The Natural History Museum had its grand opening and inaugural exhibition at the Queens Museum in September – October, 2014. It was timed to coincide with the People’s Climate March, an historic march through the streets of New York City, with more than 400,000 people calling for climate justice.
We constructed a 1000 square foot tent inspired by infrastructure used in archeology expeditions and mobile disaster response scenarios. Custom-built plinths showcased taxidermic animal specimens, and 14 light boxes featured photographs taken at 5 natural history museums across the Eastern seaboard. The photographs depicted museum visitors engaging with dioramas and nature displays—functioning as a backdrop that reflected an anthropological perspective on museums and their exhibits.
Within the photographs one could see museum goers reflected in the display cases’ glass, illuminating the ways visitors are both within the displays and exterior to them–raising questions about the role the visitors play in nature and culture. A free booklet essay entitled “Exhibiting the Gaze” accompanied the exhibition and explored the history of the politics of display in museum exhibitions and World’s Fairs.
The physical exhibition functioned as a backdrop for panel discussions, workshops and screenings. The programming introduced the public to the historical and theoretical framework that informs The Natural History Museum’s programs. Speakers included artists Hans Haacke, Mark Dion, and Liberate Tate, acclaimed scientists Michael Mann and Alice Bell, authors Christian Parenti and Razmig Keucheyan, historians Fred Turner and Stuart Ewen, theorist Jodi Dean, climate justice activists Gopal Dayaneni, Elizabeth Yeampierre, and Eddie Bautista , and others.
In tandem with the museum’s opening was the launch of The Natural History Museum’s online museum, and The Natural History Museum’s mobile museum, a 15-passenger tour, expedition, and action bus.
Institutional critique expresses and comes up against the limits of the institution. How are activist artists borrowing the vocabulary of the museum and in so doing extending the political potential already dividing the institution from within?
We will consider the works of artists Hans Haacke and Mark Dion, and projects such as Liberate Tate, To BP or not to BP, Art Not Oil, and other art/activism campaigns that confront the fossil fuel industry in our cultural institutions.
Corporate sponsorship of museums and science education can compromise the basic idea of museums as reliable sources of common knowledge. By considering historical as well as contemporary examples of museum funding, we look at the power structures embedded in practices of collecting and display.
Juan Camilo Osorio of the NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance guides visitors through a tour of the Queen’s Museum’s famous Panorama of the City of New York. Models can be inspiring as they change the scale of people’s encounter with their environment. By looking at the vast architectural model of New York City from the perspective of climate justice, visitors see directly the challenges and opportunities faced by urban planning for a changing climate. The tour is followed by the projection on the panorama’s back wall of photos and videos from Sandy Storyline, a participatory documentary project initiated by Housing is Human Right and the MIT Center for Civic Media.
Wes Gillingham, Program Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, uses the Watershed Model, a 540 square foot relief map built by the Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity for the 1939 World’s Fair, to illustrate the potential impact of fracking of NYC’s water supply. Following the tour is an emergency short film detailing the public relations strategies and misinformation campaign perpetuated by the gas industry. “The Sky is Pink,” directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox, looks at the gas industry’s flagrant disregard for the health and safety of the communities it ravages and the historic decision New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is poised to make.
With Stuart Ewen, Michael Mann, and James Hoggan. Moderated by Jodi Dean.
Shifting strategies–from denialism to obfuscation, advertising, and public relations–mislead the public. People become cynical and uncertain, mistrusting of any and all efforts to confront the changing climate. With science under attack, what is to be done? How might we break through the propaganda fog and into collective action?
With Christian Parenti, Jason Moore, and Razmig Keucheyan. Moderated by Lize Featherstone.
Edward Abbey compares capitalism with cancer: growth for the sake of growth. This panel considers the violent legacies of capitalism’s exploitation and appropriation of nature. It inquires into how views of natural systems as separate from human systems–political, social, and economic– may be part of the problem we face in confronting climate change.
The Natural History Museum presents a day-long anthropological workshop for students from the Hemispheric Institute at New York University. Topics covered include institutional critique, interventionism, and the politics of display. Includes a guided tour of and exercises within the American Museum of Natural History.
The Natural History Museum presents a day-long anthropological workshop for students from the Center for Artistic Activism at New York University. Topics covered include institutional critique, interventionism, and the politics of display. Includes a guided tour of and exercises within the American Museum of Natural History.
With Gopal Dayaneni, Eddie Bautista, and Elizabeth Yeampierre
To build a global climate movement, we have to address the asymmetries in the burden of responsibility and the burden of impact. This requires that we acknowledge the ways inequalities are deeply embedded in the systems that continue to produce and deny climate change, hindering our abilities to mobilize against it. In the wake of the People’s Climate March, climate justice activists are shifting the discourse and building a movement.
With Peder Anker, Fred Turner, and Jodi Dean. Moderated by Astra Taylor.
This panel looks at the ways the structure of exhibitions, design and communication influences how we see what is natural in the autopoietic habitats of the contemporary.