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In the silent and forgotten back-shelves of the storage archive at the Melbourne Museum, and in Museums all over the world, a multitude of specimens of native Australian flora have been preserved for over a century. The flora are representative of the very careful western colonialist attitude that we must isolate and confine in the scientific process of discerning knowledge. However, in this act of preservation, the specimens become devoid of context, of environment, of the potential for growth, intermingling and expansion. In short, they are neutered, sterilized and stripped of their intrinsic purpose to reproduce and proliferate. In this attempt to make the living and the decaying timeless, the specimens are relegated to the most definitive of deaths. A death with no potential for decomposing matter to refertalise the living, a death with the mask of life. In this work I explore this penchant for specimen collection. The jars containing the 50 or so different specimens taken from the land of Australia are ordered in collective form, yet are not uniform in shape or size. The specimens are not perfectly sealed and the artifacts will decay over time, accruing mould and bacteria. So although the work has the appearance of sterility and categorical order, the specimens will eventually be feeding life and growth. They are not relegated to the eternal life-death of the museologically preserved specimens in the back-shelves of museums, never to be viewed. These objects are to be observed, the enclosure enhancing the sense of preciousness of the object within, the glass magnifying the important detail which is safely removed from us – forcing the viewer to perform the role of the categoriser, positioned as the objective eye. The glass encasement also neuters the objects, the specimens’ potential for growth, for expansion, or indeed for natural decay and thus fertilization of the soil from which the natural artefacts came.

anna.r.duve@gmail.com

Anna Du Ve
Backshelves
2014

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