natural histories


6 images from natural histories

These images are 6 of a series made in the summer of 2003 at the Butterfly House at Lancaster, England. This is a large Edwardian glass house, or conservatory, atop the highest hill in the city.

Multitudes of "exotic" butterflies live, eat, breed, are born and die within the enclosed environment of the conservatory. They are for the most part indigenous to Asia and the Central and South Americas. Without the infrastructure of the Butterfly House, they would likely not survive. To discourage their escape, entrance and exit doorways are hung with curtains of chains.

The place resonates with the sensibility of the early natural scientist - collecting, observing, classifying and cataloguing. It speaks also of a fascination with the exotic as nurtured through Imperial expansion and colonization – claiming and controlling.

Haunting and disturbing in its fragile beauty, the Butterfly House embodies narratives of the ownership, commodification and objectification of life – narratives still embedded within an ostensibly post-colonial world.

The Butterfly House serves also as metaphor for contemporary "city-worlds". Isolated from external realities, dependent upon fragile systems of technology and control, we, as the butterflies, breed, are born, feed, flutter, and die inside an artificially small world which seems to offer everything. Discouraged from leaving, and perhaps no longer having resources to survive should we do so, we remain asleep to a greater world with which we are, in fact, most intimately intertwined, and on which we rely absolutely for sustenance.

Copyright Beth Carruthers 2004