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The tree as evolutionary icon: TREE in the Natural History Museum, London
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of History of Science and Ideas.
2011 (English)In: Archives of Natural History, ISSN 0260-9541, E-ISSN 1755-6260, Vol. 38, no 1, 1-17 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

As part of the Darwin celebrations in 2009, the Natural History Museum in London unveiled TREE, the first contemporary artwork to win a permanent place in the Museum. While the artist claimed that the inspiration for TREE came from Darwin's famous notebook sketch of branching evolution, sometimes referred to as his "tree of life" drawing, this article emphasises the apparent incongruity between Darwin's sketch and the artist's design -- best explained by other, complementary sources of inspiration. In the context of the Museum's active participation in struggles over science and religion, the effect of the new artwork is contradictory. TREE celebrates Darwinian evolutionism, but it resonates with deep-rooted, mythological traditions of tree symbolism to do so. This complicates the status of the Museum space as one of disinterested, secular science, but it also contributes, with or without the intentions of the Museum's management, to consolidate two sometimes conflicting strains within the Museum's history. TREE celebrates human effort, secular science and reason -- but it also evokes long-standing mythological traditions to inspire reverence and remind us of our humble place in the world.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 38, no 1, 1-17 p.
Keyword [en]
History of evolutionary theory
National Category
History of Ideas
Research subject
History of Sciences and Ideas
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-187297DOI: 10.3366/anh.2011.0001ISI: 000296892300001PubMedID: 21560437OAI: diva2:574175
Available from: 2012-12-05 Created: 2012-12-04 Last updated: 2016-05-13Bibliographically approved

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