Stranger Than Fiction at the Science Museum

The Science Museum has opened the doors on Stranger Than Fiction, a photographic exhibition by Joan Fontcuberta, which looks at the murky intersection between fact, fiction, science and art.

Cercophitecus Icarocornu from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1985 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera
Cercophitecus Icarocornu from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1985 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera

It manages to be mind-bogglingly surreal, yet has one foot placed firmly  in what we might perceive to be true, and although Fontcuberta’s work is self-consciously elaborate, it does raise wider questions about believing everything we see on film. 

Centaurus Neandertalensis from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1987 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera
Centaurus Neandertalensis from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1987 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera

Fontcuberta says, ‘Photography is a tool to negotiate our idea of reality. Thus it is the responsibility of photographers to not contribute with anaesthetic images but rather to provide images that shake consciousness.’

Stranger Than Fiction

Source: Kate Elliot

The exhibition has been designed by Drinkall Dean and will be presented in the Media Space designed by Ben Kelly.

Drinkall Dean has been tasked with designing the first three exhibitions in the space. It has already designed Only in England but Stranger Than Fiction is a separate tender meaning that there are still two more to follow from the consultancy.

Mullerpolis Plunfis from the Herbarium series by Joan Fontcuberta, 1983 © Joan Fontcuberta
Mullerpolis Plunfis from the Herbarium series by Joan Fontcuberta, 1983 © Joan Fontcuberta

Stranger Than Fiction is devised by six themes split across three rooms – zoology, botany, paleontology, geography, astrology and religion, which are presented as separate narratives.

Drinkall Dean partner Angela Dean says, ‘The premise of Joan Fontcuberta’s work is to question the truth of photography. He creates these studies as if he’s a journalist; they’re very detailed and have a lot of text so we wanted to keep the exhibition simple and not overwhelm the content in anyway.’

Stranger Than Fiction

Source: Kate Elliot

Dean says the flora and fauna sections explored in the first two rooms ‘have the feel of a old museum’, says Drinkall who adds, ‘Lit objects and old-fashioned graphics that we worked on with the museum help create this effect.’

3D objects, taxidermy and ephemera have been used by Fontcuberta to create the illusion that we are looking at real specimens. 

Stranger Than Fiction

Source: Kate Elliot

The middle room has the feel of ‘a more traditional art gallery’ and the final room that of ‘a provincial museum,’ says Dean.

Orogenesis: Watkins, 2004 from the Orogenesis series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
Orogenesis: Watkins, 2004 from the Orogenesis series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta

At the end of the exhibition there is an explanatory film, which sheds some light on Fontcuberta’s reasoning. 

Stranger Than Fiction

Source: Kate Elliot

Dean says, ‘After the film you walk back through the gallery knowing what he has said, which forces you to look at everything differently.’

The Miracle of Dolphin-Surfing, Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta  from Karelia, Miracles & Co, 2002
The Miracle of Dolphin-Surfing, Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta from Karelia, Miracles & Co, 2002

The overall design gives the visitor ‘a sense of exploration’ says Dean who wants visitors ‘to get a little bit lost, and to get lots in his world.’

Alopex Stultus from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1987 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera
Alopex Stultus from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1987© Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera

She says, ‘You’ll have to find things and they’re not where you’ll expect them to be.’

Hydropithecus of Cerro de San Vicente, 2006 from the Sirens series by Joan Fontcuberta  © Joan Fontcuberta
Hydropithecus of Cerro de San Vicente, 2006 from the Sirens series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta

Joan Fontcuberta’s Stranger Than Fiction runs until 9 November at the Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2DD

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