By Sylvain Campeau
Over the last few years, artist Geneviève Chevalier has become interested in places and methods of classification used in the natural sciences to inventory and analyze ﬂora and fauna. Menageries were, in a way, the ancestors of museums. They contained both collections and live exotic animals, but as an enterprise they represented the colonizing nations’ domination over nature and over the Indigenous nations encountered by their explorers. Herbariums, meanwhile, were no doubt born of the initiative of herbalists who were beginning to think scientifically. Amateurs, and then specialists, impelled by an urge for discovery and categorization, used – and still use – these collection and conservation methods to build an enlightened typology of living things, materials to be controlled by harvesting, by classification – and by images.
To begin with, expectations, probably based on past undertakings, will be utterly unmet here. There will be no vigorously denunciatory or reparative illustrations. This is not about the relationship that artists might have maintained with the photographic captures of Professor Jean-Martin Charcot, who wished to analyze and, eventually, cure hysteria in the nineteenth century. This is a different world, with subtler accents and intentions that are less categorical and more nuanced. Nevertheless, such scientifically oriented efforts can indirectly feed current attempts at knowledge acquisition.
As evidence, Chevalier designed a three-part exhibition.1 A work involving three projections, with a total duration of about twenty minutes, is the first to catch the visitor’s attention…
Translated by Käthe Roth.
[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 119 – AGAINST NATURE ]
[ Complete article and more images, in digital version, available here: Geneviève Chevalier, Mirement/Towering : La Ménagerie et L’Herbier — Sylvain Campeau, Arranging the Living ]