It was a very cold morning on 7 September 1936.The previous night had been unseasonably cold and as the staff at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart did their rounds, they found there had been a death during the night. The zoos only thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) had mistakenly been locked out of its sleeping quarters and had succumbed to the cold. With the demise of this animal, a species went extinct.Although unlikely to have been the very last living thylacine, it was certainly the last physical evidence of the species.
McGlennon heralds the majestic Thylacine, extinct since 1936, as a figure of heroic strength and sentimental regret. He idealizes and memorializes the great native marsupial, as wild master of the bush, despite its treatment in the C19th as untamable beast, as mere dog. His photographs are monuments to a time when the Anthropocene had not yet begun; where human activity had not yet disturbed the native ecology, nor caused the demise of this august species.
McGlennon composes scenes with Thylacines placed singly and in male/female pairings (reminding us of impossible future populations) upon a rocky outcrop with distant Romantic Sublime scenery beyond, images resulting from a nine-day shoot in Tasmania in 2012.This formal, stylized format, though, has a conceptual reversal. Rather than the great explorer or expedition scientist as central point of interest, the view is focussed on the extinct Thylacine. In C18th ad C19th traditions, animals were painted in the background or as companions to humans, as witnesses to manís exultant victory over Nature. McGlennon reverses this by placing human life (sailing ships, a Victorian pumphouse on the foreshore, a line of controlled bushfire) in the far distance.The Thylacine are now the heroes and mankind is the distant witness.
This provides a disruption to how we habitually perceive Nature. Rather than an anthropocentric view of the world, these photographs remind us of the conventional hierarchies we have created within the animal kingdom, and changes that dynamic.The value of animals, as having equal importance as humans, is growing in contemporary culture.This ontological view of the world, as a composite of egalitarian and democratic ëthings,í has flourished in recent philosophy and in animal rights activism, where food cycles, eating patterns and ecological care are attracting critical attention.
McGlennon is conscious of fragile life cycles and our human habit of collection and classification. Butterflies, waratah and bottlebrush flowers appear in the artistís foregrounds as dioramic specimens. This is another disturbance in our culturally constructed view of ‘real/unreal’Nature and this, ultimately, is McGlennonís strength as an artist; to awaken us from a slumber of preconceived aesthetic ideas and offer something new.