Natural History Museum Exhibit Explores Extinction Through Art

The moa—a large, flightless bird native to New Zealand—has been extinct since the 14th century. But thanks to an art installation at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, it is making a reappearance.

Looking to make a statement about species extinction and climate change, the “Next of Kin: Seeing Extinction Through the Artist’s Lens” exhibit features daguerreotype photographs and specimens of extinct, endangered, and threatened animals like the moa.

The exhibit showcases the work of Dartmouth professor Christina Seely, who spoke Wednesday at a panel on the exhibit with Visual and Environmental Studies and History of Art and Architecture professor Carrie Lambert-Beatty and Dartmouth Environmental Studies professor Ross A. Virginia. Edward Morris, co-director of the Canary Lab at Syracuse University, moderated the discussion.

 

In his opening remarks, Morris described the exhibition as a “meditation upon the extinction crisis” and “a memorial for some of the species already lost.”

Seely recounted her experience conducting research in the Harvard museums’ archives and working with faculty members to develop the installation.

She said she choose to imprint the photographs of the endangered and extinct species animals on reflective surfaces to allows the viewers to see themselves within the frame of the portraits. The images were also placed over lights which brighten and dim to evoke gradual extinction. 

The exhibit sought to “work through a conceptual idea to its completion” and try to “honor the essence of the specimen,” Seely said. The purpose of the installation, Seely said, is not to provide answers for the natural world as scientists may typically do, but instead to inspire questioning and disorientation.

Seely has worked with Virginia in her previous projects, as well as with Morris’s organization The Canary Project, an organization that produces art concerned with ecology and environmentalism. The Canary Project collaborated with Seely on the sculptures featured in “Next of Kin.”

“This is the product of a multi-year effort by Christina,” Virginia said in an interview before the panel. “I think we’re just all trying to find new ways to engage the public in thinking about and taking action on critical issues of climate change and species loss.”

—Staff writer Monica E. Reichard can be reached at monica.reichard@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @monicaereichard.

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Chris Alexakisart