12 Sep 2013

'Nature Reserves', group exhibition at GV Art, London

Two works themed around erasure, the audible trace, extinction, colonial-era collecting, and silence, Huia Transcriptions and Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild were aptly included in a group exhibition, titled Nature Reserves, which ran at London art/science gallery space GV Art from the 26th july - 13th september.

The show explored archiving, taxonomy, environmental memory, and the relationship of human ordering systems to the natural environment, and included, as well as the works by a diversity of contemporary artists, specimens and collections from the Grant Museum of Zoology, the South London Botanical Institute, and the UCL Geology Collections. It was curated by Tom Jeffreys, editor of the Journal of Wild Culture. The catalogue, with an essay by the curator, photographs, and information on each of the works and specimen collections, can be read/downloaded here: GV-Art-Nature-Reserves-Catalogue.

from the press release: 

“The exhibition seeks to examine human understandings of the natural environment, and features work across a rich range of media – photography, printing, sculpture, sound and projection – by 12 contemporary artists. In addition there are archival materials from a range of museums, universities and other institutions; field recordings of deceased species of birds; and an installation of a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast known as kombucha, from which visitors can take away samples to start their own culture at home.

Nature Reserves explores the way that our understanding of nature is influenced by different methods of constructing meaning – across literature, science and the arts – with specific reference to thinking around systems of archiving. Of particular interest is the two-way relationship between knowledge storage (classification, organisation etc) and knowledge creation, and the tangled effect this has on our changing conceptions of the natural world.”

design blogger katie townsend managed to snap these shots of my work in situ, which are also archived on her site here

and quite a few of the reviews of the show also mentioned my two works:

"The intriguing and potent Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild by Sally Ann McIntyre, a sound piece heard through headphones that consists of five recordings of the silences of extinct bird specimens all wiped out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a direct result of the impact of European colonisation on New Zealand."


"Sally Ann McIntyre’s sound works highlight the damage wreaked on a species subject to the whim of scientific enlightenment. Huia Transcriptions is a mechanical musical notation of the song of the now extinct huia bird from New Zealand. wiped out in 1907 in part due to overzealous natural historians, there are no recordings of its song and only a written account on which McIntyre’s work was based. Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild also confronts the effect of colonialism on New Zealand’s indigenous birds. the recordings of 5 extinct birds, each introduced separately, are acutely silent."


"(...) But the practice of collecting specimens is not without its cost, and at its worst it implies an enormous arrogance on the part of man. In Huia Transcriptions by Sally Ann McIntyre, we listen to the faint tinkle of a music box in a forest playing the calls of the Huia, as recorded by a Mr. Ht. Caver in the late 1800’s. In Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild we are told that we will be presented with recordings of the now extinct Laughing Owl (or Whekau). You sit there for ages waiting to hear something other than the gentle sound of a camera, but nothing comes. This poignant work of McIntyre highlights the dark side of natural history: that the act of collecting of Huia and Whekau specimens was instrumental in their extinction. These are silences that cannot ever be filled."


"Among the many highlights of this exhibition, however, it was Sally Ann McIntyre’s work was the most consistently transfixing as well as the most actively engaged with Jeffrey’s original call. Unfortunately, her pieces are also among the few works that are not currently for sale. McIntyre has two pieces in this show: Huia Transcriptions (2012) and Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild (2012). The Huia piece comprises an audio recording of both bird call and music box representation of this call, the music box and paper by which to play this mechanical call yourself, and a heavily disrupted textual comment on how the bird received its name. McIntyre frustrates the reading process by disrupting and reordering the words into an almost indecipherable recodification, so much so that many may give up trying to get any meaning out of it at all.. Don’t! The reward in deciphering what these words say is the key to the piece. The time you spend poring over these disrupted words echoes the time taken to understand and record the sounding of the Huia itself. McIntyre’s method of slowing down the reader’s perception sets a benchmark for the way in which you go on to engage with the audio piece afterwards. The beauty of this work is facilitated by McIntyre insistence that you enact something of the process by which the Huia’s call was first understood and in doing so, incorporate a realization of how and by what means this knowledge is accessed, processed and stored, first hand.

In sharp contrast to the music of the Huia piece, McIntyre’s Collected Silences presents the ugly sound of extinction. This time, there is no music; there are no bird calls. In place of these, we hear only the hum of the building in which these dead birds are stored, the occasional murmur from the body of the artist and the monotonous aural imprint of the audio equipment itself. The presence of each of the small sound reels used to make these recordings, in front of you, suggests a link between the presence of these storage methods and materials and the absence of that which is recorded."