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A Museum of Modern Nature

Rebecca Wallersteiner takes a look at a new exhibition – ‘A Museum of Modern Nature’ at Wellcome Collection, in London from 22 June.

Many of us think of nature as something separate to ourselves – something elsewhere, somewhere to visit and not part of our daily lives. Yet in reality nature is all around us. Whether we live in densely packed cities or rural countryside, we are part of a complex ecosystem with the plants, animals, air and water that surround us. Opening at Wellcome Collection, Euston, on 22nd June, a new exhibition, A Museum of Modern Nature, curated by Honor Beddard, with design by Lee Reagan will reveal the many and varied ways that we relate to the natural world in modern life. Beddard comments: “Nature means different things to different people. We’re excited to shine a light on the everyday objects in our homes and daily lives, asking what these can tell us about nature and how this connects to the bigger picture of the health of our planet.”

On display will be eclectic items borrowed from members of the public. From everyday household objects to family treasures, each object tells a personal story and together they reveal how we think about nature in modern life. This is culmination of Wellcome Collection’s year-long exploration of our relationship with the natural world. It will examine the idea of a museum of nature in the 21st century, asking what it might contain, what purpose it would serve and whether we should put nature in a museum at all. To represent the many and varied voices of the public a small team of people who work with nature in their daily lives will be choosing the objects that go on display in the exhibition. These include a park manager, a shaman, a dairy farmer and a plant scientist.

A major digital project will run alongside the exhibition to showcase images of all the objects suggested by visitors, and continue to crowdsource further ideas and contributions. Members of the public from all across the country, and beyond, will be asked to send in their nature-related stories and objects using a different theme each week. These digital offerings will be available to view in the gallery as well as online, forming a broad snapshot of our everyday relationship with nature in 2017.The exhibition follows on from ‘Making Nature: How we see animals’, which examines the origins of how humankind relates to other species. A museum of modern nature will ask what it is that connects us to, and causes us to care for nature today.

Humans have always been fascinated by animals. Three hundred years ago an innovative scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) first began scientifically documenting the natural world. Driven by a desire to order nature, Linnaeus divided flora and fauna into the categories of the natural world that naturalists still use today: family, genus and species. Without Linnaeus’s ground-breaking classifications, which provided the scientific concept of a species, Charles Darwin would never have been able to develop his theory of evolution. His painstaking work inspired scientists to form the Natural History Museum and set the way scientists study animals and fossils today. Many of us think of nature as something separate to ourselves, somewhere to visit and not part of our daily lives. Institutions such as the Wellcome Collection and the Natural History Museum encourage us to observe the nature all around us. Whether we lives in cities or the countryside, we are part of a complex ecosystem with the trees, plants, animals, air and water that surround us.

Few animal lovers keep a ménage of pets as bizarre as a New Yorker called Antoine Yates, who was rushed to Accident & Emergency in 2003 after being mauled by his pet tiger, named Ming, who had been living with him for years in a high rise block where no pets were allowed. Incredibly Yates also owned an alligator. His story was explored in the first half of the event. Imagine being Warnell’s dinner guest!

To accompany the exhibition, Wellcome Collection has published Animal Vegetable Mineral, a collection of nature charts, maps and diagrams with an introduction by Tim Dee.

A Museum of Modern Nature, at Wellcome Collection, Euston, (22nd June to 8 October 2017)

183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE; tel. 0207 611 2222

Gallery opening hours Mon- Gallery closed; Tues & Wed 10am – 6pm; Thurs 10am -10pm; Fri & Sat – 10am-6pm


Rebecca Wallersteiner

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