Having spent my day visiting some of Manchester’s many galleries, my mind was firmly in ‘art mode,’ so when I arrived at the opening of Manchester Museum’s From the War of Nature, I think I was geared up for a gallery-style exhibition rather than a museum display. At first this threw me a bit, as the captions and display boards were giving me much more information than I was used to, almost doing the thinking for me, and this led me to consider the different roles that museums and art galleries play, and how they interact differently with their audiences.
The idea for this exhibition came about as a response to the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, a wonderfully original take on a subject that will be the focus in many galleries and museums this year.
There are a large number of taxidermy pieces on display here (apparently many were created specifically for this exhibition), alongside specimen cases full of butterflies and other insects. These are used to illustrate various points throughout, but also make their own point about the detrimental effect of humans on the natural world, how our obsession for collecting and categorising has caused the decline and extinction of many species.
Posed next to the painting is an impressive but somehow less threatening taxidermy wolf which I was dying to reach out and touch. The caption told of how the reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park of a creature which is often thought of as ‘bad’ or ‘wicked’ actually had a positive impact and increased the biodiversity of the area.
One of the most poignant pieces in the exhibition, in the context of the First World War, was a pressed poppy from 1915, the same year in which John McRae was inspired to write In Flanders Fields. Now a familiar symbol, it has to be wondered if the artist had any idea of the significance of the flower he or she pressed, whether it was chosen for beauty, or simply as a good specimen for education.
From the War of Nature continues until 7th September 2014 (free entry).