Jim Naughten’s series “Mountains of Kong,” on view at Michael Hoppen Gallery in London until October 21, imagines the flora, fauna and terrain of an African mountain range that never existed. The Mountains of Kong, running East and West across central West Africa, first appeared on a 1798 map created by an English cartographer. In the 1880s, French explorers found that the mountains did not exist, but the range has been included in subsequent maps well into the twentieth century.
Naughten explores this fictionalized bit of history using the tools and knowledge of the era. Working with photographs of subjects including wildlife dioramas from the American Museum of Natural History, Naughten creates stereoscopic images with the magenta-toned look of infrared film. Viewed with a stereoscope, the three dimensional images reference both the purported scientific purpose of colonial exploration, which supplied many of the specimens that shaped European and American nature dioramas, and the history of the stereograph, also a nineteenth century invention. The images connect the hunger for views of distant lands that the stereo technology fed with the European drive to chart, and then control, African land. They are a fictional view of a place that never existed. Says Naughten in a statement, “The work aims to be both engaging and playful, but also will function as a comment on the mutability of history and our ever evolving and malleable relationship with the past.”
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