In the wildness with Carl Hagenbeck, 2015
“In the wildness with Carl Hagenbeck” focuses on the narrative and materiality of mass-produced collectable miniature images, published in the Netherlands by the Royal Dutch Soap Factory, Duif (now known worldwide as Dove), in collaboration with Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft in 1930. In Germany the images were available as promotional items in cigarette boxes and chocolate wrappers. It seems apt that such products – soap, tobacco and chocolate, which were at that time synonymous with luxury and high culture, but equally dependent on colonial import – served as the vehicle to disseminate Carl Hagenbeck’s adventures in the colonies. Hagenbeck’s name prompts thoughts of zoology, for he created the revolutionary model for the modern zoo, wherein animals are presented in enclosures without bars. Hagenbeck’s interests, however, were not limited to animals – humans were equally an object of fascination; alongside the animals, natives from the colonies were also displayed. The images produced by Hagenbeck, a German film company and the Dutch Soap Factory promote the colonial dream. The narratives unfold with the suspense and tension of a well-penned action movie, but when one brings the texts into closer reflection it is apparent that the same dynamics are reiterated throughout. Presented in plexiglass cases – an unorthodox vitrine of sorts – whereby both the front and reverse of the plates are simultaneously viewable, the viewer is able to observe a dual narrative – that of the image and that of the text. The images isolate the sequential stages of the animals’ portraiture, the struggle to evade death or capture in a series of still shots, almost as if a prelude to the displayed carcasses at the RMCA. The theme of reflection acquires a broader significance as the viewer does not actually see the real image but merely a reflection of it – mechanics of the work that call into question the very dubious nature of the narratives’ (both visual and written) bearing on historical reality. The aesthetics of the images are characterised by their likeness to film stills. There are indications that this particular imagery comes from a film that was Germany’s first two colour toned film; thus, it seems that film history and its technological experimentation and development is closely linked to and a dependent of the colonial history and museology. In the video work In the wildness with Carl Hagenbeck, Zdjelar recontextualises the film stills to their original format: moving image. As the images topple upon one another, we watch a sequence of events unravel. Parallels between the visual register with which the animals and African natives are depicted grow evermore apparent, and as each image comes into view recollections of the RMCA’s chemically coated animals arranged in vicious poses return once more.