On the corner of Kärntner Strasse and Badgasse, in the West Styrian town of Stainz, Austria there is a small lodge of a former weighbridge. The small building has been adapted and rebuilt to accommodate a life-size model of a giraffe (4.5 m tall) in a glass cabinet.
The modified small house became the officially designated branch office of an imaginary nature museum. In lieu of a natural history museum, Stainz is home to a large and well-known hunting museum located in the town’s castle. Within the town and surrounding area, the museum is announced and promoted on traffic signs, and its location in the castle at the top of a hill in the center of town marks it as an important landmark for Stainz. Interestingly, the small building of the imaginary nature museum hosting the giraffe model is often mistaken as belonging to this hunting museum. If this were actually the case, the holdings of the existing museum (currently only local fauna), would be greatly expanded in scope by the addition of a very large and unexpectedly exotic species.
Regardless of the fictive connection to the local hunting museum, the imaginary nature museum also examines the meaning and value of natural history collections, which are often found in cities around the world. Beside their scientific and educative aims, these natural museums have the capacity to display large and exotic animals from their accumulated collections, which in turn represent the status and ambition of a city.
In addition to this contextualization as it relates to the natural history museum and its role in a city’s identity and pride, the imaginary nature museum also provides an intimate and curious moment for the audience. Due to the structure of the installation there is only one spot where the visitor can see the complete giraffe. As the spectator looks up to see, they discover that the animal is returning their gaze.
This permanent installation was created within the scope of “Freizeichen” in 2009. This project series was made in collaboration with Jungendkulturhaus Frida, a local youth organization, Art in Public Space Styria, and Rotor (Graz).
photography: Holger Abel, Marcus Auer, Anton Lederer, Helmut Dick