The Museum of Whales You Will Never See by A Kendra Greene – review | The Guardian

Iceland’s idiosyncratic museum collections – from rocks to sea monsters – provoke delightful reflections from an American artist and essayistThe Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortellius proposed four centuries ago that Europe, Africa and the Americas were once united, but had been torn asunder by a faultline down the Atlantic – a line that passes through Iceland. A Kendra Greene, an American artist and printmaker, is fascinated by the idea of those sprawling tectonic plates. Iceland “rose up from these waters in the first place precisely because of those plates, their penchant to slip and grind and spill their molten heart”. The island is its own centre, a place geologically and culturally unique, but Greene is from Boston and to her it feels like an edge. “Not just here but always, something happens at the edges,” she writes. No other country has so many small museums, 265 by her count, in a nation of 330,000 and her book is an exploration of the “territory staked out under the name ‘museum’”. She’s interested in what museums mean, as well as what they might become. She opens with the Phallological museum in Reykjavik, where 212 penises from Icelandic animal species are exhibited (Homo sapiens included). “It’s a museum about a word,” she says, “a word charged and freighted in ways that so often have nothing to do with the biology of the thing it names.” With each chapter Greene circles around her subject as if viewing it in a vitrine, approaching it from different angles, changing her register and voice. The book is shot through with glee and irreverence: “When it comes to the simple illusion of enduring form, let us praise the desolate exoskeleton! And then let us bow our heads, and pity those curators ever endeavouring to preserve a pound of flesh.” Continue reading…

Iceland’s idiosyncratic museum collections – from rocks to sea monsters – provoke delightful reflections from an American artist and essayist

The Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortellius proposed four centuries ago that Europe, Africa and the Americas were once united, but had been torn asunder by a faultline down the Atlantic – a line that passes through Iceland. A Kendra Greene, an American artist and printmaker, is fascinated by the idea of those sprawling tectonic plates. Iceland “rose up from these waters in the first place precisely because of those plates, their penchant to slip and grind and spill their molten heart”. The island is its own centre, a place geologically and culturally unique, but Greene is from Boston and to her it feels like an edge. “Not just here but always, something happens at the edges,” she writes. No other country has so many small museums, 265 by her count, in a nation of 330,000 and her book is an exploration of the “territory staked out under the name ‘museum’”. She’s interested in what museums mean, as well as what they might become. 

She opens with the Phallological museum in Reykjavik, where 212 penises from Icelandic animal species are exhibited (Homo sapiens included). “It’s a museum about a word,” she says, “a word charged and freighted in ways that so often have nothing to do with the biology of the thing it names.” With each chapter Greene circles around her subject as if viewing it in a vitrine, approaching it from different angles, changing her register and voice. The book is shot through with glee and irreverence: “When it comes to the simple illusion of enduring form, let us praise the desolate exoskeleton! And then let us bow our heads, and pity those curators ever endeavouring to preserve a pound of flesh.”

Continue reading…


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