T-Rex in Town

Renèe Helèna Browne



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Inanimates in ExileElectrocuting the Elephant

In this poetic narration, Renèe Helèna Browne muses on the figure of the T-Rex as an embodied form of abstraction, allowing us to think through and attend to the body, sex, gender and desire.

Image Description: A hand-drawn picture of a T-Rex marching with determinacy. The page around it is blank. The linework is black and the inside of the drawing is pink. The T-Rex’s mouth is open in a roar. Its feet are flexed as if in mid-run, and its long tail, almost the length of its whole body, trails behind it.

T-Rex in town

I want Trix to eat me. I want her to snatch my body off the floor, so fast I don't have the time to take my last breath. I want her to sink her teeth into me, tearing all the flesh from my limbs. I want her to swallow what's left and finish me off with a burp so loud she smirks in surprise with intense satisfaction. Or at least, that’s what I want to want here.

I stand next to Trix's skeleton at the centre of this showroom and awe at her ass. It’s strung up so high that together her vertebrates, anchored in taught chains, descend with the glide of a roller coaster destined for her low-laying open mouth. This mouth, full of large jagged teeth and no tongue, presents the clearest picture of her inanimate body. If I lean forward I can see the chains drilled into what partial bone was found. I can smell the sickly concoction of plastic, and foam, and paint, and glue, and filler used to make up what's missing. I can see how she’s been packed, and attached, and scraped, and fixed, and stuffed, and fucked with these materials. This skeleton is clearly very carefully fabricated. While monstrously rude in scale, Trix has been put back together with the polite precision of human fingers softly pressing filler into tiny holes of bone.

I realize quickly that my want to feel total immersion here with this highly synthetic skeleton might be quite naive. I look up and notice she and I are surrounded by rooms built to tell the story of her life. In the one closest by, there’s a reconstructed nest that allows me to curl up inside as if one of her young. In another, there’s text and drawings illustrating the daily life of Trix’s species. I see a gift shop up ahead selling Trix-themed bits like backpacks and toys. I even spot a sign for food outlets located at the end of the venue with 'inspired menus'. This exhibition is perhaps not the most hopeful invitation to have encounters with a once living and feeling body that marked the earth as I do now.

I think about the dead buried in graveyards having similar pleas of connectivity. I read words like 'beloved husband' or 'darling daughter' on gravestones and assume that person in the ground was important to someone, whether their body is still a fresh corpse lying in a box beneath the soil, or withered and now a part of the earth. But unlike these bodies, Trix didn’t get to rest in this peaceful decay while longed for by the living. Her bones were immediately dug up, analyzed and kept safe, protected by their significance. She was then reattached to form these hovering life-like shapes of legs, a torso, a tail, a skull, and two little arms hanging in front of me now, elegantly puppeteering their threatening potential. Her body was found in Montana in 2013 and is one of the three most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in the world. I read in the exhibition handout that she had a tough time when she lived. Archaeologists note an infection in her right upper jaw. They say it’s possible this was a 'love bite' caused by a male T. rex while mating or that it occurred during a fight while protecting her young. With her head positioned so low to the ground, I lean forward to see how the infection festered its own route into the side of her skull.

Eventually, after wandering around, unsure where to go, I walk into what is probably the least intimidating of the small rooms. It’s an almost empty square space with an exercise bike standing in the centre in between two facing wall-mounted tv screens. There's no information for visitors here beyond the words “CYCLE, FAST, don’t be her dinner” laid out as black vinyl on either side of the screens. So I do as I'm told, get up on the bike, and start to cycle. On the tv in front of the bike there’s an animated video of a long, luscious forest path. Sunlight dapples in between wind-swept foliage with blades of grass slow-dancing in its stream. Nothing else happens in this video clip, re-looping a couple times while I sit there, so I decide to quicken up my pace on the bike.

As I look deeper into the greens of the grasses, I hear an animal's footstep move in my direction. It’s slow at first, but then there’s growling, and I notice the steps increase the more I gain speed. I hear branches break in the distance and imagine this animal is forcing itself through the forest toward me. At times it seems to get extremely close. Its breath becomes so crisp I can almost feel it as the panting drives me on to cycle faster and faster. Sweaty and worn out, I slow down for a second and realize the animal's pace slows down too, mocking my unfit and unsure body. Looking behind me, I see my chaser is an animated similarly sweaty T-rex. Presumably this is Trix. Here, there’s no bones visible, or steel chains holding her together, as earlier in the main showroom. The body in front of me now is agile and free. She’s moving impatiently in her formerly skeletal frame, now coated in a dazzlingly vivid purpley-pink flesh. She is beautiful and irritated. Her head swirls violently, similar to how I imagined her ending me earlier, as she paces along the path.

Trix always looms over me as a visceral spectacle of danger, forcing my body with 'flight' over 'fight'. The bike is supposed to enable me to flee her by reaching the serenity and safety of the path up ahead. But Trix never quite catches up. Instead, while running at high speed, jaws dripping with saliva in anticipation of the taste of my flesh, I realize I'm set up to perform a subject of fear. My body, akin to a hamster on a wheel, fuels its own cyclic formation and is forced to endure the unyielding proposition of becoming a dinosaur's dinner. The danger implied by Trix’s chase doesn’t bubble underneath a surface or peak at certain moments in the way carnivores hunt their prey typically in the wild. Here, I am presented with an animated killer that is unwavering in her suggested desire to catch me. But by cycling 'away' from her I am simply feeding the fear-flight response in myself.

I know fear is a natural and important reaction in the case of an emergency. But I’ve also learned it can become a paradise for stagnation in my brain. I’ve spent years afraid of invisible dangers and visible escape routes, stuck in a middle ground akin to being on this bike where a life lived afraid becomes both the baseline, and only proposed outcome. The effort to cycle faster and faster, to end an unending story, is a false attempt at mastery in a world where an idealised existence is always on the horizon, but never quite reached. This room works as a constant reliving of this attempt. There is no allowance for momentary escape or possible change in a narrative, just ongoing, cyclical confrontation inside an addictive chase.

I’m invested in the proposition of what if that is central to science fiction, much more than I am in the tools of realism. I think what if’s can taunt my mind to explore itself in spaces previously unentered and elasticate otherwise solid pieces of thought. It asks me, you, anyone in a new, or proposed new, encounter to consider how my, your, our reality can exist next to another, or itself be some other way. In trauma however, what-if is the only tense and time. It’s where anxiety holds control of my brain and I stay still, hidden alone, afraid of any potential threats. It's not a space for new consideration or sharing or for alternative realities. It’s just this static story, crackling away inside my head as I lay under the covers scared to climb out.

By performing for me with a mask of terror, and continually reintroducing the human as her meal, Trix is set up to insist on an idea that I must constantly feel fear. Which I, as a visitor, so quickly comply with in an exchange for what the exhibition describes as "the natural world”. Whether I travel back 66 million years to find it, or get stuck in the non-linear swirling of anxious thought, the potential threats of existence are offered as the only option for living. I think I naively assumed this exhibition would provide me with proposals for a shared existence with Trix that were not predicated on suspending me back in the timeless, airless space of unhinged fear. But instead, it built so heavily on the foundations of realism, that the potential freedoms of an imaginary world were unable to live.

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This text was written with editorial support from Esther Draycott and Aaron Goddard.