Exploring the ‘dark places’ of zoological science, Beatriz da Costa presents a sombre reflection on endangered species of the British Isles.
A Memorial for the Still Living is a contemporary art installation which confronts visitors with the reality of British species threatened with extinction. It is a continuation of da Costa’s investigation into interspecies. Her interest here is to confront visitors with the only mode of encounter left once a species has grown extinct: the description, image, sound or taxidermed shell of a once thriving organism. However, rather than focusing on already extinct species, da Costa’s focus is on the ‘still living’; species that have been classified as being under threat, but which still stand a chance for survival if immediate action is taken.
Da Costa posits that, after they have been eradicated from our planet as a result of hunting, loss of habitat or climate change, our only opportunities for interaction with these species will be with bottled and mounted specimens. The possibility of an encounter ‘in the flesh’ will have disappeared, with humans reduced to studying preserved examples of each species.
To realize this exhibit, da Costa has worked in collaboration with collection curators at the Horniman Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. Central to her installation are taxidermed specimens of endangered animals alongside preserved botanical samples of plants under threat. Each specimen has been given a ‘birth date’ (the date of classification and inclusion into the corpus of western science) as well as a ‘death date’ (the date of projected extinction).
To coincide with the exhibition, da Costa released the Endangered Species Finder, a mobile application that facilitates encounters with other species within their ‘natural’ environments. She believed that experience and encounter, not just policy and regulations, are what ultimately change our behavior towards our environment. Through her encouragement of a ‘go out and meet the species before it’s too late’ attitude, da Costa hoped to make a small contribution to the collective effort of examining our current relationships to non-human species.
"The 'dark place' that they come from is the storage rooms in the bowls of museum, and their implied destination is the black hole of oblivion, sparingly illuminated by the hazy memories of the dwindling few who have encountered them," wrote Sally O'Reilly.
Beatriz da Costa is an interdisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. She works at the intersection of art, politics, engineering and the life sciences. Da Costa’s work usually took the form of public participatory interventions, locative media, conceptual tool building and critical writing. In 2010, Beatriz presented “A Memorial for the Still Living” at the Horniman Museum in London, a project commissioned by The Arts Catalyst as part of the Dark Places project. The exhibition showcased British animal and plant species on the edge of extinction, focusing on “still living” species. The ‘dark place’ refers to the storage rooms of the museum and consequential oblivion, sparingly illuminated by memories of the dwindling few who have encountered the specimens over the years. To realize this exhibition, da Costa worked in collaboration with collection curators at the Horniman Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. In the exhibition, taxidermied specimens of endangered animals lay alongside botanical samples of plants under threat. Each specimen was given a “birth date” (the date of classification and inclusion into the corpus of western science) as well as a “death date” (the date of projected extinction).
A Memorial for the Still Living is being presented in association with the Horniman Museum. It was commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and co-curated with the Office of Experiments, John Hansard Gallery and SCAN, for Dark Places in 2009.