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  • The Glow of Significance: Narrating stories using natural history specimens

Pedder-Smith, Rachel, 2011, Thesis, The Glow of Significance: Narrating stories using natural history specimens PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The subject of this project is natural history specimens and the exploration of their qualities in visual artwork. The first part is a 533cm watercolour painting composed of an image of at least one specimen (or part thereof) to represent each flowering plant family, of which there are 505. The ‘Herbarium Specimen Painting’ was created using dried plant specimens from the herbarium collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The plant families are painted in systematic order following one of the recently developed DNA classification systems. The painting was produced with scientific rigor and under the constant supervision of Kew botanists. It aims not only to illustrate the chosen classification system but to explore the aesthetic beauty of herbarium specimens and celebrate many of the incredible and varied narratives contained within the Kew collection.
The second element of this thesis constructs a context for the above artwork among similar projects. Natural history institutions worldwide were contacted for information about artists using natural history collections to produce art with a strong narrative element that ‘discussed’ the notion of the specimen. These artists were then contacted and many interviewed. In parallel, the literature review concentrated on theories developed in the field of material culture where the human relationships between groups of objects are analysed. These theories proved fundamental and on occasion inspirational in uncovering deeper meanings and narrative possibilities.
The concluding section of this research discusses whether the findings of this project, which uses and develops material culture theory can contribute to that field of research. It analyses the possibility that specimen-based artwork can benefit science and/or help revitalise museum collections, and comments on whether institutions can improve the public communicability of the objects in their care by treating them as a potential source for new art.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design > W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Communication
Copyright Holders: Rachel Pedder-Smith
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2011 16:28
Last Modified: 01 May 2013 09:36
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/430

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