University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sep 2010
EventWays of Knowing: Art and Science’s Shared Imagination, University of Hertfordshire - Hatfield, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Sep 201030 Sep 2010

Conference

ConferenceWays of Knowing: Art and Science’s Shared Imagination, University of Hertfordshire
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityHatfield
Period29/09/1030/09/10

Abstract

This paper looks at aspects of the relationships between art, taxidermy, bio-politics and the shifting representations of Darwinian evolutionary theory within the history of the Darwin Museum, Moscow 1907-2010.
The museum began in 1907 at the Higher Womens’ Courses institute in Moscow, with a collection of stuffed birds belonging to its founder, Dr Aleksandr Kots. Today it is the leading natural history museum in Russia. The new museum explicitly shares with its previous incarnations a commitment to the use of variety of art forms as means to engage the viewer with Darwin’s evolutionary theory, and to emphasise the variety and variation in nature. Many of the current exhibits include art works and mounted specimens dating back to the earliest days of the museum’s existence. As in the past, the displays are designed by artists in conjunction with curatorial subject experts.
My argument draws attention to the mesh of connections and contrasts with western approaches to Darwinian science and museological representations of evolution. Among the connections, are the use of taxidermy and art to
provide an educational spectacle, particularly for the education of women; links with zoopsychology, early genetic science and discourse on eugenics; as well as reference to a ‘progress’ model of human evolution still common in popular culture. The differences relate to how Darwinism was politically, and
scientifically nuanced within shifting historical contexts: as politically radical in the pre-revolutionary era; as the basis for understanding and prompting a new stage of human evolution in the Revolutionary 1920s-30s; and as
diametrically opposed to genetic science in the Lysenkoist period 1938 –1960s. I will begin by looking briefly at the role of taxidermy, leading on to consider the Museum’s engagement, firstly with issues of micro-evolution, and
secondly with macro-evolution, where I will focus particularly on approaches to human evolution.

Notes

This is an edited version of the conference paper 'Art, Taxidermy and Politics at the Darwin Museum Moscow 1907-2009', given at the Courtauld Institute in July 2010.

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