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Nomenclatio transitorius Edw.  (Temporary Names) 2007

Yellow-headed ParrotIn 2001, Amanda Farr wrote¹ “the work of Fred Langford Edwards combines often astonishing visual imagery with an underlying intellectual rigour”. This continues to be the case. For the present work, Langford Edwards combined research on the archival practices of museum natural history and the naming practices that have been used to understand plants and animals. The resulting work, Nomenclatio transitorius Edw, captures both elements of this investigation by presenting the work as a number of diptychs combining photographic and text-based elements.

The images include both familiar and unusual objects, all beautifully photographed and capturing minute detail. Combined with these images are text-based elements that present information from different and non-complementary naming systems, ranging from local dialect names to the four letters of the genetic code, all presented in a uniform way and with equal importance. Together, these pairs of images encapsulate the two core traditions of museum natural history as an observational and text-based discipline.

HerbariumLangford Edwards’ research material consisted of the natural history objects in the collection of the Manchester Museum, founded as a typical Nineteenth Century museum that combined natural history with anthropology and archaeology. The confident modernist museum collected and exhibited objects as demonstrations of personal and civic power and used exhibitions as instruments for social change. Individual experience of the ‘natural’ world was subsumed within the framework of science, underwritten by scientific naming as a lingua franca. In the ‘post-museum’, value is placed on the plurality of ways of making meaning of the world. The role of the museum has changed from one that provides hegemonical narrative to one that questions, and challenges preconceptions.

When Langford Edwards first approached the Museum, we were in the process of developing a programme of temporary exhibitions, interventions and events commemorating the tercentenary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus. This programme aimed to examine the tradition of naming and classification that Linnaeus had devised from a range of perspectives. It was clear that Langford Edwards’ research themes and his practice as an artist could make an invaluable contribution to this overall programme, entitled ‘A Place for Everything’, adding greatly to its depth and breadth.

By focussing on the individuality of museum objects and the diversity of ways of making meaning from them, this playful and stimulating work highlights the impossibility, and the undesirability, of understanding the world in simple or single terms.

Henry McGhie
Head of Natural Sciences, The Manchester Museum

¹ Exhibition catalogue The Order of Things ,2002, Fred Langford Edwards. Published by Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys, Wales, UK

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