No matter how you see nature now, you’ll never see it the same way again.
A daring claim from the Wellcome Collection but not an entirely unfair one. This is not a natural history exhibition in the sense of looking at a particular animal, ecology, behaviour, or evolution. Rather, ‘Making Nature: How we see animals’ is an exploration into what we think, feel and value about other species and the consequences this has for the world around us.
The exhibit certainly delivered an interrogation into how we observe animals, deconstructing preconceived hierarchies through the use of taxidermy, literature, film, photography and objects. Organised around four themes – ‘Ordering’, ‘Displaying’, ‘Observing’ and ‘Making’ – the exhibition pushes not only the boundaries of taxonomy, but also the typical boundaries of a museum display case. The sound of a growling tiger bled through to adjacent rooms and taxidermy creatures could be spotted hidden in corners and above doorways.
This exhibit exposes our preoccupation with arbitrary classification, our pursuit of a ‘natural’ order, and gestures towards the silent assumption that homo sapiens belongs at this top of this chain. Instead, the visitor is encouraged to push against this power dynamic and allow nature to stand for itself rather than projecting our own cultural assumptions onto it.
If the first three rooms focus on the ways in which we describe, order and display nature, then the final room begins to question what consequences this may have on nonhuman animals. From genetic modification to de-extinction, the exhibit poses the ethical quandary without claiming to have the answers.
The exhibit ran from 1st December 2016 – 21st May 2017, however is followed by the Wellcome Collection’s summer exhibition ‘A museum of modern nature’.