Natural history refers to a field-based scientific practice that relies on direct observation and study of the natural world. Around the turn of the century scientific practice shifted toward specialization and experimental laboratory-based methods. Since then natural history has been in sharp decline and recently a number of biologists and ecologists have grown increasingly concerned that specialists lack the ability to deeply understand natural systems. Naturalists, the practitioners of natural history, have come to be seen as anachronistic amateurs and have been pushed to the margins. As if in response to the adage that nature abhors a vacuum, many contemporary artists have stepped into this void. This exhibition seeks to bring together work by contemporary artists who, like naturalists, are deeply interested in the biotic world, as well as the places where nature and culture meet. Often inspired by the practice of natural history, their work is derived from firsthand knowledge, sustained observation, research, and it also reflects a tradition of experimentation in the oldest sense of the word: as understanding derived through direct experience. This exhibition presents artists who, in many respects, are similar to biologist David Gilligan's description of contemporary naturalists as “translators of scientific and aesthetic vernacular, necessary liaisons between specialists and laypeople, committed practitioners of observation and interpretation of a natural world that is changing perhaps more quickly than we can know.”
Images from the Hidden Ecologies Project, a partnership between architect Cris Benton, microbiologist Wayne Lanier, and curator Marina McDougall, document transitional geographies in the San Francisco Bay ecology at macro- and micro-levels.
Sam Easterson’s videos are shot from small animal-mounted cameras and give a strikingly visual sense of the world from animal, and even non-animate, points of view.
Tera Galanti crosses the nature/culture divide and her video documents the life cycle of the domesticated silk moth which she has been trying to reverse-breed back to a form similar to its wild ancestors.
Dalya Luttwak creates elegant sculptures that model plant roots and she visualizes and gives scale to that which is normally invisible.
Jean-Luc Mylane studies the behavior of specific species of birds, finds a location where he expects them to be, and then patiently waits for them to arrive, a process that can take days, weeks, or months. The resulting enigmatic photographs offer an alternative to traditional bird photography.
Lori Nix creates dioramas of natural history dioramas and photographs them. Her sometimes darkly funny images comment on the history of natural history and how we frame looking at the natural world.
Gretchen Scharnagl’s ceramic installation of dead passenger pigeons visualizes the demise of the species but also comments on the contemporary problem of bird collisions with buildings that leads to the deaths of millions of birds, especially migratory birds, each year.
Joseph Scheer’s large format, super-high resolution images of moths gives viewers an unprecedented look at small and often overlooked insects in a remarkably physical scale and his cataloging of moths has drawn the attention of biologists.
Amy Stein’s staged photographs of documented events chronicle the increasing incursions of wildlife into domesticated spaces and cause us to question just what it means to be wild.
Jessica Rath’s trompe l’oeil slip-cast ceramic apples draw attention to the fragility of the modern apple, a domesticated fruit that continues to rely upon its wild ancestors for propagation. In many ways the apple is an apt metaphor of the place where nature and culture meet.
NUVO: 'The New Naturalists' at Herron by Charles Fox