In the exhibition Heart Line, Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen present a series of X-Ray photographs of taxidermy specimens from the collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. A gorilla, half a lion and a leopard killing an impala were taken from the museum’s archive and X-rayed in a local hospital, exposing the sculptural structures within.
The museum was originally opened by King Leopold II of Belgium to showcase the civilising mission and economic opportunities in his Congo Free State, amidst accounts of murder, mutilation and enslavement. It presents a Western view of Africa in which tropical taxidermy roams fantasy landscapes in elaborate dioramas next to statues of naked African children.
The X-ray works explore an excavation of subconscious form: the taxidermists imagined a movement and posture between two animals they had never seen based on empty furs and hunters’ stories. For decades, these particular specimens have shaped national subconscious through childhood memories of the museum. X-raying became a way for the artists to reveal natural history as a cultural practice, a colonial interpretation of nature and wildness.
The title of the show refers to Siberian rock drawings of animals in an X-ray view, which were based on a shamanistic belief that animals can be brought back to life from the portrayal of one line running from the mouth to the vital organs.
In the sculptural incarnations of these images the steel structures uncovered inside the scene of a leopard killing an impala are recreated in rare earth neon, mammoth ivory and natural rubber; reconstructing the imaginary choreography between two animal skins in materials of contemporary mining practices.
The act of mining for Siberian mammoth ivory (a matter between animal and mineral) or rare earth phosphates echoes the image making process as an extraction from below the surface. The surface of the earth, the surface of the body. Mining plays an important role in maintaining a postcolonial reality, extracting resources from deep in the Congolese soil and spread throughout the world.
Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen are a London based artist duo whose work is occupied with broad meanings of material and production. They work across objects, installation, film and photography to explore production processes as cultural, ethical and political practices. Their work is in the collection of MoMA in New York, Royal College of Art and Science Museum in London, M+ Museum in Hong Kong.