In her Promethean Boldness series of works Nikola Irmer has concentrated on a seemingly forgotten
collection of bird specimens in the Natural History Museum in
The bird storeroom in Berlin houses a vast number of specimens,
relegated there as they are no longer used in the collections on public display. The room measures about 20 by 15 meters and contains hundreds of
cabinets full of prepared
It is hard to understand why these amazing specimens lead such a
reclusive shelf life. Nikola Irmer became fascinated by the haphazard arrangements that resulted from cramming the specimens together
seemingly random way. Her attention
to the individual birds transforms them and gives them new meaning.
Primarily during the 19th
century, driven by the pursuit of
knowledge and the Darwinian search for new species and new ways
classifying them, a vast number of animals were hunted, killed, shipped
Europe, prepared as specimens and assembled in the collections. (Rumour
that countless crates from expeditions as renowned as Darwin's have
opened and are languishing in the attics and basements of Europe's Natural History Museums.) The animals' individual bodies were of interest primarily as
representatives of their species. The process of preparation ('stuffing'
'pickling') turned the animal into a specimen and as such it carried
only in the context of a sequence or a system of taxonomy, homology
This function has now been
supplanted by new contemporary ways of determining species; so the large
of superfluous specimens are piled and crammed into the storeroom's
glass cabinets, inaccessible to the
public. The resulting fairly chaotic and haphazard arrangement creates
unintended and evocative connections.
specimens the signs of age
(be it that they are faded, dusty or moth-eaten) vie with the
of attempting to make them seem as life-like as possible.
In the process of drawing and
painting formal relationships, rhythms and patterns begin to emerge,
and even psychological scenarios amongst groups can suggest themselves,
creating echoes of a buried memory of Western civilization's ways of
knowledge about nature.