D’Arcy Wilson: The Memorialist

18 January – 14 April, 2019

Dendragapus canadensis, USNM A 12565, The Smithsonian Institution. Date collected: 28 July 1847, Date Visited: 24 May 2016. Archival Inkjet Print, 20" x 26", 2016. Photo Credit: Chris Friel

Andrew Downs’ Zoological Gardens opened in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the edge of town in 1847. Stretching over one hundred acres in the area adjacent to what is now known as the Armdale Roundabout, for more than 20 years the Gardens housed regional and exotic animals in sprawling wooded enclosures. The proprietor, known to care deeply for the animals in his keep, was also a master taxidermist, supplying specimens to the world’s leading scientific institutions of the time. Downs’ Gardens was the first public zoo dedicated to the study of nature in North America, and yet, these gardens also signalled the broken bridge between colonial settlers and the natural world, becoming a “living museum” of wildlife in a patch of forest just off the Halifax Peninsula.

The Memorialist—a term with which Downs self-identified in his practice—departs from this story, following the undercurrents of colonialism that permeate Western Culture’s understanding of nature, while retracing the complex geography of care and harm that characterized nineteenth century efforts to collect and preserve natural specimens (and occasionally their habitat) under the context of an expanding dominion. In this installation of her ongoing research driven project, D’Arcy Wilson presents a combination of still photography, video projections, a 14-ft diorama, a selection of museum and archival objects, and performances that tease out the contradictions at play behind the preservationist impulse and the museological framing of the natural world.