Marion Sidebottom

Nature-Based Photographer & Artist, MA, ARPS, RHS Silver Gilt

In 2013 I created an art installation and photographic project which was a fictional recreation of Charles Darwin's Victorian study based on the theme 'Specimens'. There were three elements to the project: photography, mixed media models and assemblage.

The many Charles Darwin connections in this project include a visit to the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, London to see their spirit jars, a visit to Cambridge University Zoological Museum to see Darwin's original specimens from his voyage on the HMS Beagle, and a visit to Darwin's study at Downe House to research Victorian collectors and polymaths.

Whilst at Cambridge University Zoological Museum I was given special permission to photograph their spirit jar specimens. During my exhibition I assembled my photographs of these specimens on false wall shelves as a collection of images but also to represent real specimen's in Darwin's study.

The bookcase was filled with an assemblage of handmade real and fictional sprit jar specimens which I created in mixed media i.e. latex, clay, wire, textiles and handmade lampwork glass.  I handmade the jar labels using calligraphy and tea staining to suggest that they were original specimens collected on the HMS Beagle voyage.

The compartmentalised print drawer sitting on the open shelf of the writing desk was an assemblage of actual specimens from my life.  I am a natural collector of curiosities and each compartment was filled with rocks, seeds, teeth, fossils and other botanical materials. During the exhibition children could come up and view the specimens using a magnifying glass.

I also created some illustrations of spirit jar specimens in lino cuts shown below.

My aim was for it to be an interactive exhibition which drew in the viewer's natural curiosity to inspect the specimens in all three forms and to inquire whether they were real or fictional.