Following our “Extreme Conservation Symposium” (convened March 20, 2015), we asked each presenter to share one idea from his or her presentation in short form on this blog. We are grateful for this opportunity to continue thinking through their groundbreaking work.

This talk focused on the installation Little Savages by artist Tessa Farmer, exhibited at the Natural History Museum, London, in 2007. A taxidermied fox, other natural materials, and tiny malevolent fairies made by the artist out of insect and plant material, create narratives concerning ecology. The materials used by Farmer lead us to reflect upon the history of taxidermy, its impact on fashion and its position as a domestic handicraft. Farmer, a vegetarian, is using references to taxidermy, fairies, and social insects in order to question the authority of the institution in which she is exhibiting. She is not creating a nostalgic vision of craft. Instead, her work represents an alliance between handicraft and recent technologies in the age of the Internet. Natural materials and electronic mass media are interrelated in Farmer’s work, driven by curiosity about the material at hand, be it tangible or ephemeral. The audience is reminded that neither materials nor nature can be frozen and preserved for eternity, but instead are subject to processes of decay, death, and evolution.


Dr Petra Lange-Berndt works as Lecturer for Modern and Contemporary Art as well as History of Art with Material Studies at University College, London. She has been co-curating several shows, such as Mark Dion: The Academy of Things, Art Academy Dresden, in collaboration with the Green Vault and the Albertinum (2014-15); A World of Wild Doubt, Kunstverein Hamburg (2013) as well as Sigmar Polke: We Petty Bourgeois! Comrades and Contemporaries, The 1970s, an exhibition in three parts at the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Clique, Pop, Politics, 2009-10), which won the Exhibition of the Year award by the International Association of Art Critics (German section). Apart from the according exhibition catalogues and Memphis Schulze: Catalogue raisonné 1969-1993 (Cologne 2014) she has published the book Animal Art: Präparierte Tiere in der Kunst 1850–2000 (Preserved animal bodies in modern and contemporary art, Munich: Silke Schreiber, 2009) and runs the forum Curious Matters (link) as well as the blog Preserved! (link) In 2015 a reader on Materiality will be published with Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press (link).