Thirteen Ways to Look at a Hummingbird: The Natural History Museum as a Contemporary Art Medium

Ms. Sarah Edwards - Post Graduate
2012 Conference

Between 1858 and 1869, Museum Victoria acquired 4,000 birds from English ornithologist John Gould. Of these specimens, 203 of the study-skins were prepared and placed into a display case that highlighted their iridescent feathers. Using the hummingbird display case as a case in point, I propose a method for working with natural history curatorial methodologies in order to highlight the critical work the curator plays in preserving our fragile environment.

My practice-led research is inspired by natural history museums, the methods they utilise to name and order nature, and the critical role they play in preserving our environmental heritage. Utlising a range of multimedia: sound, light, objects and consequent shadow, my research contributes to new ways of seeing familiar things in order to trigger the wonder and surprise that characterised early natural history collections. I engage objects as a mapping device to consider how they connect self to place and provide a forum in which to reflect on patterns of relationship between people and things.

By deconstructing, rearranging, excavating and decomposing the meticulous curatorial methods used to preserve and display extinct or endangered flora and fauna, I aim to re-present and invigorate new avenues for considering a personal response to the fragility of our natural world and the important role we play in caring for it.

Download Full text PDF (127.38 KB)

About the author

Sarah Edwards is inspired by museums and her professional career working with scientific collections. Through multimedia and installation techniques, she aims to engage the viewer in remembered and imagined encounters with nature.

Sarah is currently undertaking a PhD within the School of Art at RMIT. She completed a Masters in Fine Art from RMIT in 2010, and holds a Bachelor of Education in Visual Arts and a Post Graduate Diploma in Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne. Since 1990, Sarah has worked in the cultural heritage sector and recently retired from a fifteen-year role working in the natural history collections at Museum Victoria. She continues her work there in a research capacity. As an art curator, Sarah has project-managed exhibitions at the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC and United Nations in New York.

As a practicing artist, Sarah has participated in more than twenty exhibitions including Drawing Out at RMIT Gallery in conjunction with an international drawing conference, and Art Melbourne at the Royal Exhibition Buildings. In 2009, she worked with architect Professor Fujimori to build his teahouse constructed from timber collected from the Black Saturday bushfires as part of Shelter: On Kindness, Melbourne International Festival, RMIT Gallery.