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Darwin’s Canopy: proposals for a new permanent artwork

An exhibition of artists’ proposals for a new ceiling artwork inspired by Darwin kicks off the Darwin200 celebrations at the Natural History Museum.

The 10 shortlisted artists competing for the honour of creating the permanent ceiling installation include Turner Prize winners Rachel Whiteread and Mark Wallinger.

The exhibition

The new exhibition displays each artist’s vision for the ceiling artwork using artworks and models in all media, and statements by the artists.

The winner, selected by an expert panel, will be announced in the summer. The commissioned artwork will be revealed on Darwin’s two hundredth birthday, 12 February 2009.

The 10 proposals

Christine Borland: We Think A sculptural work in two phases. A sculpture of a large tree, made by scaling up a sketch of the ‘tree of life’ by Charles Darwin. The public are invited to insert coins into the branches of the tree and its human limbs, in the tradition of wishing trees. This work will then be traced in dust on glass panels, and the resulting ‘negatives’ suspended from the ceiling, onto which they will cast a shadow of the original sculpture. The coins from the first phase will be smelted down to create a plaque, embossed with We Think 1809–2009 and set into the gallery floor.

Part of Dorothy Cross: Darwin Column

Dorothy Cross: Darwin Column

Dorothy Cross: Darwin Column A clear-glass column placed centrally in the space. Inside the column, an engraved human skull, perfectly containing a foetal skeleton within the brain space.

Tania Kovats: Tree A cross-section of an entire 200 year old oak tree, cut lengthways, roots trunk and branches, to be inserted into the ceiling using a process similar to veneering. Tree is inspired by Charles Darwin´s sketch of the branching tree to represent evolution in his Transmutation Notebook. The artist is currently on a Darwin trail, following Darwin’s foot steps in South America.

Alison Turnball: Biston betularia L. (aka The Peppered Moth) A perceptual response to the story of the peppered moth, consisting of a sequence of painted aluminium panels that change gradually from white to black along both sides of the ceiling, with smaller, brightly coloured interventions in the centre, echoing the Museum’s colour-coding of moths and butterflies.

UnitedVisualArtists: Eden Using a computer simulation of evolution, UVA will create an intricate miniature ecosystem, an abstract sculpture which appears to have grown organically across the entire ceiling. A central globe of light acts like a miniature sun, with the stylised, plant-like forms around it competing for the available light.

Bison from Mark Fairnington: The Eyes

Mark Fairnington: The Eyes

Mark Fairnington: The Eyes Twelve painted eyes from the Museum’s collection: bison, dodo, elephant, giant tortoise, gorilla, leopard, orang-utan, polar bear, rhinoceros, seal, tiger and zebra.

Mark Wallinger: word The entire anthology of the Oxford Book of English Verse 1250–1918, with all the punctuation, and syntactical signs removed to create a word document of a million characters on a suspended ceiling occupying almost the entire canopy. Telescopes and binoculars will be supplied to read the text.

Richard Woods: Style Species Hand-printed ceramic tiles, each with the iconography from plants and flowers, read against the architecture of the Alfred Waterhouse designed building, the artist shows how the aesthetics of the ornaments have evolved across cultures and time.

Richard Wentworth: Out Of The Corner Of The Eye (for Darwin) A large number of small, round mirrors in several sizes to be attached to the ceiling, mounted like rear view mirrors, at widely different angles and dispositions stimulating the visitor’s gaze. The ceiling is dedicated to Darwin’s peripheral vision and powers of observation.

Rachel Whiteread: Darwin Ceiling A series of panels, reflecting the idea that animals and humans have walked across the roof of the Museum. The panels would be indented with footprints – clear impressions of identifiable footprints, for example humans, monkeys, elephants, birds linking to Darwin’s evolution.

The exhibition runs from 3 June until 14 September. The project is supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and is part of the Museum’s contemporary arts programme.

For more information about Darwin’s Canopy please see the Events pages or the Natural History Musem website .


‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin