Visited the Caves of Nottingham with J., M. and E. on Saturday and was reminded, appropriately or not, of David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology and Roland Albrecht’s Museum der Unerhörten Dinge. They are both museums run by artists that play with notions of truth and fiction. The visitor who comes across the tiny fur of a bonsai stag, a breast-shaped stone said to have belonged to Thomas Mann, a rather curious specimen of Cameroonian stink ant or a 11 x 13 mm fruit stone carving of a Flemish landscape is prompted to question the authenticity of the exhibits and the stories behind them and, ultimately, to reflect on the ways we produce knowledge.
Now I’m not implying that the City of Caves tourist site, a succession of caves dug underneath Nottingham city centre some 1100 years ago, used as a storage, work, meeting and hiding space and even for housing, pursues an equally lofty mission. After entering the underworld via The Rock Shop located in a big shopping centre next to Thorntons and H&M, the guide takes you a couple of stairs down to an enchanted well (featuring ascending blue mist and the possibility to toss a coin and make a wish); a tannery (complete with detailed comments on the nature of the excrements used for the process); slums; and a WWII shelter (including a morally questionable re-enactment of an air raid during the blitz). Re-emerging from the catacombs and getting rid of your hardhat (the equivalent of felt slippers donned by tourists in Medieval castles, I believe), you can finally peruse the shop and purchase Robin Hood arrow heads or fossilised shark teeth dating back 30 Mio years for just three pounds.
In short, one cannot blame M. for doubting the authenticity of this award-winning tourist attraction. The whole place is great fun, but extremely dodgy. However, checking the website today, I came across an unexpected moment of self-awareness and auto-reflexivity, bringing it infinitely closer to the aforementioned artist’s projects:
We still don’t know all the answers. But whatever the truth may be, there is no doubt that the City of Caves is a truly unique site.
Authenticity? Who cares these days, as long as the entertainment is provided.