Splitters and Lumpers

Splitters and Lumpers is a collaboration with taxonomists at Kew Gardens’ Herbarium. It is based on my interest in the practices of plant identification and classification, and their relationship to the natural world. Read more

Splitters and Lumpers is an exploration of the concept of ‘species’ through photographs of unmounted plant specimens, as they wait to be sorted, named and classified by taxonomists at the Herbarium at Kew Gardens.  These bundles only exist temporarily for the camera, created as extracts from larger piles sent from all over the world. Public, non-specialist eyes rarely see them.

The specimens’ unfixed nature is mirrored in the physical movement of the specimens towards the edges of the paper. The cross-section view produces a new kind of stratigraphy where layers of man-made and organic materials are superposed to create a mille-feuille of culture and nature.

This work reflects my interest in herbaria as systems of knowledge, and the ever-changing, evolutionary world they describe.  Since Linnaeus published his Systema Naturae in 1735, taxonomists and botanists have continued to use the concept of species to understand and order the natural world.  Taxonomy establishes differences and boundaries in nature where in practice there is often continuity and similarity.  Classifications are hypotheses rather than absolutes. Nature is constantly changing and evolving – transgressing and blurring taxonomic categories. There are parallels in the inadequacy of both the photograph and the herbarium to fix and represent the material, physical world.

This project constitutes a snapshot in the on-going endeavour to build a complete scientific picture of world plant life. An estimated 2000 new species are discovered every year, both in the field and among herbarium specimens. The title, Splitters and Lumpers, refers to the main styles of classification in taxonomy – emphasizing either the differences or commonalities of specimens. It is indicative of some of the subjective judgements implied in classification.


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