Broken Hill, 2013
Skull, plinth and case, wooden box, loan form and set of photographies presented in albums.
Wood, metal, glass and lighting system
Plinth : 91 x 46 x 49 cm / Metal stand : 40 cm (h) / Acrylic case: 98 (h) x 46 x 49 cm / Wooden box: 35 x 35 x 48 cm / 1 sheet of A4 loan form on paper / Three photo albums
The Broken Hill skull was the first early human fossil found in Africa and provided the primary evidence to support Darwin’s theory of evolution, proposing humans as the natural descendants of primates. Discovered by Australian miners in 1921, the skull was taken to London by the British colonial authorities.
Phinthong’s interest lies in the replica skull, whose status as a fake is revealed to visitors to the Lusaka National Museum by one of the museum’s guides, who, as part of his tour of the collection, narrates the story of the original skull’s discovery and its subsequent removal. At Chisenhale Gallery, Phinthong has loaned the replica skull, replacing it with an identical model purchased online. He has additionally invited the museum guide, Kamfwa Chishala, to travel to London for the duration of the exhibition in order to relay the complex history of the skull to visitors, as he does in Lusaka.
The installation also gathered some photo albums of Kamfwa Chishala’s experience in London during his journey. The replica of the showcase from the Natural History Museum in London sets the scene of the daily performance of the guide. The transformation of the skull and its display to the status of sculpture, last element behind the scenes, testify and transmit the whole story through its different shifts of actors and places.
Phinthong’s often open-ended projects intervene in global social and economic structures and engage directly with geographical and social contexts. He uses established systems of exchange and equivalence – including the conceptual language of art – to highlight the materialisation and dematerialisation of value. Although Broken Hill engages with discussion around the provenance of objects, Pratchaya Phinthong is primarily concerned with questions of human agency.The loan of the replica skull is the product of a fragile network of personal relationships across three continents, between individuals in Lusaka, Bangkok and London. By inviting the participation of Kamfwa Chishala, the Zambian museum guide, Phinthong opens the work up to the influence of Chishala’s own biography and personal subjectivity.The implications of his intervention into the multiple narratives surrounding the ‘Broken Hill’ skull play out into the future, extending the project beyond its existence as an artwork.
Broken Hill explores the status of the replica Broken Hill skull in the collection of the Lusaka National Museum, Zambia and the displacement of the original to the Natural History Museum in London, examining how historical narratives are performed through objects.