Karl Grimes: Dignified Kings Play Chess on Fine Green Silk
The Natural History Museum and the Gallery of Photography, Dublin, jointly present Dignified Kings Play Chess on Fine Green Silk, a body of new work by artist Karl Grimes. The work is in two installations, one at the Gallery of Photography and one at the National Museum, Kildare Street. It is based on Grimes’s year-long term as artist-in-residence at the Natural History Museum, now celebrating its 150th anniversary.
The title, Dignified Kings Play Chess on Fine Green Silk, is a mnemonic – a phrase to remember the Linnean taxonomic order of Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.In photographs, drawings, lightboxes, text and sound, Grimes’s re-interpretation of the Natural History Museum’s collections and Victorian museum practice becomes a re-collection, a poetic transformation activating memory and re-awakening the ‘Dead Zoo’.
In the upper balcony of the National Museum, Grimes installs a series of large-scale animal portraits, the Taxum Totem series. These larger than life and richly hued images represent an act of retrieval and resurrection – a contemporary homage to 19th century observational science, the taxonomic collection, and a reminder of the key role played by both taxidermy and photography in the presentation of knowledge in natural history museums.
The exhibition at the Gallery of Photography goes behind the scenes of the Museum, presenting images and drawings from off-site storage areas, research archives, imaginary do-it-yourself taxidermy guides, and ironic ways of telling the good from the bad curator. In a key work, Killed Striking, Grimes pays tribute to the Irish naturalist R.M.Barrington. His pioneering study of migratory birds around the Irish coastline in the late 19th century is realised in sound and image. Grimes perfectly captures the spirit of the Barringtonian enterprise, and draws fresh delights from it. His camera stares from lighthouses over the seas, awaiting migrant birds. Flight feathers protrude from their neatly stored envelopes, transformed into a series of ‘strange and charmed’ billets-doux.