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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 Berlin.

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 glass cabinets full of prepared birds.

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 in a 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 of classifying them, a vast number of animals were hunted, killed, shipped to Europe, prepared as specimens and assembled in the collections. (Rumour has it that countless crates from expeditions as renowned as Darwin's have never been 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' or 'pickling') turned the animal into a specimen and as such it carried meaning only in the context of a sequence or a system of taxonomy, homology etc.

This function has now been supplanted by new contemporary ways of determining species; so the large number 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 new, unintended and evocative connections.

In many specimens the signs of age (be it that they are faded, dusty or moth-eaten) vie with the taxidermist's art 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, narrative and even psychological scenarios amongst groups can suggest themselves, creating echoes of a buried memory of Western civilization's ways of acquiring knowledge about nature.

 
 
 
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