I am a collector. When I collect, I instantly classify and categorize. I do it both personally and aesthetically. The moment I meet someone, I contextualize them. If I find an old root on the street, I catalogue it or preserve it. My freezer is filled with found birds. I can’t let go of things. I hold them tightly, I wind them up, I tie them down until they seem to fit into the place that I have put them.
I recently went to the renovated Le Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, (not the Osteology Wing...that hasn’t changed.... there are still 1,000,000 skeletons there and when you walk in the front door they are all facing you as if poised for a skeletal stampede).
It’s Grand Galerie de l’Evolution that once held one of the most beautiful collections of Victorian taxidermy and cataloguing on Earth, now has been turned into a modern multimedia interactive museum. The animals on display are “dramatically” posed and positioned. Painstaking care has been taken to make their environments slick and exciting.
I suddenly imagined that I was 100 years in the future, looking at what animals “used to look like”, before they disappeared. I never understood the art of killing a creature; stuffing it and then rebuilding its habitat to put it back inside of it.
In 100 years will we enter a museum and see a preserved wetland or a small forest? A stand of birch trees or a grove of pines? Already, the trees in Central Park are labeled with their species so we know how to call them, so unaccustomed to trees we are in New York City. Imagine walking into our natural history museums to behold our environments on display in the vanishing species rooms.
A bog, a beach, an orchard.
I am still inspired by my experience in the endangered/extinct species room of the French museum. Everyone was walking around, their children crying, looking at the vanished animals, taking flash photos of the glass cases. I wondered if their photos would include their own reflections, large white flashes with bits of animals in the background. How did they feel when they got home? What did they dream about?
Less celebrated is the extinction of specific environments.
New York Harbor once had porpoises and whales jumping out of the water and so many birds in the forest that you couldn’t have a conversation as you walked through because of the deafening din of their chatter. Beavers and foot long oysters, bears and waterfowl.
You could reach into the water to grab a fish.
Now birds are singing the sounds of camera shutters.
How do we put that on display or into a case?
The Extinction Wing is an invitation to consider or remember what was in the context of what is.