Category: Blog


Published: June 5, 2012

Looking into Nature's Toolbox

John Bates, Curator and Section Head, Life Sciences, Negaunee Integrative Research Center


Nature’s Toolbox is a temporary exhibit at the museum organized by Art Works for Change (AWFC).  I served as in-house exhibit curator along with Peggy MacNamara.  Anna Huntley and Libby Pokel –Hung were the Project Manager and Exhibition Developer respectively.  This is not a typical exhibit for our museum; it is an art exhibit, but the art is focused on issues related to biodiversity and the continually increasing effects human have on the planet.  Comprised of all different types of approaches from painting and photography to sculpture and beyond, the exhibit is housed in the Comer Gallery behind the new Abbott Hall of Conservation.  I am happy to say that this makes for a flow that make it worth taking the time to see both.  

There are Chris Jordan’s stirring pictures of dead albatrosses whose decayed stomachs are filled with castoff plastic that they ingested in life (Midway:Message from the Gyre).  Libby, Peggy and I asked for curators and staff to comment on specific pieces to put the art in the context of the museum.  The response was great and the insight of the scientists adds another layer to the experience.  The works I commented on are several of Isabella Kirkland’s beautiful NOVA series depicting recently described species of animals of all kinds.  Isabella Rosellini’s wonderful, accurate and provocative Green Porno videos are guaranteed to hold one’s attention.  There have been some minor issues with one of the installations, which makes for a lot of work for the exhibits staff, but it highlights the truly artistic nature of the exhibit. 

I know that I’ll go back to the exhibit more than once while its here.  During that time my favorite piece may change.  What currently holds my eye is one that has ties to where I have just been.  It is Venezuelan artist Antonio Briceño’s work Millions of Pieces: Only One Puzzle based on photos that were taken in Rwanda in the Albertine Rift region that highlight the struggle between humans and the rest of biodiversity.  I have included a couple photos from our trip in May to Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic here.  There are more of our photos and information on our newly created African Birds website, but come see the exhibit.


The montane forest of Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda taken from the west.