Opening Saturday 15th February 3-5pm
15 February - 7 March 2020
I am irresistibly drawn to Museums of Natural History.
They are housed in spaces of grandeur; marble stair-cased, cupola domed, wood-burled, hushed mausoleums to science, redolent with the artistry of the Victorian Gentleman Naturalist and Collector, the enthusiastic amateur of the day.
I'll happily peruse for hours the darkened rooms of jarred denizens floating in murky liquid, the cabinets of rare minerals and curiosities from exotic locales, drawers of brittle beetles, and the grand halls of snarling, glassy-eyed taxidermy specimens rare and extinct. The NHM of Vienna displays no less than seven Kākāpō, it is worth noting.
It's 360 years since the Royal Society of London was formed, its mission to further the knowledge of the natural world in the age of Enlightenment and Reason. The society was dominated by the aforementioned gentleman naturalists, among them Joseph Banks, and later the definitive Victorian Gentleman Naturalist Charles Darwin.
Whilst the Gentleman Naturalists contributed significantly to the understanding of the natural world, Linnaean taxonomic classification, and the development of evolutionary theory, they also unleashed a mania for collecting. A collection of rare and unique ‘objet’, natural or otherwise, became de rigueur for any self-respecting gentleman of means. Young adventurers and fortune seekers were dispatched all over the globe in search of elusive items that gentlemen collectors would pay handsomely for. This was not conducive to conservation, and some flora and fauna were hunted to extinction, sadly.
Contemporary Naturalism has refocused; thankfully there is a sense of urgency in the Age of the Anthropocene and the concerns of Modern Naturalists are conservation and preservation, not collection, as nature dwindles. This is of particular relevance in New Zealand, where many of our native species are in decline or at risk of extinction because of human alteration to habitats and introduction of predator species.
Insects are vital in our ecosystem; our world teems with them. Many perform tasks that are essential to human survival; they pollinate, they consume and process decaying matter. Insects supplement the diet of birds that spread seeds to germinate and keep the cycle of habitat regeneration going. They are integral to our ecosystems, the food web. Without them, our mega-fauna would cease to exist, including ourselves. We are playing ecosystem jenga with little consideration for the consequences or feedback loops that may unfold.
Insects are the everyday invisible, and I fear we won't value them until they are gone.
Lisa West, Feb 2020
Join us to celebrate this latest series with Lisa West on Saturday 15th February from 3-5pm. Contact the gallery for more information and an e-catalogue.
Image: Lisa West, Eyrewell Ground Beetle, oxidised sterling silver.