The «Making Nature» exhibition begins by saying “how we think about animals is fundamental to how we understand ourselves and our place in the world”, and is split into four main themes: Ordering, Displaying, Observing and Making.
In the “Ordering” room, the Ancient Greek concept of the “great chain of being” is introduced. In the 18th Century, Linnaeus was the first to attempt ordering organisms into “animal,vegetable, mineral”, receiving criticism from other artists, scientists and writers of the time. These examples provide an overview of 18th-Century scientific enquiry into “human” and “non-human”. Waterton’s fake taxidermies straddled the strict lines drawn by Linnaeus. Bonnet, though sharing Linnaeus’s assertion that humans remain uppermost, preferred the “ladder” analogy, believing organisms could climb it.
A Woodcut poster (above), circa 1857, advertises Julia Pastrana, born with hypertrichosis but at the time deemed part human, part animal. Her existence questioned the limitations of Linnaeus’s classification system.
Entering the “Displaying” room, you face a mirrored wall (below), a device to make visitors feel enclosed within the room, and pose the question “who’s on display?”.
The “Displaying” room discusses how our perception of animals is influenced by what we see on display. A Bird of Paradise skin (below) made into headdress, its feathers splayed out, explains how plumage became highly sought after for millinery in the 1900s.
The next room, “Observing”, explored the rise of zoos, and shows “the modern tendency to romanticise wildness”. In the last room, “Making”, we see how humans have used animals, amongst them the first ever pregnancy test—the frog, and Budgerigars bred over decades to achieve an unnatural spectrum of plumage.
This Wellcome Collection exhibition provides an introductory view of our understanding of nature, and organises exhibits clearly by providing us four lenses to better contemplate our role in nature.