a curious collection of landscape specimens
This project will be presented in future as a joint print exhibit. You can get a flavour for it though…
This joint presentation by photographers Samantha Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett brings together a beautiful collection of colourful images that, on the surface, delight the eye and invite us to move in for a closer inspection of these wondrous curiosities. But upon doing so a more disturbing realization dawns. In Samantha’s Pressed Landscapes collection, the landscapes captured appear somewhat distorted, even flattened as if pressed between the pages of a scrapbook. Darwin’s Artography is a breathtaking collection of paired images inside one frame: from a distance, the images sparkle like delicate butterfly wings in their collector’s boxes. As we come closer, we see that each graphic image is actually a small scenic speared with a pin as if to a mounting board in a box.
Referencing the fascination with natural history and the triumph of science among European cultures from the 1700s to 1800s, this joint project reminds us of a time of intense colonization and appropriation of both human and natural cultures. During the Victorian era, popular hobbies such as pressing flowers or pinning insects provided the beholder with a piece of art comprised of natural things – even as the act of preserving necessitated the death of the object so valued. With this collection, the artists invite us to ponder whether our love of landscapes and our need to possess them through extensive travel to build our own private digital libraries is a factor in their destruction. This question is especially relevant in today’s era where photography is characterized by more and more adventure travel to far-flung and fragile destinations. Is our need to bring home our own trophy images for our ‘digital wall’ leading to the very loss of these special places? Read on to learn more about each artists’ project.
A popular pastime in Victorian England was to collect and preserve interesting plants and flowers in a scrapbook. Then the specimen could be examined again and again for the delight and curiosity such flora evoked in the collector. Preserving specimens for study was also common in science, and a library of collectibles evinced a rational and enlightened man. The question of whether the very act of collecting and preserving flora and fauna justified the death of the living thing collected was largely absent from discourse. Collection was an entitlement of education and the right to enjoy the natural aesthetic of living things.
In our current era of mass extinction known as the Anthropocene, Samantha’s collection of pressed landscapes draws a parallel to the fad of collecting and preserving in the Victorian era. The previously bound pages hint at disturbing questions: What hand took care to collect and press these scenics? What has happened to the environments from which these scenes were taken? Is all we have left of these places imperfectly preserved and slightly damaged paper ripped from a lost a book?
Darwin’s Artography project strives first to show the graphic aspect inherent in nature and second to have these abstract elements reveal themselves as rather straightforward intimate scenes.
But there is more to Artography than an exhortation to look closer at the artful natural world. By arranging his images in tableaux, in giant, wall-mounted boxes, Darwin also harkens back to the Victorian tradition of collectors’ boxes. Fascination with natural history led to the creation of massive collections of insects, plants and animals that delighted viewers even as the survival of these species was threatened through increased contact with foreign material and over-harvest. Rare and prized, Darwin’s collectors’ boxes suggest parallels between the actions of zealous collectors of times past and today’s travelers whose desire to experience these fragile places for themselves and obtain their own collection of images raises the threat of over-visitation.