16 June 2008

Breaking news: "Darwin's canopy" winner announced

Artist Tania Kovats has won the commission to create a work of Darwin-inspired art on the ceiling of a gallery in the Natural History Museum in London. From the museum's news item:
Kovats was selected over 9 shortlisted artists, including Turner Prize winners. She was awarded the honour of creating a new permanent installation artwork on the ceiling of a gallery at the Museum.

TREE will involve a cross-section of an entire 200-year-old oak tree cut lengthways and inserted into the ceiling of the mezzanine gallery, using a process similar to veneering.

'The judges were unanimous in their decision that Tania's response to this challenge was the most appropriate, even exceeding the criteria, and is an excellent response from the contemporary arts,' said Bob Bloomfield, the project leader.

'It is considerate to the Grade 1 listed building and explores one of Darwin's core ideas, that all living things share a common evolutionary origin.'

'The work connects with the tradition of specimen collecting, preservation and curation, which lies at the heart of the natural history museums.'

Tania Kovats says, 'I am delighted to be able to make a tribute to this unique individual, in such a wonderful institution.'

One of the largest specimens

At more than 17m long, TREE will become one of the largest specimens at the Museum. Work will begin immediately and it will be unveiled on 12 February 2009, exactly 200 years after Darwin was born.

Darwin inspiration

'TREE came out of my time in South America, where Darwin has been an inspiring travelling companion,' says Kovat.

'I think the tree is a really useful model of thought, and the cross-section is a way of understanding anything in the natural world.'

'Darwin's branching tree drawing in one of his notebooks, where he started to put his ideas down about evolution, is one I've thought about a lot. He wrote at the top of the page "I think" and then his thought breaks down and becomes an image.'

'It's a branching thought almost, whether a tree or a coral, quite remarkable for how it presents to him a proof of where his thoughts are going. It was a trigger for how I wanted to respond to working with the Museum.'

'What I have always loved about the Natural History Museum is how it is such a magnificent collection of real things and all the exquisite craft that has gone into both the building and the display of these things.'

Judging panel

The judging panel, of art, science and architecture experts was hugely impressed with the 10 proposals. They selected the final work by identifying which proposal:

  • was one of the most outstanding works of contemporary art
  • most encapsulates Darwin's ideas and their contemporary significance to our understanding of the natural world and understanding our place within it
  • was most sympathetic/appropriate in its response to the Grade I listed Waterhouse building
  • can be delivered as a completed work by the end of January 2009, to open on Charles Darwin's bicentenary on 12 February 2009
Darwin's Canopy exhibition is the first event in a nationwide programme called Darwin200, celebrating Darwin’s ideas and their impact around his two hundredth birthday. It runs until 14 September and features the 10 artists' concepts for the ceiling.
I quite like the oak tree idea... not just because it is a visual representation of evolutionary history but also because English oak is the main ingredient in a particular little ship that bore Darwin on a journey that he said was "the most important event" in his life.

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