Robyn Stacey - The Collectors Nature

Exhibition: 10 September to 11 October, 2003

Robyn Stacey

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In The Collectors Nature Robyn Stacey uses the strange and beautiful specimens housed in three significant botanic and insect collections as a place to begin an exploration of the relations between science, nature, culture and the act of collecting. Her large-scale colour images are at once enticing and enlightening, providing a glimpse into a fraction of the material housed in the Macleay collection, the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens (both in Sydney) and the National Herbarium of the Nederlands, Leiden. These collections form important cultural and historical repositories that cannot be accessed by the general public because of their physical delicacy and scientific importance.

Stacey creates subtle yet stunning photographic montages using these original specimens, enlarging the minutiae in an act of celebration and examination. She references the aesthetics of centuries past, of scientific inquiry and of amateur enthusiasms while simultaneously using digital photographic manipulation to re-present these collections in a unique and contemporary way.

Leidenmaster I, 2003 for example, features the earliest specimen she photographed (dating from 1620). It is part of the Reauwolf collection that is both a book and a portable herbarium. It is also one of the earliest books extant today with an exciting history as both a spoil of war as well as being a scientific database. Stacey has digitally suffused her still life image of these books with the skulls and shells and butterflies that would have been collected at that time. The book still life is part of the Dutch Vanitas tradition and reminds us that even knowledge can be a form of vanity.

The artistry and influence of collectors themselves is also suggested in the surrealism of some of Stacey's combinations. Perfect pineapples, for example, sit against clouded skies filled with butterflies. In natural history more than in any other area of scientific enquiry the past and present, the practical and sublime, the routine, the adventurous and the beautiful combine in ways as familiar and as strange as the life of the plants and insects themselves.

Robyn Stacey is one of Australia's foremost photoartists. She has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions both in Australia and overseas since the mid 1980's. Her photographic works are held in major public collections throughout Australia.