Evolutionary Straightjacket

How does a leisurely Sunday afternoon visit to the museum turn into a public karaoke session, featuring yours truly belting out ‘Eye of the Tiger’ whilst dressed as an extinct fish? Some things you just can’t explain. Other things were clearly meant to be.

First of all, let us set the scene. It was a grey and miserable day outside, the kind that makes you want to shrivel up into your anorak and hibernate until the sun comes out again. What better weather to head for the museum and learn something about this new land? Having inspected a whale skeleton and listened to an aboriginal introduction to ways of thinking about place and space, my friend Christine and I came face to face with a glittering globe in the middle of one of the galleries.

Next, an earnest looking man struck up a conversation, asking what we were like at karaoke. Last time I took to the stage, I managed to get karaoke night in my town cancelled for the next 6 months, so the only polite thing to do was smile, nod, promise to return, and make for the exit rather smartly. Having ducked into the adjoining in gallery to learn all about the history of protests in Tasmania, and the fate of a tramper who died alone in the bush whilst on a mission to create a Jewish homeland, curiosity got the better of us, and we ducked back.

Before we knew it, we had front row seats to Selena de Carvalho’s interactive performance, ‘Evolutionary Straitjacket’. de Carvalho has been the artist in residence at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery over the past month, running workshops and master classes, and this was to be the pinnacle of her residence. Before us stood five costumes of extinct animals: The Huia (from New Zealand!), the Passenger Pigeon, the Galapagos Damselfish, the Lake Pedder Earthworm, and the Great Elk (you could tell it was a Great Elk because its name was held aloft in flashing neon between its horns). Soon, those costumes were filled with members of the audience, and the strains of Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ could be heard in every nook and cranny of the cavernous space.

By the time the chorus came around for a third time, I knew I had to take part. Sure, it was right up there with Das Doppelte Karottchen on the bizarre scale, but it was also about raising the profile of species extinction rates. Taking on the character of the Damselfish with a passion that would have made my fish biologist friends proud, I channelled all my conservation-y thoughts into my rendition of the ‘Survivor’ classic. It can’t have been that bad, because they let me up for a second go when Christine (who is a keen birder) stepped forward to embody the passenger pigeon. IMAS represent!

What does this have to do with Antarctic research, you may well ask? Well, we were on our way to the Antarctic hall at the time… I’ll write more about that in another post. For now, I’ll leave you with this image of the Great Elk and the Passenger pigeon, side by side in song. I think I am going to like this Hobart place after all…

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