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UnNatural History

Jordan Well, COVENTRY, West Midlands, CV1 5QP

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UnNatural History

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An ‘out of place’ sculpture of a rhino and a time-travelling lab form part of a major new exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum this May.

UnNatural History, curated by art and environment organisation Invisible Dust, will run from 28 May until 22 August 2021, during the early weeks of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture.

The exhibition of works by international naturalists and artists will explore the link between art and science when it comes to natural history, and how it has helped to develop our understanding of ecology, climate change, extinction and threats to biodiversity. 

It will show how, over time, the observational skills of artists have enabled us to learn about plants and animals long before technological advancements caught up.

UnNatural History will feature drawings, paintings, sculpture, installations, photography, film, digital media and new technologies, and will connect the past, present, and future of our relationship to nature.

It will showcase over 20 international artists from Belgium, Germany, India, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Turkey, the UK and the USA, including four newly-commissioned works responding to the Herbert’s own Natural Science Collection – which includes more than 180,000 objects and specimens.

The exhibition will include Raqs Media Collective’s life-sized sculpture However Incongruous as a contemporary reinterpretation of Albrecht Dürer's Rhinoceros from 1515.

The original painting was speculative as, having never seen a rhino in real life and misperceiving descriptions of the animal, Dürer depicts it with a horn on its back. In Raqs Media Collective’s work, the rhinoceros is reimagined as an out-of-place carousel animal.

Elsewhere, artists Dubmorphology have created a multimedia installation, Colony, which is observation lab of time-travelling researchers from the future trying to understand an imminent environmental disaster. They travel back to the current age to investigate the impacts of human behaviour through the colonies of ants and bees.

The exhibition will be presented in Herbert Art Gallery & Museum’s newly refurbished contemporary galleries, forming part of the launch programme for Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.

Alice Sharp, Artistic Director at Invisible Dust, said: “I am thrilled UnNatural History will be one of the first exhibitions for Coventry UK City of Culture 2021. The artists consider the past and future of the deeply felt relationship between art and science of the great collections of natural history. This relationship is sometimes speculative, sometimes informative.

UnNatural History artists uncover both a greater understanding of ecology and biodiversity, and encourage our ability to act on the climate crisis.”

Francis Nielsen, Cultural & Creative Director of Culture Coventry, which operates Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, said: “UnNatural History is a large-scale and ambitious show which plays a significant part in our programme for UK City of Culture 2021. The exhibition features a diverse range of contemporary and historic works from across the globe, each showcasing how art can help us to better understand nature and inspire people to take climate action.

“We’re incredibly excited to reopen the Herbert following the pandemic with two major, thought-provoking exhibitions – 2 Tone: Lives and Legacies which examines the musical phenomenon which started in Coventry and UnNatural History, exploring the role of art and natural history collections in understanding our environment.”

The UnNatural History artists are: Alex Hartley; Andy Holden; Angela Brazil; Calvin Pang & David Robinson; Christina Agapakis, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sissel Tolaas; David Claerbout; Dorothy Cross; Doug Aitken; Dubmorphology; Frances Disley; Francis Upritchard; Gerard Byrne; Gözde İlkin; Lisa Reihana; Marianne North; Mat Collishaw; Michael Landy; Raqs Media Collective; Sarah Sze; Sonya Schönberger; Tania Kovats; Wangechi Mutu; Yinka Shonibare.

UnNatural History has been publicly funded by Coventry City Council and National Lottery funded by Arts Council England.

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Opening Times

28 May 2021 - 22 Aug 2021

* Monday - Saturday, 10am - 4pm; Sunday 12pm - 4pm

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