A Natural History is an installation that creates the atmosphere of a miniature museum and has as its focus familial, autobiographical content. This “museum” appropriates its format from the ethnographic museum and cabinets of curiosities, which provide an institutional gaze and appeal to a sensibility of imagination and wonder. Major themes addressed include the public and private collection, art and science, and systems of ordering. Exploring these themes offers a means to visualize concepts of identity and memory. To make tangible that which is ephemeral, such as the past, identity and memory, I use objects, images and words as mimetic stand-ins and memory triggers. These form the contents and “collections” of the semi-fictional, autobiographical “museum”—A Natural History. The central collection of the exhibition, the Silhouettes, consists of a group of photographic silhouettes of family and loved ones. It is these individuals from whom I have collected, in addition to their images, the above-mentioned objects and words, which appear along side my own, throughout the installation. The objects— family heirlooms, photographs, baby teeth, hair clippings, etc.—are private souvenirs of great personal value. The words are memories handwritten on library cards, and stored in a library card catalog. Displayed within a public context, these personal items represent interior models of intimacy and illustrate the complexities that arise between the public and private collection. The thesis paper follows the format of the installation to provide the reader not only art historical background, conceptual intent, and influences upon the work, but to build a more complete sense of the specifics of the installation. A Natural History consists of five numbered, distinct “collections”—Silhouettes, Sampler, Card Catalog, Bloodlines, and Vitrines—and an accompanying catalogue A Key to A Natural History. ii The catalogue adopts the format of a museum catalogue, including didactic text, introduction, a floor plan, and descriptive illustrations to simulate an authentic museum experience. A chapter on the museum as muse and medium prefaces the chapters discussing the five collections of the installation. Each collection is addressed within the thesis paper individually, in their originally exhibited order, in accordance with how a viewer was intended to experience the installation.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Installations (Art)--Themes, motives; Museums in art; Collectors and collecting--Pictorial works; Family in art

Publication Date


Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

School of Photographic Arts and Sciences (CIAS)


Lieberman, Jessica

Advisor/Committee Member

Engstrom, Tim

Advisor/Committee Member

Krane, Lesley


Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works. Physical copy available through RIT's The Wallace Library at: N6494.I56 M37 2008


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