Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Video still from The Substitute, 2019, paired video installation (projections), 6 min 18 secs. © Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Courtesy the artist. Visualisationanimation by The Mill.

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The Lost Rhino: An Art Installation by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg at the Natural History Museum

Visitors to the Natural History Museum will soon be able to engage with an emotive, life-like digital recreation of a northern white rhinoceros. 

This critically endangered species has only two remaining females; the last male, Sudan, died in 2018. Drawing on AI technology and rare research footage of the last northern white rhinos, this virtual rhino will be roaming in a digital world within the Museum’s Jerwood Gallery as part of a new art display from acclaimed artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. 

Opening on 16 December 2022 until March 2023, The Lost Rhino is a free display curated by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg which explores how an idea of an animal can be more powerful than the animal itself. Through four different depictions of the rhinoceros, each only a partial representation of this endangered species, Ginsberg explores themes of extinction, technology, and the importance of conservation.    

At the centre of The Lost Rhino is Ginsberg’s ‘The Substitute’, a captivating life-size projection of a northern white rhinoceros that slowly comes to life, transforming from pixels into a high-resolution facsimile, before disappearing. The artwork questions our preoccupation with creating new life forms rather than conserving existing ones and is accompanied by three other imperfect representations of the rhinoceros selected by Ginsberg that explore different ways the endangered animal lives in our imaginations:

  • A facsimile of a widely copied yet inaccurate print from the 16th century by Albrecht Dürer, shown alongside historical reproductions of his enduring rhino image from the Museum's rare books collection, created over 200 years.
  • A film of the beating heart cells grown from cells from Angalifu, a male northern white rhino that died in 2014.
  • And a taxidermy southern white rhino specimen from the Museum’s vast collection - a member of the subspecies of rhino most closely related to the northern white, and one that is near threatened. Its inclusion explores the idea of the taxidermy in the collections being representations of the animals - stand-ins for the real thing.

Artist and display curator Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg comments: “The Lost Rhino brings my work together with artefacts from the Museum collections and beyond in a contemporary cabinet of curiosities. Footage of beating heart cells grown from cells of a dead rhino, the legacy of the most copied image of the rhinoceros, and a taxidermied rhino offer different representations of a rhino.

But these are all ultimately substitutes for the real thing. Each copy is imperfect and created by humans, for humans. They all live on in our imagination, perhaps more powerfully than the living, breathing animal itself. What is a rhino? Even if we can create a complete rhino, is it ‘real’ if it is divorced from its natural context? The exhibition asks if we value the idea of the rhino more than the animal itself and is an urgent call to preserve the incredible diversity of life on our planet before it is lost.”

The death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, in 2018 left behind just two females and condemned this subspecies to extinction. Scientists have preserved the cells of northern white rhinos, hoping that future technologies could allow humans to bring the subspecies back. Through the objects in this display, Ginsberg interrogates the ethical and philosophical questions around this, highlights the importance of caring for the natural world, and explores what it means for an animal to exist when it is on the verge of extinction and begins to live only in our imagination.

Natural History Museum Director of Public Programmes Alex Burch says: “This compelling new installation from Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg couldn’t be more timely - research conducted by our own scientists at the Museum has estimated there are one million species of animals and plants at risk of extinction. The Lost Rhino brings together her powerful digital recreation with historic Museum exhibits, art and science, to engage visitors with the reality of species loss and humanity’s impact on our planet.”

Dr Natalie Cooper, Senior Researcher at the Natural History Museum comments: “I met Sudan on a field trip to Kenya a few years before his death. Seeing Ginsberg’s digital recreation of a northern white rhino in this display is very emotional, particularly as we know that the extinction of the northern white rhino is a direct result of human activities. This exhibition raises a lot of questions, most pressing for me is the importance of protecting species that still exist rather than trying to resurrect something that’s gone.”

The Lost Rhino is at the Natural History Museum’s Jerwood Gallery from 16 December 2022 to March 2023. Entry to the display is free of charge. The Lost Rhino is the first in a series of art installations in the Natural History Museum’s Jerwood Gallery.



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Display Listing information: 

The Lost Rhino: An Art Installation by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
16 December 2022 to March 2023

Jerwood Gallery, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Free entry

The Natural History Museum opening times:
Monday-Sunday 10.00-17.50 (last entry 17.30)
Closed 24-26 December

Further information:

Twitter: @NHM_London
Instagram: @natural_history_museum/


About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited indoor attraction in the UK last year. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens accessed by researchers from all over the world both in person and via over 30 billion digital data downloads to date. The Museum’s 350 scientists are finding solutions to the planetary emergency from biodiversity loss through to the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

The Museum uses its global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome millions of visitors through our doors each year, our website has had 17 million visits in the last year and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 20 million people in the last 10 years.

About Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

Dr Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg critically investigates the fraught relationship between humans and nature in our era of radical technological and scientific advancement.

Ginsberg works across media, from digital simulations to living gardens, exploring more-than-human perspectives on the world. Her work looks at subjects as diverse as artificial intelligence, conservation, evolution, synthetic biology and the history of science, as she questions the human impulse to ‘better’ the world – as we paradoxically destroy our environment. 

Ginsberg exhibits her work internationally, including at MoMA in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the National Museum of China in Beijing, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Royal Academy in London. She recently launched Pollinator Pathmaker, an artwork for insect pollinators, with Edition Gardens at the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Eden Project in Cornwall, and a tool to make your own at @daisyginsberg (Twitter and Instagram)