‘Find an object that tells a story about your connection to nature’ was the brief and for three days in Spring 2017, the Wellcome Collection in central London was brought objects from members of the public, like some curious pagan offering.
At first glance, the most impressive aspect is the variety. It’s not all stick-and-feather collections (though there are some of those). There’s a tattoo, a slice of bread, a garden gnome and even a cat made from cat hair. Some are big, others small, some are physical objects and others are recorded sounds. By seeing what different people have brought, it’s clear that nature is a prism that splits us different ways.
Chris Packham holding his deer antler (Image: Wellcome Collection)
Curiously, people’s connections to nature aren’t always natural. While some of the contributions are drawn directly from animals and plants – BBC Springwatch presenter, Chris Packham, has given a deer antler the size of his arm – there are also manufactured items such as a mousetrap, a tank of oxygen and a single synthetic yellow chick – the kind that appear by the trayload in supermarkets around springtime.
David Cahill Roots and his synthetic chick (Image: Wellcome Collection)
The chick’s contributor, 36-year-old David Cahill Roots, tells a story of visiting a farm and comparing the real-life chicks to the pretend one on his desk. ‘The fake items become the standard by which we hold the real world to account,’ he says. A similar object, a piece of plastic turf that was colonised with real grass after 31-year-old Jenny Battenson laid it down, is more hopeful. ‘Nature will always find a way to get back to its equilibrium,’ she says. Her piece of turf frees nature from the binary of ‘natural’ versus ‘artificial’. The only thing missing from the collection is a TV or documentary boxset. An obvious choice perhaps, but for many people, the natural world shown through artificial technology is a key source of curiosity and inspiration in modern life.
Nonetheless, in being collected and curated by members of the public, A Museum of Modern Nature is reflective and utterly relatable. Walking through the grown up show-and-tell, you might ask yourself ‘what would I have brought to the table?’