Portico P_black



Karin Ruggaber, artist and lecturer, talks geology, anatomy – and taxidermied heads.

Interview Penelope Rance
Photograph Alun Callender


Rocks. And anatomy. As an artist, I like to explore what it means to introduce things into a new context, confusing or upsetting established categories and crossing boundaries, which is what my Rock Room project is about. By inserting specimens from the Grant Museum into the geology collection in the UCL Rock Room, we no longer have the same obligations to these objects that a historian, scientist or geologist might have, and I love that.

Certainly, in exhibition terms, this arrangement is something a museum wouldn’t normally do. The three animal heads from the 1950s – pangolin, dog and sloth – would, in museological terms, be treated as a material because they’ve been objectified. But when you introduce them into a room full of rocks, something happens – they almost become part of the audience, spectators looking back at you. They are ultimately taxidermied heads, but to me they retain a quiet contemplative sense of focus and self-containment. The very act of replacing rocks with animals is interesting because it is so political.

The geological environment is critical. Geology itself is bigger than us and has a key role in defining our ideas of value and materiality, and it is with this in mind that I chose specific rocks representing the visceral (malachite), expressive (flourite), figurative (concretions) as well as the elemental and conceptual (gold). The UCL Rock Room as a setting is ideal because it is a cross between a teaching space for geology and a museum, containing a huge collection of geological specimens in drawers.

I love the way that this is all about the audience bringing their own imagination towards the objects and how they are juxtaposed. For me, the questions that arise are about not taking things – or indeed the relationships between existing subjects – for granted. I’m interested in how different times treat different things in different ways. This selection is all about various histories coming together and how we look at them today. But it would be missing the point to think there is a clear message about what anyone else should think, and this appeals to me hugely as an artist.”

Karin is part of the UCL Slade School of Fine Art. The Slade Rock Room Project involves a number of objects and actions being inserted, tested and tried out within the geology collection of UCL’s Rock Room. The collaboration runs annually in May.

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Portico Issue 2. 2015/16