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Next of Kin: Seeing Extinction Through the Artist’s Lens

Exhibition by Christina Seely with the Canary Project at the Harvard Museum of Natural History Through July 16

May 2, 2017 – With the world’s population at 7.38 billion and counting, with one birth every 8 seconds, plants and animals are being driven to extinction due to human’s footprint. Researchers have reported that our planet has entered the sixth mass extinction. The exhibition, Next of Kin: Seeing Extinction Through the Artist’s Lens, at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, presents a provocative and powerful new perspective on the biodiversity extinction crisis through a series of new photographic works by visual artist and Dartmouth Assistant Professor of Studio Art Christina Seely. The exhibition will be on display through July 16 and includes an installation that the artist created in collaboration with the Canary Project.

Seely was invited by the Harvard Museum of Natural History to create new work that drew on the museum’s collections to explore the topic of extinction. Next of Kin evokes a profound sense of empathy with our “next of kin,” by engaging visitors with some of the many species that are already extinct or are threatened with extinction, reminding audiences about the fragility of our planet. 

“The exhibition is designed to serve as a bridge between science and art offering a space within the science context to face emotions and questions brought on by the complexity of the topic, as well as our role in it as a dominant force on the planet,” says Seely. “I hope that my work might help protect these amazing animals and the habitat that they live in by inspiring a deeper more personal connection to what is unfolding,” she added.

Through her work, Seely is especially interested in translating the idea of the animal kingdom as a global system, drawing on themes that focus on issues of scale, the narrative and temporality, mirroring, and the experiential.

Next of Kin is comprised of three elements: the Next of Kin portraits—  a set of large-scale kinetic reflective portraits of endangered species found in the museum’s collection; Species Impact— a set of 10 daguerreotype portraits of species impacted by climate change that the artist photographed in the wild between 2012-2016; and a series of discrete sculptural installations and audio designed and created in collaboration with the Canary Project, which focus on the last traces of extinct species using specimen drawn from the archives in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. These objects, in conversation with the portraits, are displayed in unusual ways, allowing their emotional impact to unfold as they are considered from new perspectives as part of an experiential dialogue with the topic.

  • Next of Kin includes portraits of taxidermied specimen of endangered species from the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s collections, which are set into a series of kinetic lightboxes (30x40 inches in size) each of which is fitted in with a two-way mirror as its front panel. Each lightbox is programmed to brighten and then darken slowly, so that the image of the animal is revealed gradually like a ghost and then fades into darkness, whereby, the animal’s face is replaced by the viewer’s own face or reflection.
Installation photos of Next of Kin

Installation photos of Next of Kin by Christina Seely.

  • Species Impact features daguerreotypes of 10 animals photographed by Seely in the wild over a series of expeditions to Greenland, the Alaskan arctic, the Svalbard Territory, and the Galapagos between 2012 and 2016. As part of her research and fieldwork, Seely worked closely with wildlife scientists in each of the regions. From the Arctic, the snowy owl, Arctic fox and walrus, and from the tropics, the fur seal, Galapagosian penguin and the marine iguana, are among the animals threatened with extinction that Seely photographed for Next of Kin.

    Daguerrotypes rely on an antique photographic process that is over 175 years-old in which the image is rendered on a mirrored surface and shifts with the light and angle from where you view the work, so that the image will appear either positive or negative. The animals appear as if they are looking at you or the camera. This set of works provides a metaphor for how so many species are on the edge of extinction and how we as humans are entangled in this great loss.

Species Impact  

 

Daguerrotypes

  • Nine separate installations pieces included in the exhibition were created in collaboration with Ed Morris and Susanna Sayler of the Canary Project in which critically endangered or extinct specimen from the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s collections are set in vitrines around the low-lit gallery, which play on the fragility of the existence. In addition, poems by W.S. Merwin and an audio piece by Matthew Patterson-Curry of ambient manmade sounds mimics the faint calls of extinct birds.
Nine separate installations


The Dickey Center for International Understanding and the Neukom Institute at Dartmouth provided Seely with support for Next of Kin. As part of her fieldwork for the exhibition, Seely spent time in Greenland last summer photographing muskox and caribou for the daguerreotypes. While in Greenland, she worked closely with Ross Virginia, director of the Institute of Arctic Studies and the Myers Family Professor of Environmental Science at Dartmouth, and with students participating in the Joint Science Education Project.

Next of Kin is supported by a generous gift from Clark Bernard MBA ‘68 and Susana Bernard. For visitor information, including museum hours, please see the Harvard Museum of Natural History's website.

Christina Seely is available for comment at: christina.m.seely@dartmouth.edu.

Last Updated: 5/16/17