This project explores how species extinction, as well as recovery of species threatened by extinction, can be considered within a cultural heritage framework. We are investigating how human-nature entanglements in extinction cases can be placed into cultural contexts within museum and art gallery exhibitions.
Greater input is urgently needed from arts and humanities to work alongside, as well as to critically engage with, the scientific discoveries and ethical imperatives of contemporary wildlife conservation studies. Because museums and art galleries are one of the primary sites of public engagement with conservation issues including extinction, critical reflection on how they can be used to cultivate heritage thinking about non-human species is timely in light of the increasing number of species lost to extinction each year as we live through the 'six mass extinction event'.
The project investigates display practices for cultural stories of both extinction and the recovery of species which had been on the brink of extinction with an interdisciplinary collaborative approach.
Impacts & Results
The project explores the multiple framing actives simultaneously in displays of extinction (past, present and future) using interactive workshops, art-as-research practice, and narrative analysis. The project has developed best practices for how the cultural significance of extinction events, whether they happened or were averted, can be displayed in museums and galleries and implement those best practices in three exhibit spaces as a testing ground for research.
There were three exhibition components of the project:
1. Thinking through Extinction
Based at the University of Leeds (UK) in partnership with Manchester Museum and the contemporary art platform Corridor8, this part of the project focused on co-created art and public engagement in displaying extinction.
The project included an Artist-in-Residence, Laurence Payot, who documented her work with the Manchester Museum collections. Her major output was a video called Voicing Silence, which is available to view online.
We hosted a two-day online symposium 'Extinction in Public' in October 2020. The recordings of two roundtables are available for viewing online: Curating in a Time of Mass Extinction and Creating in a Time of Mass Extinction. The co-created publication resulting from the workshop facing Extinction includes artistic and scholarly input.
2. The Beaver's Journey
This portion of the project involved the Norwegian partners, University of Stavanger and Aust-Agder Museum and Archive (AAMA) to create a temporary, mobile exhibition on the history of the beaver, which was saved from extinction in Scandinavia in the early 1900s. The beaver reintroduction is a cultural heritage that needs to be more widely known in Scandinavia.
Using historical research done by the project team, an exhibition was developed with multiple components:
- A physical exhibition. This exhibition was aimed at children as the primary audience, with additional information provided to adults attending as well. It includes a set of bespoke illustrations to engage the audience and a puppet show for small children. Text is provided in Norwegian, Swedish, and English. The exhibition opened in June 2020 at Elvarheim Museum, a division of AAMA, and then has travelled to other institutions, including Skogsmuseet in Norway and Jamtli museum in Sweden in 2020 and 2021.
- An online exhibition. This exhibition is aimed at a public adult audience. Images were selected to highlight the collections of Europeana, an EU-financed cultural heritage platform. The text is provided in English and Swedish.
- A children's book. This illustrated children's book in Norwegian uses historical photos of the beaver's recovery to engage children in environmental conservation and discuss socially relevant issues. Copies of the book were provided to children attending the exhibition for free. An OpenAccess online version is also available.
- A popular history book. This book, written as a companion but not a catalog to the exhibition, tells the history of the beaver's journey from Norway to Sweden as part of saving it from extinction. Copies of the book were provided to adults attending the exhibition for free. An OpenAccess online version is also available.
3. Biodiversity of liveable city
This part of the project led by the Polish team of Arsenał Municipal Gallery in Poznań and Adam Mickiewicz University and focused on urban nature and engagement with contemporary art that could make people more aware of threatened urban nature.
We organized a series of workshops on urban nature, including on beavers and interspecies cohabitation, mushroom picking, an invasive ladybug, and the rewilding of an abandoned stadium.
A contemporary art exhibition called "Refugia. Keep (out of) these places" was developed and shown in Poznań in September-November 2021. The multi-site exhibition showed new contemporary art engaging with nature refugia and threatened nature in the city in order to present it as heritage worth keeping. A book documenting the exhibition and providing critical reflections on its themes, Refugia: The Survival of Urban Transpecies Communities, was published by Arsenał Municipal Gallery as an OpenAccess publication with text in both Polish and English.
Other scholarly publications
In addition to these exhibition-based components, the project is producing scholarly publications. These include a Special Issue of the journal Museum & Society called 'Exhibiting Extinction' which is edited by Dolly Jørgensen and will come out in 2022, and the article Dominic O’Key (2021), Why look at taxidermy animals? Exhibiting, curating and mourning the Sixth Mass Extinction Event, International Journal of Heritage Studies 27: 635-653.
Banner: "After the extinctions ... at least our kids will always have the dominoes" by woodleywonderworks is licensed under CC BY 2.0