Mermaids, a rodent with a snake for a tail and a winged deer. These sound like creatures that could only exist in the imagination, or are they? Joan Fontcuberta has created a witty and subversive exhibition that will make you question whether his creations really are just imaginary.
By using taxidermied specimens, skilfully doctored photographs and mocked-up scientific reports, the opening section titled Fauna is tremendous fun — our favourites being a centaur fused from half a deer and half a baboon, and the realistic recordings of animal sounds including one described as sounding like an asthmatic cat.
The exhibition then continues with photographs of plants that are actually constructions of found detritus, and imagined star constellations that are based on the splatter pattern of insects on a car windscreen. Landscapes are computer generated. Skeletons of mermaids are so expertly crafted that they almost made us question our own sense of reality.
The final section is the most surreal, featuring an order of monks who are said to be able to perform miracles such as dolphin surfing and controlling electricity. The commentary is hilarious as levitation is not recommended for the obese, and the description of a mirror suggests it can be tuned to pick up satellite television signals.
Fontcuberta has a serious message in his work about how we automatically trust anything we see in a museum exhibition or in photography, when we should be challenging what others deem to be true. This is particularly important as we live in a society where Photoshop is a verb and airbrushing is common. Alongside this deeper message we also felt that the artist clearly had fun coming up with these wacky concepts, and this is what makes this display even more entertaining.
It’s a surreal and fun journey, and we challenge anyone to step out of this exhibition without a smile on their face or at least a niggling doubt as to whether there’s some truth in what they just saw.
Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger than fiction is on in the Media Space at the Science Museum until 9 November. Tickets are £7.20 for adults, concessions available.