‘Dead or Alive’ presented the paintings resulting from the collaboration between Fairnington and Dr George McGavin from the Oxford University Museum, supported by a £10k Sciart Consortium award. Taking a field trip to the Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize to study treehoppers (Membracidae), the purpose of this collaboration was to study the use of mimetic camouflage by this particular group of insects. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, ‘Membracidae’ developed from a previous collaborative project between Fairnington and McGavin entitled ‘Mantidae’ (1999-2001). Paintings from both series were included in the exhibition and the resulting book ‘Dead or Alive: Natural History Painting’, which reflects current debates between natural science and visual art practice and describes these two collaborative projects.
Very little fieldwork had previously been conducted on treehoppers and for most species there is no basic data on their biology, behavior and ecology. On the fieldtrip, McGavin gathered insects and data and Fairnington took c.1000 photographs. The specimens gathered as part of this research became part of the Hope Collections and were re-photographed by the artist in the Museum under a microscope. The paintings combined all of these different photographic elements together and fused direct observation with imagination.
Cited in the Wellcome Trust publication ‘Experiment: conversations in art and science’ (editors: Bergit Arends and David Thackara) and in Chapter 8 of Sian Ede’s book’ Art and Science’, images from the series have been included in a range of exhibitions and publications: ‘Experience and Experiment’ (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation); ‘Insect Poetics’, (University of Minnesota Press); ‘Transmission: Speaking and Listening’ (Sheffield Hallam University Site Gallery, Sheffield); ‘Bittersweet’ (Danielle Arnaud Gallery, London); ‘History Revision’ (Plymouth Arts Centre); and ‘The Human Zoo’ (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle). Fairnington is also featured in Audio Arts Volume 20, No.3.