Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Photography: Bryan Conley, Carnegie Museum of Art
     

    Finding Detail in Dimension

    Author: Erin Patrick, Inside the Carnegie International 57th edition, 2018 Student - Fall 2018

    Artist Rachel Rose challenged students to explore the theme of “Depth and Durability” at a recent Tam O’Shanter Drawing Session hosted by the Carnegie Museum of Art, asking everyone to participate in an interval drawing exercise. We began with Rose sharing her struggles as a young artist attending Yale University, and the influence of professor Robert Reed, who inspired the session’s theme. Rose put forward the idea that art can be done in any time frame and with layers of depth. Her idea was a session based off an exercise routine with varying time constraints and focuses.

    After Rose’s introduction, the group moved to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Minerals where we were each given the opportunity to select a gem and draw it repeatedly for different intervals of time. Rose started with short intervals, increasing to ten minutes, and then back down to thirty seconds.  The process required a great deal of focus yet let us expand and express our relationship with the objects. Although slightly anxiety provoking, the task proved to be a great exercise in mental endurance and flexibility. How can you complete a drawing of a three-dimensional object in thirty seconds?   How does your interpretation of an object change between thirty seconds versus ten minutes?  Rachel’s process made us think through the dimensions of the object, which was reflected in the evolution of our drawings. Students’ works varied in texture, shape, size, and value throughout the process. 

    After the session, Rose allowed time for debriefing. We were encouraged to share our art and discuss how the time intervals affected our expression. The Tam O’Shanter session was a challenge in the best way possible:  we were allowed to let our creative process free, just as Rose has in her upcoming work in the Carnegie International, 57th Edition, 2018.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • One of the focus group sessions at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Nile in Focus: Assessing Community Expectations for CMNH’s "Egypt on the Nile" Exhibition

    Author: Alec Story, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Summer 2018

    When preparing for the installation of a new permanent exhibition, museums often assess the needs and assumptions of the communities they serve. For its upcoming gallery rework entitled Egypt on the Nile, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been doing just that. Egypt on the Nile unites human and natural histories, a unique approach that differs from traditional Egypt-oriented galleries. The novelty of this concept necessitates properly gauging audience reactions to and receptions of the exhibition and its themes. Over the course of my summer fellowship I assisted curator Dr. Erin Peters in, among other things, the planning and execution of these community focus groups.

    Paramount to this process was recruiting participants from a wide variety of backgrounds: museum members, college students, K-12 educators, and senior citizens. Diverse groups were chosen in order to accurately represent the thoughts and feelings of those who visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Prior to the focus group meetings, we created prompts and questions that participants could respond to, and a session schedule to ensure we used our time effectively. Questions were designed to be open-ended, promote discussion, and to tease out valuable information on the proposed exhibition themes. During the focus group sessions we used an array of strategies including surveys, sticky notes, and open discussion to gather relevant information. The focus group environment allowed anyone, regardless of education or experience with Egypt, to come in and share their thoughts on one of the most famous cultures of all time.

    After the focus groups I was tasked with recording and synthesizing the data accumulated during each focus group. With this information the Egypt on the Nile team can even more successfully create an exhibit that both depicts all desired themes and does so in a way that is easily communicable to the public.

    This experience has allowed me to see how museums plan exhibits, how exhibits are constantly undergoing change and adjustment, and how cultural institutions interact with the community.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Launching Botany Hall

    On Thursday, March 29th, Colleen O'Reilly and I launched our collaborative project Botany Hall: Dioramas on Context in the Hall of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The event marked the launch of our online exhibition at www.botanyhall.com and provided an ideal opportunity for facilitating a cross-institutional, interdisciplinary discussion about art and science. This latter component was always an essential part of our project vision. Indeed, in our initial mock grant proposal (drafted in Spring 2016), we posited that our project would contribute to academic discussion on the politics of display, representation as a pathway to knowledge, and the lives and agencies of objects. 

    We were delighted to assemble a panel of individuals who contributed to our research process between 2016 and 2018. Lugene Bruno, Curator of Art & Senior Research Scholar at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, provided expert knowledge on the history of botanical illustration and helpfully contrasted 2D and 3D representations of scientific phenomena. Bonnie Isaac, meanwhile, is an in-house expert on the space we have been studying for two years. As Collection Manager of Botany at CMNH, Isaac manages the herbarium and has witnessed the evolution of the museum since 1989. Erin Peters, joint lecturer of curatorial studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Assistant Curator of Science and Research at the CMNH, straddles the line between art history and historical, scientific display, so has provided invaluable advice on this project since its inception. These individuals helped to generate a lively discussion about dioramas, display techniques, and collaborative work. 

    We were also pleasantly suprised by the number of attendees. Participants arrived from a range of institutions and disciplines: ranging from faculty and students from the School of Education and the Department of Art and Architecture at Pitt as well as staff from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, Hunt Institute, City of Asylum, and the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. 

    Having launched the website and hosted an opening event, we are taking some time away from Botany Hall. We may do more with this project, but are allowing ourselves some time to write our own dissertations and reflect on the work we've done thus far. Feel free to send us feedback after perusing the website! 

    Categories: 
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Surveys ready for distribution in the We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene exhibit

     

     

     

    A Brief Survey of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2018

    Thousands of visitors of different ages visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History every year. As the Museum Studies intern in their Marketing Department, it was my job to ask these visitors about their experience in the museum. My work was overseen by Kate Sallada, Marketing Researcher, and Kathleen Bodenlos, Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

    The best days to collect surveys are weekends because a much greater portion of the population is represented. Families are common on Saturdays and Sundays, especially in the Natural History museum where kids can engage with many of the exhibits.

    I collected surveys for the recently installed exhibit, We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene, throughout my internship. The day that I was able to collect the highest volume of surveys was a very cold Sunday in February. I surveyed over 50 visitors over the course of 4 hours.

    When crafting a survey for the general public, it must be accessible to as many people as possible. Those visiting from other countries or unable to speak English fluently were able to understand the simple survey instructions, and could ask me questions about any sections that needed further verbal explanation.

    In addition to the surveys, the exhibit had several interactive stations where guests could leave their thoughts. One station asked visitors to make associations with a certain emotion, such as “Empowered’ or “Angry,” and visitors could write down their opinions about the exercise on a corresponding Sticky-Note.

    The exhibit also featured many dry-erase surfaces where visitors were prompted to write down words or phrases based on a question. These responses were often documented by a photographer before they were erased to make room for new feedback.

    After surveying general opinions about the exhibit, we also sought feedback on the marketing campaign we were developing. Many of those leaving the exhibit reported that they felt “empowered,” which was a feeling we wanted to reinforce in our marketing strategy. One plan was to change the main photograph on our signage from one of crushed cardboard boxes to a sunny image of a small child holding a sapling. This image was more representative of the visitor experience than that of our previous campaign, according to the reactions from the surveys.

    This experience has given me vital information about how to interact properly with the public in an art institution, and how to develop content that takes visitor preferences into account.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    A typical day of research at my desk in The Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

     

    Making Egyptian History Accessible to the Public

    Museum Studies Intern at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2018

    A much-anticipated facelift is coming to the Walton Hall in The Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    As an anthropology undergraduate student interested in archaeology, I was excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the redesign of this popular exhibit for my spring 2018 internship. The Carnegie Boat, one of four ancient Eygptian boats remaining in the world, will be the centerpiece of the redesign. Much of my time at the internship was spent scouring scholarly journals for information and research relating to the use of the boat in the funerary procession of Senwosret III, a pharaoh of Egypt.  

    Coming from the anthropological discipline which involves dense research full of niche terminology, I wanted it to be a focus of my work to make this information more accessible to a wider audience.

    My supervisor, Dr. Erin Peters, the Assistant Curator of Science and Research at the Museum, invited me to sit in on weekly meetings with other faculty on the Egypt on the Nile exhibition team. In these meetings I worked with Dr. Peters, Becca Shreckengast, the Director of Exhibition Experience, and Caroline Record, a Creative Technologist at the Innovation Studio, and we discussed ways of creating a more concise, accessible exhibition plan. These weekly meetings opened my eyes to the amount of work that goes into planning a new exhibit. I also saw how my research on the Carnegie Boat will be reaching a wider audience. Through these meetings, and based on audience evaluation surveys collected by last semester’s interns, it is clear that some sort of digital component will be incorporated into the new exhibit.

    Although it is still in the early stages of the planning of the exhibition, it has been very rewarding to see how my rough-cut, and research-dense information on the Boat will be transformed into a neatly packed, and engaging experience for visitors.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  •  

    Teaching the Anthropocene: Student Responses to We are Nature

    Author: Kaitlyn Haynal Allen

    PhD candidate in Comunication and Consuming Nature workshop participant

    The Consuming Nature workshop exposed participants to the multitude of endlessly fascinating local resources of visual and material culture for learning about the presence of human influence across Pittsburgh landscapes. These resources have transformed not only my research, from which I now draw upon dozens of primary sources discovered through my participation in this workshop, but have radically transformed my teaching as well. Over the past year, consideration for place and environment has become significantly influential to my pedagogy of teaching and learning, and I have incorporated making use of these resources into my class instruction and assignments a primary objective.

    On a typically cold and rainy Pittsburgh day in February, my two Argument classes were asked to visit and explore the Carnegie Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History, and select an artifact or exhibit for their critical consideration in an upcoming paper. They were given as much time as needed to wander through the expansive museum spaces and consider what artifacts drew their attention. In selecting the object(s) of their case study, students were asked to reflect on various questions: What are museums? What purpose do they serve? How and what do their exhibits communicate? Museum spaces shape public frames of the subject matter they collect and include in display, just as they shape public perception of what is excluded from their space.

    The most discussed exhibit was the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s We are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene. The introduction to the exhibit identifies that “our collections and research tell various stories of the human impact” on the environment, revealing “hard truths, inspiration, and human ingenuity in the face of the Anthropocene.” Students identified various themes present in communicating what the Anthropocene is and why it matters.

    The dilemma of how a museum exhibit can effectively communicate to its various publics was a matter of great interest to several students. Taylor Jones, a junior Communication and English Literature major, argues that the exhibit “serves as a case study by which to examine notions of human-environment interconnectivity and cultural validity.” She ultimately concludes that, “We are Nature builds a sense of cultural validity through the popularization of climate change discourse and concepts, prioritizing ecological citizenship and environmental politics, and motivating children to carry on the legacy of working to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

    Gabby Mineroff, a sophomore Media and Professional Communication major, considers the work museums put into targeting visitors who are children. Gabby ultimately argues that “when a child engages in a creative space they are passively parking in the ideology of the museum. For the Carnegie Museum’s Future Thinking Lab, the ideology of saving the environment is transmitted to the children when they partake in the activity.” The various publics that the museum seeks to reach in their exhibition of We are Nature were revealed to be diverse and varied. Another student examines the exhibit through the lens of ecofeminism and ecomaternalism, in order to demonstrate how the use of masculine colors and design features might encourage men to take action against environmental degradation.

    To some students, the exhibit left possibilities of greater potential yet to be tapped. Johnny Yetter, a senior Chemistry major, focused on the Great Barrier Reef Funeral. In reflecting on his experience with the museum, he observes that “when I visited the We are Nature exhibit I expected to learn about my role in climate change and leave with a sense of urgency to do my part to help the environment; however, I left feeling under-informed and unsure of what steps, if any, I could take in order to become an environmental activist.” This was a prevalent concern among several students interested in better understanding: what would it take to get people to change their actions related to environmental action? Yetter concludes that while “the message was very information [sp] and could have helped any museum goer learn about this topic […] none of the words chosen induced urgency or hope, instead created a tone that was sad and hopeless.”

    Overall the students shared the insight that human impact on the environment was a matter of significant concern that is worthy of public attention. Max Carter, a senior Psychology major, examined a component of the exhibit called the Overview Effect. One of the final observation points for visitors who walk through We are Nature from start to finish, the Overview Effect sums up the experience of the exhibit. “After viewing how air pollution has changed the color of moths from white to black, then back to white again; viewing the ridiculous amount of plastic we have put into the ocean; the list of animals we have made extinct as well as a handful that will soon become extinct; after a funeral service for one of the most unique natural sites in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, you reach a few dark benches and a large projector screen […] As you stare at the large blue patch that is the Atlantic Ocean, you think back to display noting how much plastic we’ve dumped there. You see the green land masses without any borders or lines and suddenly a lot of things feel less important. […] I found myself sitting there, suddenly disgusted by how we were treating both our planet and each other.”

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Update on Botany Hall

     

    This post was written by Colleen O'Reilly, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Art and Architecture

    This past year has been filled with many productive developments and collaborations in relation to Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context. Aisling and I were very honored to receive support from the School of Computing and Information, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and the Cultural Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, and from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which allowed us to apply for an Interdisciplinary Humanities Grant from Pitt’s Humanities Center. These funds enabled us to present our project at two conferences in the fall of 2017. The first was the International Council of Museums Natural History conference, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in October, and was focused on the theme of the Anthropocene. We presented some of our research on Botany Hall to an audience made up of museum professionals and natural history curators, many of whom are working with dioramas and displays, both new and old, at their institutions. We were able to share our viewpoints as researchers, working from outside the museum to produce work that helps to put natural history dioramas in historical context, and contribute to a broader discussion about the responsibility of the natural history museum in relation to our contemporary environment. 

    In November 2017, we presented at the Museum Computing Network annual conference in downtown Pittsburgh. This was a completely different setting in which we had the chance to talk about diorama history to an audience of museum professionals who are specifically focused on how to use technology in their institutions. It was enriching to share our work on the potential of a digital exhibition for contextualizing natural history museum content, and to bring questions about the role of visual technologies in museums to bear on the dioramas themselves, thinking through their status as objects that mediate knowledge. You can hear our talk here

    With the support of the grant, we are now completing the first iteration of our online exhibition, and will be launching it with special panel discussion event at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in front of the dioramas themselves. This will take place on Thursday, March 29th from 4:30-6:00pm (write to me at cwo8@pitt.edu for more info and to register). We will be talking about the role that the dioramas play in the museum and the community, incorporating the perspectives of Pittsburgh experts in botany, botanical art, and environmental justice. We are looking forward to hearing reactions to our digital exhibition, and we anticipate that we will continue to develop it as Aisling and I move towards the ends of our PhDs and our next projects. 

    Categories: 
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Ph.D. Candidate Rae Di Cicco discusses Tlingit visual culture in the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Bringing Tlingit Stories to Troy Hill

    Author: Rae Di Cicco

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Adding to the department’s many collaborations with local cultural institutions, I have been working with Stephen J. Tonsor, Director of Science and Research at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Stewart Urist, Managing Director at Quantum Theatre, to connect programming at the theater on Troy Hill to local collections.

    In December, I led a tour of the Carnegie’s Tlingit collection to the production and design team of Quantum Theater’s upcoming show, Inside Passage (March 2-25). Based on playwright Gab’s Cody’s true experiences, Inside Passage meshes Gab’s patchy memories of her early childhood in Alaska spent with her parents, step-siblings, and Tlingit foster-siblings with family lore and her true quest for reunification 35 years later. I will lead an additional tour of the Carnegie, open to the public, on Saturday, March 24th at 3:30pm.

    During the tour, visitors will have the rare opportunity to see objects outside vitrines, and learn about the importance of art and ceremony to Tlingit storytelling, adding important cultural context to the narrative of Inside Passage. The following is a text I was invited to contribute to the program for Inside Passage:

    “The push and pull of the ocean’s waves around the islands of the Alaskan panhandle are mimicked by the rise and fall of the tides, the pendulum of the seasons, and the growth of red cedar and its eventual disintegration back into the soil. The Tlingit (Klin-kit) people have called this landscape home for thousands of years, passing down stories of their origins in Southeast Alaska to younger generations. Prior to contact with Europeans, the Tlingit did not have a written language, but instead relied on oral storytelling to chronicle their own history. However, the foundational narratives of the entire Tlingit nation, in which the mythical creature Raven takes center stage, are the only broadly shared body of oral literature in traditional Tlingit culture. Other stories are viewed as clan histories. Dating to a time when animals could transform into humans, the origin of clans often entails an ancestor’s overcoming a supernatural foe, partnering with a mythical figure, or transforming themselves from an animal into a human, thereby establishing a new clan. Because they represent familial histories, only clan members have the right to tell such stories.

    Indeed, the Tlingit conceive of stories as important immaterial sources of wealth shared among clan members. This type of ownership is manifested within the narrative content and structure, means of transmission, and visual record of stories. Ownership is usually indicated within the story itself; characters represent important ancestors or mythological creatures representative of the clan in stories with morals about familial duty, respect for natural resources and the changing landscape, or the duality inherent in all creatures. Most overt announcements of clan ownership have been removed in textual publications of Tlingit stories, but within the culture, ownership of oral texts is recognized and respected by audience and storyteller alike.

    Tlingit oral tradition extends beyond verbal communication of narratives to incorporate artistic and ceremonial tradition as well. The stories are not meant to stand alone, and clan chiefs often commission totem poles to represent a chosen narrative to be shared at a potlatch ceremony. For a people with no written documentation, the potlatch ceremony gathered together members of the community at the host’s clan house to publicly share a piece of clan history. The totem pole would often be carved in secret, with only the commissioner and the artist knowing what story the imagery represents. At the potlatch, the totem pole – seen for the first time – is raised in stages. The pole rests on a log crutch intermittently to accommodate breaks for dancing and the explication of the story in successive acts. When the story and ceremony end, the sculpted poles stand as material reminders of the narrative they represent, while confirming the identity, rank, and social standing of the clan. The ceremonial act of storytelling thus canonizes events to a collective history while reaffirming the strict social structure of Tlingit society.

    Removing native children from this context divorces them from their clan histories, making them resource-poor members of the tribe, if they have access to indigenous culture after removal. Inside Passage balances the serious, and often heart-breaking, realities of Indian child welfare with a comedy that mirrors the tension and release seen in Tlingit oral tradition and artistic design. Much like the push and pull of the waves on Alaska’s coast, Inside Passage chronicles one woman’s separation from her indigenous foster siblings and her return, decades later, to the landscape of her earliest family memories. This is Gab Cody’s story."

    For more information about the tour, Inside Passage, and to purchase tickets, click here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Pitt + CI57: Inside the Carnegie International, 57th edition, 2018

    Authors: Erin Peters (Joint Lecturer and Assistant Curator, HAA) and Liz Park (Associate Curator, Carnegie Int’l)

    We are thrilled to announce an immersive course designed to bring students inside the Carnegie Museum of Art to learn first-hand about its highly anticipated exhibition – the 57th edition of the Carnegie International. The course develops from a multi-year collaboration of Pitt’s museum studies faculty and the International’s curatorial team. Erin Peters, Joint Lecturer and Assistant Curator, HAA, and Liz Park, Associate Curator, Carnegie Int’l, will develop and co-teach the course over the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters as an iteration of HAA 1021: Inside the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

    A major international survey of contemporary art, the upcoming Carnegie International will run from October 2018 through March 2019. Nearly spanning the academic year, the exhibition provides an ideal case study of current museum and curatorial practices. Our two-semester course will introduce general museum studies topics as well as focus on the multi-layered process of curating and interpreting a contemporary art exhibition through the International. The exhibition itself will be the classroom and the textbook for the course – students will engage different topics each week on the floor in the galleries. Our sessions will involve in-depth discussions of the artworks and their settings with guest speakers. The weekly topic will be determined by the exhibition and the featured artworks.

    We are particularly excited about the participatory feature of the course that has the students conducting group field research in the museum, interacting with the visitors in a reciprocal learning process designed to augment the experience of both the students and audiences. In addition to other course assignments, field journals will chart our progress by chronicling the students’ weekly research shifts in the galleries and changes in their understanding over the span of the course. In order to attain a fuller understanding of the International as a curatorial project, the students will be encouraged to attend related programs leading up to and throughout the run of the exhibition.

    To learn about what is already under way for the 57th edition of the Carnegie International, visit the website here

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Toward a Critical yet Empathetic Eye for Exhibition Design in the Anthropocene

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Late October, Alex Taylor and Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh gave me the opportunity to attend a conference concerning exhibition in the Anthropocene at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This opportunity enabled me to sit in on talks and discussions on exhibiting climate change, postnatural histories, and geologic time scales in contemporary ways. The University of Pittsburgh’s Colleen O'Reilly and Aisling Quigley's historical and digital work on Botany Hall in the museum and Richard Pell's keynote, The Missing Museum: Excavating Wonder and Curiosity, are exemplars in illuminating hidden histories through digital supplements and attention to provenance. 

    O'Reilly and Quigley presented their work on historically and digitally preserving and interpreting the pedagogical and artistic integrity of the museum’s Botany Hall. They illustrated the history of the dioramas as well as their provenance. Making a point to complicate that history, they discussed how the dioramas in their current state still argue for the dominion of man over nature. Reframing this modernist fallacy under the current conditions of the Anthropocene, O'Reilly and Quigley argue for the forefronting of prerequisite historical interpretation. They interrogated the assertion in the previous panel, that "dioramas are useful teaching tools," and maintained that objects in themselves, even with the aid of wall and brochure information, do not provide their own interpretation. Rather, as demonstrated in the preceding panel concerning the visually stimulating and interactive exhibits a the Natural History Museum of Utah, supporters of geologic, botanical, or biological knowledge must supplement the material in a historically oriented way. Within these questions of visual and historical representation, they offer a compromise: Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context is a work in progress that offers entrances to disciplinary knowledge in a pedagogical capacity. This compromise was echoed by audience members afterward, proposing the possibilities of social media, audio-visual, and Virtual Reality supplements to exhibition design. You can read more about their Botany Hall project here.

    Rich Pell's keynote began with complicating the seemingly evergreen dichotomy between natural and culture. He positioned his Center for Postnatural History as an intervention in this divide, a descendant of the first museum in the United States, Peale’s Museum in Baltimore,  Maryland. Peale's museum was dedicated to science, art, nature, and technology, a mission expressing the unity of cultural industries in the early history of the United States. “Sincere science,” as it were, put on display: conundrums, wonderful and curious things in the arts and natural world, wild and domesticated animals, and the awesome like. The postnatural, as an approach to the natural and unnatural world, posits that biological life has been intentionally and heritably altered by humans. The postnatural stems from this exhibition lineage and provides the foundation for the Center. His exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History debuted at the conference: We are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene, is a manifestation of innovative exhibition design and historical positioning.

    With the postnatural as the un/natural force behind his thinking, he argued that the Anthropocene is always in the background of our collections, that "we have always been collecting the Anthropocene.” He provided his artifact of the Common Grackle that was stoned to death by schoolchildren from a Pennsylvania school district. He forefronted this provenance of this artifact, a specimen intentionally altered by schoolchildren. Naming it an "ambassador of that moment," he pairs it with another artifact, a bald eagle shot to death during the Battle of Gettysburg. The bald eagle was witness to the Civil War, war being a notable arbiter of the Anthropocene. These artifacts are interlocutors between moments long passed and today. In his work at the Smithsonian, he uncovered and reconstructed a history of genetically modified organisms while documenting the people that brought specimens, recently killed by newly cleaned windows or quick-at-hand brooms, to the attention of the on-site collector. Security guards and secretaries then became arbiters of the museum’s displays of knowledge; they became wrapped up in the species’ and institutional history. It is in this ways that Pell validated provenance and attribution as critical historical markers in exhibit display in the Anthropocene.

    Pell defended his study and exhibition practice (though I do not think he had to!) when he said, “you might think what you’re looking at is boring,” that if you look closely enough something awe-inspiring happens. He invited us into the inspiring, frustrating, and wonderful dignity of “boring” research. Though he admitted that the spectacle will often supersede sincerity, an indebtedness to sincere inquiry will preserve the integrity of knowledge and the integrity of sincere exhibition practices. Same with O’Reilly and Quigley: updating our exhibition methods continuously within the shifting conditions of the Anthropocene will maintain the integrity of these spaces as mediators of systems of knowledge, especially today when those systems are under increased scrutiny, questioning, and in some cases, attack. These stories take intention and effort to unfold, as Pell states in Land, Animal, and Nonanimal (K Verlag 2015). I would like to add to the discussion that though a historically critical eye will help viewing these deceivingly complicated objects, I argue that intentional, tender attention to these objects—and an understanding that artifacts are not as simple as they appear—will engender a empathetic yet critically thinking audience, newly motivated to preserve the life and lives on this planet.

     

    Thanks to Colleen O'Reilly, Aisling Quigley, Deborah Danuser, and Rich Pell for the winding conversations supporting many of these observations.

     

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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