Visualising extinction: representing extinct and endangered species archived in global natural history museums.

Lindsay, E 2016, Visualising extinction: representing extinct and endangered species archived in global natural history museums., Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Art, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

Title Visualising extinction: representing extinct and endangered species archived in global natural history museums.
Author(s) Lindsay, E
Year 2016
Abstract This studio-based doctoral research has investigated the gaps in visual culture pertaining to native Australian bird extinctions by critiquing representations of extinct species as they were in “life”: a convention widely used in art and science to disseminate available data. The research for this project took two major lines of enquiry. The first investigated how encounters with extinct specimens are only possible through a limited range of options. Such encounters might require permission to restricted-access museum zoology archives, or located via rare historical and contemporary book publications and online databases. The second line of enquiry examined visual artists who have depicted research specimens located in the natural history museums, or who have focused on extinct species represented in historical, scientific, and contemporary art records.

My studio work addressed the visual gaps in existing museum collection and art research located in the literature, whilst also critiquing historical, artistic and scientific representational conventions emphasising “life” as a means of communicating the critical global issue of species extinction. After identifying the gaps in the extant visual information on extinct bird species, I then responded to these omissions through a complete series of artworks of the 29 extinct Australian bird specimens located in global natural history museums. The artworks also aimed to address the critical problem of widespread species extinction in the age of the Anthropocene. The research has contributed new visual knowledge to the emerging field of extinction in contemporary art through an investigation titled The Extinction Project, comprising four studio research outcomes: Archive: Photographs; Fieldtrip; Archive: Paintings; and the Black paintings, and explored the affective qualities of viewing extinct species as natural history museum specimens. The Archive series comprises a suite of documentary photographs and paintings based on fieldwork research documenting 29 little-known Australian extinct bird specimens located in natural history museum archives in Australia, France, UK, & the US between 2012-2014. The second outcome Fieldtrip is a video documenting access to the ornithology archives and extinct bird specimens held at the South Australian Museum in 2013. This work reveals the artistic processes used to document the first hand physical and visual encounters I experienced with extinct species. The Archive: Photographs series led to the Archive: Paintings and the Black paintings which further explored the emotional and physical experience of seeing endangered and extinct international bird specimens, posed as in “life” in the artificial landscapes of the history museum.

These research outcomes include reflections on the long relationship between art and science in communicating data and the dual role of the museum as an archive of scientific natural history and human cultural history. In order to gauge the particular contribution my own work brings to this field the research also extended to a selected review of published texts, artworks, scientists, and scientific illustrators engaged with extinction.

Lastly, the project as a whole responds to the affective meanings of my experiences of extinction as a profound sense of loss.

Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Art
Keyword(s) Australian birds
Extinct species
Museum specimens
Contemporary art
Extinction portraits
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Created: Fri, 20 May 2016, 13:45:33 EST by Denise Paciocco
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