Monstrorum is set in a fictional museum spaceand presents an alternative natural history. By including mythological creatures amongst the display, it proposes that knowledge starts with the unknown and with an embrace of possibilities. Modelled closely on Dublin’s ownNatural History Museum, itself a jewel box of Victorian nature on display, this exhibition presents natural science as percieved in the 1500’s but viewed in the present. 

This work has been informed by researching Renaissance and Enlightenment descriptions of the natural world, particularly the Marsh Library’s extensive collection of writings by Italian natural scientist, Ulisse Aldrovandi. His depictions of monsters within a systematic taxonomic classification of animal and plant groupings, have been of particular interest to Crowley. Early natural science appears as a curious blend of objective descriptions and, as in Aldrovandi’s writings, a collation of earlier cultural depictions and references to philosophy and mythology.

Through a series of paintings, mainly in oil and resin on wood panels, Crowley explores the display of nature in cabinets of curiosity, early encyclopaedias and museums; the ordering and organisation of nature and the original drivers of  Natural Science, namely epiricism driven through exploration, colonialism and resource extraction. Paintings depict full size vitrines and display cabinets filledwith taxidermy and wet specimens. Bordering on the macabre, there is a tension between this subject matter and the manner in which the paintings are rendered.Bright saturated candy-coloured displays and light refractions are heightened by the slick glass-like reflective resin finish.

 As Crowley says “These ‘screen’ paintings are firmly set in the present but ask that we look back to look forward. Thinking both about the edge of knowledge, and how early science originated, may open up new ways of considering how new knowledge is created.It adds another voice calling for a reorientation in the way humans live with nature amid the crises of climate change and inequality.’

Mostrorum was exhibited in the Ashford Gallery in the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin in Jan 2024 and included the display of original manuscripts  generously loaned by  Marsh's Library. 

This work was kindly supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and through a Maddock Fellowship from Marsh's Library in Dublin

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