Collections and Contingency

Leeds Discovery Centre, Carlisle Road, Leeds

August – December 2018

Collections and Contingency was an exhibition of sculpture and microscopic photography placed in and around the artefacts and specimens within the store room of Leeds Discovery Centre. This project was part of a new funded scheme to promote novel collaborations between Leeds Museums and Galleries (LMG) and the Cultural Institute at the University of Leeds.

The exhibition explores how contemporary art, made in response to a natural science collection can prompt new understanding and insights into the structure, matter and growth patterns of certain specimens. The focus was on the huge collection of botanical and zoological slide preparations held within beautiful wooden slide cabinets. The selection of slides range over decades, possibly spanning a hundred years and lack specific data meaning they are not useful for scientific research and yet the range speaks of a fascinating hidden history. Since these slides are rarely viewed and are difficult to show on public tours of the storage space, it was decided to reveal the hidden treasures through artwork.

Using light microscopy, a series of large digital prints were made of examples such as pollen, seeds, bark, leaves, fungi or oyster embryos and crystallised silver. Some of the specimens were magnified up to a 0.1 of a millimetre revealing glorious patterns, shapes and colours. Many of the sculptures responded to items within the storage racks, such as crystals, corals, fossils and rocks. The art works were placed at points where they indicate what may be contained within more enclosed storage, but also make for surreal and interesting interactions with other elements of the collections.

Contemporary art interventions with historical collections and natural specimens need not explain or describe what these collected items are, but rather work with them to nudge us to think further of how they were formed, their various characteristics and how closely they relate to artistic making and materials.