In her film, Maher becomes "ethereal and otherworldly, almost like a ghost or a kind of energy." Her body becomes "a blob."
"You can see fingertips and vestiges of the human form, but it's become something else," she says. "It's uncanny because I don't actually look human anymore. It's almost as if I'm this energy that's left over from the arrested decay of these creatures. It's almost as if their museum is haunted by their little trapped souls," she laughs.
Light designer Kera Lagios plans to engage the specimens in the Hall of Mammals through a light installation she's calling Keep Away. "The idea is that the animals are playing with glowing balls [of light]," Lagios says: she hopes it will add "a little bit of action to the room." Lagios says she was inspired, in part, by the Ben Stiller vehicle Night at the Museum. "All the animals come to life when they're alone at night," she says. "It plays on the fantasy of what these animals were and what they do when no one's around."
Of all the striking taxidermy in the hall, Lagios favors an unassuming specimen. "I've always had a soft spot for the tapir," she says. "He gets overlooked, sitting there in the giraffe case, but he's a cutie. "
Darina Zlateva and Takuma Ono will set up in the Horns and Antlers Room. There, several antelopes graze atop beige daises in front of a beige wall. "It's a very strange display," Zlateva says. "It's like they're in a diorama, but someone forgot to paint behind them."
Zlateva and Ono, who teach landscape architecture at RISD, will project a video whose animation they devised while thinking about the kinds of places the antelopes once played. "Our previous video work is about exploring the immersive qualities of landscape," Zlateva says. "When you have a landscape, you're inhabiting this infinite, limitless space. We're using the landscapes we project to tell a story. Typical museography doesn't allow the background to become the specimen."
The museography on parade next Friday will be anything but typical.
SPACE FOR DISCOVERY
Many of the artists participating in "Bizarre Animals" have a personal history with the collections.
Lagios, like many design students at Harvard, got introduced to the museum in drawing class. "One of the assignments that we had to do was the flying contour — you don't look down or lift your pencil off the page," she says. "It helps when you have a larger thing to look at, but the intricacies of these animals are awesome."
Zlateva, a native to the area, first went to the Museum of Natural History as a sixth-grader and became more familiar with it while at Harvard. The Hall of Mammals has always been her favorite. "It's always been a space of discovery [for me]," she says. "Finally, I can put myself in the display!"
Maher's first significant experience at the museum happened as a student, too. "I first fell in love when I did an animation, and drew the animals over and over again," she says. "I started spending so much time there that it became a very familiar place to me."