Natura Morta, Oliver Mark’s current project, is dedicated to the question of how human beings treat their environment and the natural world, focusing in particular on the animal kingdom as well as the aesthetics and beauty of death. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the still life genre, originally known as natura morta – ‘dead nature’ –, became established as stil leven in Holland and Stillleben in Germany. In this transition, the notion behind the genre shifted from the Latin and Italian meaning. However, if one takes life as existence or being, and still as inactive in the sense of dead, the term continued to express a very similar idea, even if not quite identical. For his present project, Oliver Mark has deliberated chosen the original Latin term as a way of highlighting the contrast between nature = life and lifeless = dead. What we discover in his photographs did once live and, in almost every case, was killed in the prime of life by human hand. Moreover, the natura morta term strongly shifts the focus to the animal and plant kingdoms, placing humanity in the background. Even if, of course, human beings are a part of nature, we are only one small part compared to nature’s vast diversity.
Oliver Mark’s still life photographs were taken in a German customs’ storage room in Bonn where the court exhibits are kept. In his photos, he orchestrates objects confiscated by the customs as classic art still lifes – from leopard skulls and carved ivory to products from crocodile, tortoise or turtle, parts of protected animals and plants, hunting trophies, snakeskin garments, musical instruments from valuable tropical woods, and souvenirs such as sea horses, coral, snails and sea shells.