This essay appears in the exhibition catalog for Studio Swine's Fordlandia exhibition, commissioned by The London Fashion Space Gallery, Fall 2016.
A photograph taken in 1931: a smiling woman identified as “Mrs. Claude R. Smith” stands with her husband, noted to be a doctor. The mundanity of the photograph’s background gives little clue as to where it was taken. Mrs. Smith wears a breezy sleeveless dress, and the doctor is dressed in all-white clothing with an open weave. Shirt sleeves hitched up to the elbows—no jacket, no tie. Three rectangular display boards at frame’s center portray a pinned atlas of shadows, their outlines hinting at dimensionality. Mrs. Smith squints through the sun, imploring us to acknowledge this collection of creatures—things that once crawled on a miscellany of legs—things that flew, and slithered around and through the Amazon jungle. Dr. Smith looks toward the collection, perhaps worried by thoughts of this monstrorum coming alive again, in alarming proximity to his hand.
The display catalogs the dissident traits of an alien environment into an order of colonial control. It is a visual and physical record documenting the contrast of the threat and beauty of Amazonian fauna. Presented for Western eyes, these unbelievable creeping horrors of the Southern hemisphere (some, undoubtedly lethal) are exhibited alongside colossal-winged beauties. As these butterflies and moths—“self-propelled flowers”—swept the skies in the late-1920s, they might have found themselves getting smoked out of their own airspace, careening to the smoldering ground, where old growth forest was being razed to make way for controlled rows of rubber tree seedlings. We could ask: should Mrs. Claude really be smiling so broadly, knowing that any number of these creatures could be scuttling around her ground-level home at night? Perhaps not seeking payback for her intrusion, but at the very least threatening to wander uninvited over thresholds, into dark corners?