Funded by the Natural History Museum, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the AHRC and London Arts, this research project addressed how scientific methods of imaging may be used in the production of art; and examined relationships between painting and scientific imaging. Working in the field of natural history imaging, the project used the Museum collections, displays and library archives to create a series of paintings that used the image of the specimen to explore and articulate different aspects of imaging the natural world.
The work was exhibited at the Natural History Museum with that of Giles Revell, a photographer who made a series of images of insects using scanning-electron microscopy. Fairnington was invited to participate in the project as a result of previous work with the Oxford Museum of Natural History. The exhibition focused upon parallels and differences between the two bodies of work and their relation to scientific research methodologies.
This exhibition was an important demonstration of the Natural History Museum’s commitment to collaborative art-science projects. The research methodology was consistent for each painting and involved taking hundreds of photographs from many different viewpoints, scales of magnification, and degrees of focus. The paintings incorporate each of these elements into a single image. The originality of the work lies in its construction of fictional spaces in which sustained observation, known fact and imaginative speculation existed together, drawing upon a series of referents and connecting to different locations of meaning. Through this nuanced process the image of the specimen becomes a way of illuminating the changing relationships between human beings and the history of thinking about the natural world.