lukas took us down to meet the staff down there and given the local history of the space it all felt very...atmospheric:

The taxidermists are an amazing powerhouse down underneath the museum proper. They are incredibly skilled at what they do; they can work for years on some of the bigger pieces, reconstructing the muscle and sinews on a skeleton in clay and then making a cast of this and re-stretching the skin over the top. These are skills passed down from master to apprentice - a macabre apostolic succession.

What struck me was the physical lack of 'animal' after the process was finished. You can just see one of the castings, the head of an antelope, to the left of the sprinbok on the wall (no corrections please). It really is just the skin, artfully pulled over the fibre glass. From this strange, translucent core, the ghost of the original animal, long since dead, you can create something that looks so lifelike in its glass cases. In most instances looking so real that you can feel a decided sadness to see them in the main halls of the museum, and yet the life is long gone from them.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The trophy room

Elsie is always having a go at me for taking panorama shots. Its just an asperger's man thing I assume. In this instance, quite useful (so there) to give you a sense of the space we are putting the piece together in. This is the trophy room at the Museum. The walls all around are hung with the antlers from medal winning beasts. Our piece is going to suspend from the lattice ceiling above and hang down into the middle of the room.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The brains behind the operation

Some of the tricks we are going to be playing with the lighting comes down to the clever programming and control of the LED lights being built in to the sculpture. LED technology is advancing in huge leaps and bounds with and we are using some of the most advanced and most powerful white light sources from Tridonic. I was over in Dublin yesterday to meet with Peter Barry from Emcon who knows it all when it comes to electronics. This is Pete outside the company, beaming for the camera!

Emcon are joint sponsors of the lighting equipment for the piece, along with Tridonic; without their help and encouragement we would be tying bicycle lights onto coat hangers. Thanks a mill, guys.

They were burning in thousands of LEDs to ensure there were no faulty units for a project to light up the exterior of a new airport terminal and all the test boxes were full of saturated blue light.