Untitled BOP (2016)
Shown in 'The Matter of Objects' at the Arts Two, London 26th May 2016.
and Barts Pathology Museum, London, 28th May 2016.
Realised with: Natalie Lawrence, Hannah Lee, Ella Kilgallon and museum professionals at the Horniman Museum: Helen Merrett, Jo Hatton and Natasha Logan.
‘They never fly, except when the wind blows’. The birds of paradise were legless. The birds of paradise were wingless. They were trade skins; deformed, mutilated, partial shades of the animal. Prepared by New Guinean hunters, traded by Moluccans and finally acquired by early modern Europeans, sailors and naturalists.
Working in response to Lawrence’s thesis entitled 'Monstrous Assembly: Constructing Exotic Animals in Early Modern Europe', Untitled BOP (2016) acts as a gateway to understanding the reflexivity in the ways that birds of paradise were interpreted upon their arrival in Europe. Through the coalescence of historic accounts from the 16th century onwards, the work depicts a time in which birds of paradise were imagined as untouchable wonders. As fragments of information were shaped through networks of exchange, histories of the birds were gradually assembled, simultaneously constructing bodies of knowledge in books of natural history. The consequential material pertaining to these specimens was incredibly malleable. Through these conceived natural histories the birds become something mythical, an equivalent sense of wonder paralleled by perception today.
The skins of the birds of paradise were organised within historical collections including cabinets of curiosity, or Wunderkammer. In Untitled BOP (2016) they are assimilated through six pinned cut-outs. Appearing alien, as hung medical objects, they are illuminated by the ultraviolet glow of a lecture projection and steel lightboxes, previously used to visualise x-rays. The lightboxes now display examples of skins photographed using the Horniman Museum's natural history collection.
Floating angelic creatures, elevating their exquisite plumes, the birds of paradise have repeatedly been viewed as symbolic and emblematic specimens throughout each context and culture they are appropriated by. Re-purposed feathers were highly saleable in Europe due to characteristics that made them ‘rare’ or ‘curious’. The skins were popular within millinery and other forms of ostentatious display, mimicking the New Guineans’ own use of the birds in headdresses for ceremonial use. Removed from the creature’s reality they continue to be immune from gravity, elementally aerial and unable to land. Perpetually in motion; the birds of the rediscovered Eden, a terrestrial Paradise.
The Matter Of Objects
The humanities have increasingly recognised the value of objects within historical narratives yet approaches to the material often remain stifled by the abstract ways in which they are considered. The Matter of Objects (2016) is an exhibition that brings together humanities researchers, artists and creative practitioners in interdisciplinary conversation, co-curated by Hannah Lee & Ella Kilgallon.
Untitled BOP (2016) evolved through a collaboration between Natalie Lawrence, a PhD student at the History and Philosophy of Science Department, University of Cambridge and artist Dominique Russell who holds a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design and an MA in Museum Studies from University College London.