Artist Lab Report:
Collection as a Way of Documenting the World

by Mary Claire Becker

During my second week at Lakeside, I spent a lot of time exploring specimen collections here and made some drawings based on my findings. In King Lab I found drawers of taxidermy birds, a cabinet housing an entomology collection, and a variety of plant specimens dried and labeled in clear boxes. I’m curious about collection as a way of documenting the world around us. The collection represents an accumulation of knowledge, but browsing a collection is a very different experience than going out into the field. In a collection, organisms are objects: catalogued and labeled as symbols of their species. Out in the field, we might not get to study each organism as closely, but we get a more active firsthand understanding of an ecosystem. I enjoyed the opportunity to compare and contrast two modes of learning.

I also joined ecology students on trips out to Excelsior Fen, Silver Lake Fen, and throughout the wetlands surrounding Lake Okoboji. I took photographs and videos of the plants, animals, and landscapes I saw along the way, and this visual research will inform new projects back at my usual studio. I’m excited to return home with a new supply of sketches, photographs, and notes and to incorporate everything I learned at Lakeside Labs into my body of work.

“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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