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Evacuate art installation opens at Tring

14 December 2007

To protect important Natural History Museum specimens during the Second World War, items were evacuated to more than 25 English country houses.

This exodus is explored in Evacuate, a new photographic installation by artist Lyndall Phelps at the Natural History Museum at Tring.

Phelps spent her time as an artist in residence at the Museum researching the evacuation of the collections. Her installation examines this evacuation from the mammal, insect and bird collections.

There are two series of photographs in the installation, displayed on a plasma screen in the Victorian curator's office at Tring.

Pinned insects against stately home picture © 2007, Lyndall Phelps, Richard Davies and NHM

Pinned insects against a picture of a sumptuous stately home © 2007, Lyndall Phelps, Richard Davies and the Natural History Museum

In the first series, photographs of stately homes are placed in the Museum, alongside the specimens that were evacuated to that house - we see a tray of pinned insects photographed against a background of a sumptuous stately home.

In the second series, photographic portraits of the specimens are photographed in the houses to which they were moved, for example, a photograph of a barn owl is seen amongst the books and vestments of a priest (shown in image above).

Phelps has recreated a book made by one of the Museum's entomologists in the Second World War, to record the evacuated specimens. Phelps's book uses the same criteria to catalogue the 700 specimens photographed for the installation.

Evacuate is also accompanied by a leaflet featuring essays written by the Natural History Museum's archivist Polly Tucker about the evacuation of objects, and Tate Britain curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas, who grew up in one of the houses.

Lyndall Phelps

Lyndall Phelps completed her degree and MA at the College of Fine Art in Sydney. She has had solo exhibitions at Firstsite in Colchester and at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. Phelps was also selected for a group show curated by Danielle Arnaud at the Museum of Garden History in London.

She works across a range of media depending on her subject matter, which references historical events, objects and documentation.

The bird collection at Tring has inspired Phelps to create a second work that uses the spot numbers used for cataloguing the collection. This work will be displayed in a solo exhibition at Babylon Gallery, Ely, from late March to May 2008.

Evacuate opens from Friday 14 December to Sunday 3 February 2008

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