An Arbitrary Taxonomy of Birds

Naturkunde Museum Berlin: installation of 80 specimens & 120 drawings, 2019

Those Who Became Red


Commissioned by Wellcome and Naturkunde Museum, Berlin, ‘An Arbitrary Taxonomy of Birds’ used specimens from the Natural History Museum as the ‘material’ for a large installation enacted within the vitrines of the museum’s Bruckensaal. The installation re-presented selected taxidermy specimens from the museum’s collections to create new constellations of meaning – new arbitrary taxonomies that divided winged-life into highly subjective and personal categories. The bodies of the birds were organised into eleven groupings such as: ‘Those Who Fit On My Palm’ or: ‘Those Who Became Red’. The installation created an absurd taxonomic system that destabilised science’s established orders and sought to reflect upon how humans have come to organise and understand the animals that they share their planet with.


The idea for the installation developed out of a six-month residency within the museum’s collections. During this time, I began to see the museum as an almost infinite library of life on this planet – the bodies of specimens being like words that together form sentences, which lie within chapters that make up the books within this library of taxonomy. The museum was revealed to me as a vast store of knowledge that attempts to record the diversity of life on planet Earth. The future health of our species is completely reliant on its interdependence with the trillion other species on this planet.  As well as reflecting on Homo Sapiens’ need to categorise and name the other species, the artwork also sought to reflect my own wonder at the unimaginable diversity of life on a blue planet at the edge of a spiral galaxy – of proportion of which are housed in the endless drawers and cupboards of the museum’s collections.

The work was commissioned with the support of Wellcome as part of Koexistenz, the Berlin iteration of Contagious Cities – an international cultural project exploring the global challenges of epidemic preparedness in the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic.


Short film commissioned by Wellcome:

Director/Camera/producer: Barry Gibb, Editor: Daryl Hopkins.


Short film commissioned by Naturkunde Museum, Berlin:

In der Vogelsammlung des #mfnberlin

Noch bis zum 8. September könnt ihr die "Beliebige Taxonomie der Vögel" von Künstler Simon Faithfull bei uns im #mfnberlin sehen! Sylke Frahnert, Kuratorin unserer Vogelsammlung, erklärt im Video, was hinter dem Begriff der #Taxonomie eigentlich steckt. 🦅🦇 #KOEXISTENZ

Publiée par Museum für Naturkunde Berlin sur Mardi 13 août 2019