Second Truths | Site Gallery, Sheffield | Sept – Nov 1998

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Second Truths was a Photo98 commission, and solo exhibition at Site Gallery, Sheffield, exploring the museum space as a volatile container of cultural signification. Through a series of eight lenticular photographs, which 'switch' when viewed side to side, Second Truths re-envisaged eight museum spaces including The Freud Museum, The Darwin Museum, Harrow School Fourth Form Room, The Stephen's Ink Museum, Barcelona Perfume Museum, The Victoria & Albert Museum, Bovingdon Tank Museum, and The Old Operating Theatre Museum.

“Lenticular interpretation reveals worlds colliding. Stories that generations have laboured to build, raze, rebuild and redesign are retold in order to fortify as well as question their spell of enchantment. Allen's project seeks to foment the rupture of such sites. Allen embarks on a project which parodies Roland Barthes notion of 'certificates of presences' by employing lenticular photography and imbuing it with a scope of the marvelous that recalls Renaissance and Baroque cabinets of curiosity...”[curator Helen Varola]

“Allen's museums range from the peculiar to the familiar; at The Old Operating Theatre Museum, London we read on the wall above the wooden Victorian operating table, Miseratione Non Mercede [for compassion not for gain]. In Allen's lenticular interpretation, the words fade and re-appear, casting doubt upon an ethical code still assumed to underpin all contemporary medical practice. The Forth Form Room at Harrow School is virtually a museum of autographs. Graffiti, some of it dating from the seventeenth century, is inscribed on the wooden surfaces with names of its numerous celebrated alumni [Byron, Winston Churchill and others]. As the schoolroom begins to transform, a wall 'unscribes' itself, returns to blank wood and, in doing so, conjures up the absence of countless famous and infamous biographies. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, the religious turbulence of the Reformation is evoked through the iconoclastic decapitation of each figure in a Victorian cast of the wooden alter piece at the Abbey of Bordesholm.

By turning his attention to two of the 'greatest' thinkers of the nineteenth century, men who in their own way changed the thinking in their chosen fields, Allen displays a double-edged intelligence. The Freud Museum, London contains the psychiatrist's archeological collection, his library and the celebrated analysis couch. In this mise en scene the key icon sheds its usual coverings, revealing the simple, flesh-coloured upholstery upon which Freud's patients exposed their dreams and their demons. Down House, Kent was the home of Charles Darwin for forty years. In an upstairs hallway a large glass cabinet contains numerous stuffed exotic birds, each poised within an ornamental idyllic forest diorama. As the birds appear and vanish suddenly upon leafy branches, clear distinctions between creation myth and evolution theory seem to dissolve.” [Photo 98]


Second Truths [1998] publication ISBN 0952118165
supported by Yorkshire & Humberside Arts, Arts Council England, and designed by the The Workshop, Sheffield

Photography in collaboration with Mark Enstone


All works © Jonathan Allen 2012. All photographs are © their respective authors.