Julian Walker

Lies & Belonging, 2001

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Greyish Owl

Lies And Belonging
Hastings Museum & Art Gallery, 2001

Julian Walker's new site-specific exhibition develops his fascination with the power of objects and the notions of reality, authenticity and truth attaching to them. Working with the three histories of Grey Owl, Piltdown Man, and the Hastings Rarities, his works knit a tissue of lies, denunciations, corroborations, probabilities and possibilities, in which constructed objects and the language in which they are presented create a new, and at times uncanny, reality. Focussing on particular aspects of the stories, such as hierarchies of cultures, the need to belong, and the role of text in falsehood and denunciation, Walker moves, like the protagonists of the histories, along apparently reasonable lines of argument to arrive at conclusions which are simultaneously desirable and uncomfortable.

Archie Belaney, born in 1888 in Hastings, was brought up by two aunts and emigrated to Canada, drawn by his fixation with Native American culture. Some time in the 1920s he changed from being a fur-trapper on the fringes of Indian culture, to being a beaver conservationist and writer of articles on wilderness ecology. Encouraged and eager to move to within Indian culture to promote his local lecture series to rich holidaying whites, and already being a good speaker of Ojibwe, he re-invented himself as WaShaQuonAsin, He Who Walks By Night, or Grey Owl, at first the product of Apache/Scot parents, and finally as a full blooded Ojibwe chief. His lecture tours took him to the UK, where he spoke on radio, in lecture halls and cinemas, before royalty, and ultimately led him to Hastings, where he was recognised. The accusations of fraud, together with alcoholism, led to his death in 1938. He wrote a number of books, which are precursors of popular scientific ecology writing, and made a few short films about his life with beavers; he is currently regarded as an important founder of conservation in Canadian Parks, but probably more as an interesting identity-shifter/imposter.

Piltdown Man, excavated near Uckfield in Sussex between 1911 and 1915, was unmasked as a forgery in 1953 as a result of the early use of flourine dating. The components of the skull were found to be parts of a C14 woman, and the stained canine tooth of an orang utan. The chief protagonists were Arthur Smith Woodward of the Natural History Museum, who wrote a book about the discovery entitled The Earliest Englishman (sic); Sir Arthur Keith, anatomist at the Royal College of Surgeons; and Charles Dawson, a local solicitor and antiquarian who is credited with a number of honest discoveries, and a number of hoaxes, many of which were donated to help found the Hastings Museum. All have been accused of initiating the forgery, and all are now looked on with disdain.

The Hastings Rarities were a group of birds shot in the Hastings area between 1892 and 1930, mostly stuffed by local taxidermist, George Bristow, some of which found their way into Hastings Museum. Following re-examination of their documentation in 1962, a large number were declared to be fraudulent visitors and were unceremoniously removed from the List of British Birds. Some of the specimens at Hastings were found to have museum-bug and were burnt. One theory is that the alleged perpetrators, never named, were thought to have had the birds shot in Eastern Europe and shipped on ice in order to be sold at vast profit to local collectors; the recorded prices, and common sense (some of this was supposed to have happened in wartime) do not quite bear this out.

Walker's works comprise a video performance based on the desire to belong, a vast collection of objects which turn Piltdown into a site of continuous and important archaeological habitation, and a number of hybrid objects creating pockets of truth within a framework of lies. These last include a neolithic taxidermy kit, an American Indian headdress made of text and bones, and a case of lead-toy archaeologists and American Indians zoologically named and labelled in English, Latin and Ojibwe.


Word Bonnet, 2001


Going Straight to the Point