These photographs emerged from a 60-day research fellowship I had in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 2010. In wandering through the archives I noticed that the plants and animals in the collection could tell stories about the people who had collected them. Occasionally a mouse caught in the basement might be labeled and submitted to the collection by a researcher. Or a bird that accidentally flew into a window. Or an moth found eating one of the exhibits. I loved discovering these quiet moments in which the museum was caught in the act of collecting itself. On a grander scale, some specimens were collected in places and times that are significant to the nation's history. Embedded in the collection was an unspoken history of war and military exercise. This exhibit takes on a journey through several points in American history as revealed by natural history specimens.
Richard Pell works at the intersections of science, engineering, and culture. He is the founder of the Center for PostNatural History, an outreach organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally altered through selective breeding or genetic engineering. The Center for PostNatural History operates a permanent exhibition facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museum throughout Europe and the United States. A founding member of the highly acclaimed art and engineering collective, the Institute for Applied Autonomy, his work with IAA includes several robotic, web and biologically based projects that call into question the imperatives that drive technological development. IAA projects such as the robotic GraffitiWriter, iSee and TXTmob have been exhibited in art, activist and engineering contexts such as the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Mass MoCA, CAC in Cincinatti, Australian Center for the Moving Image, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Hackers On Planet Earth and the International Conference On Robotics And Automation. IAA projects have been chosen for an Award of Distinction and two Honorable Mentions at the Prix-Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and were selected for RES Magazine’s 10 Best New Artists of 2005. His narrative and documentary videos explore the individual’s relationship to authority. His most recent video documentary entitled, Don’t Call Me Crazy On The 4th Of July, won the Best Michigan Director Award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 2005, took 1st prize at the Iowa International Documentary Film Festival has screened in numerous festivals internationally. In 2007 he was awarded a prestigious Rockefeller New Media Fellowship for the establishment of a new museum entitled The Center for PostNatural History.