Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Fate of Comparative Collections by David Francis

Now that an animal’s true taxonomy
depends on a map of its DNA,
observation alone fails to tell us much.
To the eye for instance, one Texas yellow bat
looks much like another when in fact their blood
reveals they’re only remotely related. Once,
not long ago, we studied animals in museums
by collecting as many specimens as we could,
but now the drawers of catalogued skulls
and shelves of organ jars are as obsolete
as natural history. What then did they believe
they were studying, those last few heroes
of the empirical method, what, specifically,
were they laboring to prove? Like monks
they stubbornly labeled their objects of death,
publishing such tracts as “Cannibalism in Frogs”
and “Behavior of Chickens in Thunderstorms.”

David Francis is an Seattle based artist and Vice President at the Center on Contemporary Art

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