Alcoholic rats, genetically modified fish, and ribless mice – these were some of the strange sights displayed earlier this month at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
This collection of photographs, taxidermied animals, and auditory elements might seem like a misplaced Halloween exhibit, but its curator sees it in a far more scientific light.
Rich Pell is the artist behind the exhibit, titled, That was then. This is now: PostNatural Nature. PostNatural nature refers to a theory that explores the biological history of plants and animals that have been modified by mankind. Practices such as genetic modification, domestication, and selective breeding all fall under this term.
"Human-guided evolution of plants and animals definitely allowed our population to explode," said USC Dornsife professor Matt Dean, who spoke at a panel discussion about the exhibit, which opened at the Natural History Museum on Feb. 7. "It is the direct result of our ability to modify nature."
Pell first considered bringing PostNatural nature into public attention years ago. While working in robotics and engineering, he was able to meet individuals interested in a new field combining biology, programming, and engineering. Pell contacted researchers and began to preserve examples of their work, piecing together what is now the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Through the exhibit, Pell explained that the natural history of the last century "reveals changes in organisms that really reflect an industrialized, capitalized culture," pointing to human greed as a driving force of PostNatural history.
The specifics of how human greed will impact future natural history is unclear, yet the speed and intensity of PostNatural natural history are alarming. With the reality of climate change, deforestation, and the extinction of countless species, the future of human intervention of nature seems grim.
But USC Roski professor Karen Leibowitz talked about the intersection of art and science. "Science needs someone to look through an artistic lens," said Leibowitz. "That's how we get people to look about it, think about it, and care about it."
The exhibit will be open to the public until Apr. 8 and is free to USC students.