Exquisite art of Natural Selection flies high in Edinburgh
[Hi-res images available on request ]
Continuing its unprecedentedly popular exhibition season, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is set to lead visitors on a remarkable journey of crime, obsession and cultural conflict as Natural Selection opens at Inverleith House on Friday, September 28. Following the outstanding success of The Lost Words, which attracted just shy of 32,000 visits, Natural Selection is the beautiful and thought-provoking result of a five-year collaboration between artist Andy Holden and his father, the well-known ornithologist Peter Holden.
Birds – and the human fascination with their habits and habitats – are at the heart of Andy Holden’s exhibition which includes film, sculpture, photographs and animation. The origin of this commission lies in his father’s authority in the fields of natural history and ornithology. Peter Holden worked for the RSPB for 45 years, building the Young Ornithologist Club, which Andy Holden joined as a boy, into the largest wildlife club in the world. He also regularly featured as ‘the bird man’ on BBC’s Blue Peter.
On the ground floor of the gallery A Natural History of Nest Building is a remarkable study of the structures, reflecting on how and why they exist in such an astonishing array of forms. A three-screen video presentation has father and son visiting nesting sites to observe the habits of woodpeckers, weaver-birds, house martins and oven birds. A sculpture inspired by the exquisite and elaborate creations of bowerbirds is displayed alongside Andy Holden’s private nest collection and Peter Holden’s feather collection.
Upstairs, in A Social History of Egg Collecting an animated crow tells the story of how the pastime evolved from Victorian aristocratic pursuit, to popular schoolboy hobby, to underground illegality following the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 which banned the once popular activity in Britain. Laying bare the unstoppable urge of the collector, an extensive hoard of stolen eggs found in the home of notorious collector Richard Pearson in 2006 has been carefully recreated to accompany Holden’s film.
Speaking of the remarkable year for public outreach at RBGE, Exhibitions Manager Elinor Gallant explained: “In Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s exhibition The Lost Words we were given unmatched opportunity for outreach. Over three months, the gallery saw an average 300 visitors per day: our largest and most diverse audience ever, appealing to all ages and engaging with all sectors of the community through workshops, tours and meet the artist sessions. We are excited by the potential of Natural Selection to grow all these positive experiences.
“The appeal of birdlife and the now forbidden allure of collecting eggs is a remarkable chapter in the social history of Britain. It draws many comparisons with the core work of RBGE. Like the egg collectors, self-styled Victorian experts pursuing their mission to understand natural history devastated populations of native ferns on our hillsides. The advent of the rail network had created new access for the ‘pteridomaniacs’ to reach open countryside in pursuit of prized specimens and the ‘fern craze’, as coined by Charles Kingsley, resulted in several species being pushed to the brink of extinction.
“One such species was Woodsia ilvensis (oblong woodsia). For more than a decade, as part of RBGE’s commitment to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, our teams have been growing woodsia behind-the-scenes at Edinburgh, then planting them out on the hillsides where once they would have flourished. With its many layers of messages and stories, Natural Selection brings a reminder of the need to balance human appetite for knowledge with the fragility of the environment.”
This is the first showing of the work in Scotland, where much of the original footage was filmed, and will subsequently undertake a tour. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, once the Edinburgh run has concluded, on Sunday, November 18, Natural Selection will tour to Shetland, Arbroath, and Inverness in 2019.
Natural Selection is co-commissioned by Artangel, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and Towner Art Gallery with the support of Arts Council England, Bristol Green Capital 2015, the Henry Moore Foundation and Artangel’s Guardian Angels
For interviews, images or more information please contact: Sandra Donnelly on +44 (0)131 248 1037/07554115908
Natural Selection runs at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, from Friday, September 28 to Sunday, November 18 (not Mondays). Admission is free.
Astonishing ★★★★★ The Observer
Full of surprises ★★★★ the Guardian
Deeply emotional ★★★★ Time Out London
Artangel produces and presents extraordinary art in unexpected places in London, the UK and beyond. For over 30 years Artangel has generated some of the most talked-about art of recent times, including projects with Clio Barnard, Jeremy Deller, PJ Harvey, Roger Hiorns, Michael Landy, Steve McQueen, Rachel Whiteread, and last year, Jorge Otero-Pailos’s The Ethics of Dust at Westminster Hall, Houses of Parliament and Inside – Artists and Writers in Reading Prison. Appearing anywhere from empty prisons to underground vaults, daytime TV to the sky at night, Artangel produces art that surprises and inspires and wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a gallery. www.artangel.org.uk
Andy Holden’s work spans sculpture and painting, pop music, performance, and video. Recent exhibitions include the 2016 Glasgow International, where Holden premiered his acclaimed animated video Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape; Future Generation Art Prize, presented by the Pinchuk Art Foundation in Venice and As Speed Increases, Objects Can Be In Several Places At Once at Lancaster University, both in 2017.
Solo exhibitions include Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS at 176 Gallery, London and Spike Island, Bristol in 2013-14, Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time at Kettles Yard Cambridge in 2011, Cookham Erratics at the Benaki Museum, Athens and Art Now: Andy Holden at Tate Britain in 2010. In 2014 Holden’s band The Grubby Mitts toured artist-run spaces throughout the UK.
Peter Holden is one of the UK’s leading ornithologists and conservationists. He first expressed his intention of becoming a professional ornithologist at the age of eight and joined the staff of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds in 1969. He worked for the RSPB for 45 years, building the Young Ornithologist Club into the largest wildlife club in the world, and regularly featured as ‘the bird man’ on Blue Peter. Peter was instrumental in developing Big Garden Birdwatch, the first ‘citizen science project in the UK in 1979. Together with Bill Oddie, Peter presented the popular BBC television programme Bird in the Nest in 1994-95. He is the author of several books including the RSPB Handbook of British Birds, the RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildife and Birds: their Hidden World. Holden lives in a village in Bedfordshire.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a leading international research organisation delivering knowledge, education and plant conservation action around the world. In Scotland its four Gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan attract a million visitors each year. It operates as a Non Departmental Public Body established under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985, principally funded by the Scottish Government. It is also a registered charity, managed by a Board of Trustees appointed by Ministers. Its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future”.
Learn more: www.rbge.org.uk
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