TOPI RUOTSALAINENPlanet of the Apes
During a recent stay in Florence, I paid a visit to La Specola, the city's Museum of Zoology and Natural History, where I found taxidermied, shabby-coated apes scampering about their diorama habitats, fixing the passing visitors with their grins and grimaces, just as they have done every day since the day of their now distant deaths. As I stood there watching the animals, it struck me that the subtle beauty and naturally rhythmical quality of their poses were succeeding to encapsulate the enduring influence and long-established traditions of Italian art in its entirety.
As I wandered around the space, gazing at the numerous yet lonely simians in their ascetic cages, I felt I was viewing a great, expansive work of art, where each of the animals has been assigned their own distinct role, contributing a separate and distict emotional thrust to the whole. Having placed the display in the context of Italian art, I now looked at the dead apes and their gestures, hands reaching heavenward, and began to pick up on a strongly religious charge. A stuffed sloth that suddenly came into view was, for me, the most convincingly executed of all the Jesuses in town, his head reaching back in glorious contrapposto, his body forever suspended on his very own wooden cross.
When an ape is given the full taxidermy treatment or otherwise captured in an artwork, it somehow attains immortal status. The dead light behind the dead ape's eyes echoes the quiet murmurings emanating from our own consciences. Animals, through their presence alone, have the ability to point out our vanity, to lay bare the selfishness of our human pursuits. Much in the same way, in fact, that art has been appointed as the voice of our collective conscience.
The Planet of the Apes introduces viewers to an alternative world. The visions it presents reflect our own planet, complete with its familiar set of problems and existential threats. From the shadows of this other planet, I am forcing myself to look at humanity and at otherness.
Homo sapiens is the only animal with a clear sense of ethics and morality and the only animal with the capacity to act in a way that runs counter to both. Apes, on the other hand, are an unfamiliar entity here in Finland; they are our distant relatives, living on the other side of the world. They are magical creatures we have met again and again since childhood as they have appeared to us through fairytales, books and art and greeted us from their zoo cages and gloomy museum dioramas.
This exhibition is named after Pierre Boulle's 1963 science fiction novel and its well-known cinematic adaptations. The cult version filmed in 1968 is widely seen as a study of the 1960s black rights movement and the threat of nuclear war. Its legacy also lives on in a phenomenon observed on the film's set that continues to be used to illustrate the dynamics of mass psychology to this day. It is reported that while wearing their masks, the actors would struggle to recognise each other. The result was that, during lunch, they would seek out the company of their own "kind", with orangutans gravitating towards other orangutans etc.