[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Previous Next
of 84 items

About the Art: Sonia Levy

We spoke to artist Sonia Levy about her involvement in working with the Horniman on Project Coral and her upcoming film For the Love of Corals.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a French artist living in London. I studied fine art in France and later went on to follow a programme in Arts and Politics (SPEAP) at Sciences Po, a political science school in Paris. It furthered my approach of working across disciplines exploring the points of articulation between scientific and artistic fields to address societal issues.

Climate change is a consequence of our ways of perceiving the natural world as a resource to be endlessly extracted.

I am currently interested in how art might help redefine our relationship with the Earth. Livability on our planet is dependent on the presence of its many life forms. I think we are starting to see those new scientific understandings enacted in environmental conservation but we also need the arts to filter those paradigm-shifting ideas into our society and culture.

What is the film about?

For the Love of Corals is an artist film that follows Project Coral through the different stages involved in reproducing the corals behind-the-scenes at the Horniman.

It documents the daily labour of the team caring for these endangered beings as well as the corals themselves, encouraging attention to their intricacy. From spawning induced in lab-tanks replicating lunar and solar cycles, to the delicate IVF procedures, as well as the constant care required to keep the corals alive throughout their life cycle.

For the Love of Corals (2018) Trailer from Sonia Levy.

The film also includes shots of artefacts from the Horniman's collections, such as the 19th-century Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions. The opening sequence of the film confronts images of Atkins’ seaweed cyanotypes to close-up shots of the corals.

  • Coral close-up and Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Soni, Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

Anna Ricciardi’s essay on Anna Atkins, written for Edward Chell's 2015 exhibition Bloom at the Horniman, really moved me. She says:

As we face an accelerating environmental crisis in this century, Atkins’ seaweed impressions surface with something like visionary timing, having slipped their privately-published moorings, to remind us about extinctions past and present, those erasures and absences yet to come.

It deeply resonated with an angle I wanted to take, a feminist approach to questioning the moment we find ourselves in. Climate change, ecological collapses: who are the most affected and vulnerable?

There is a growing sense of an interlaced precarity between humans and the other life forms with whom we share this planet. I think it might be crucial to develop a more inclusive sense of “we”.

A site like the Horniman Museum and Gardens, with its Natural History Gallery, is a powerful place to revisit our past, our ways of looking at and relating to nature.

It is also a compelling site to build and develop new connections as seen with the work of Project Coral.

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. Photo: Obsidian Coast, Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast

The soundtrack was made in collaboration with sound artist Jez Riley French and involved many recording techniques made on site.

We used hydrophones and underwater microphones to capture the sound of some of Project Coral’s critters. Contact microphones picked up the resonance of surfaces around the Museum and the laboratory tanks. They are able to capture vibrations through contact with solid objects.

Adapted geophones, used to transfer ground movement to sound, allowed us to record the vibrations of the complex machinery sustaining the corals’ life. Electromagnetic signals emanating from the laboratory equipment were also captured with coil pick up microphones.

Jez also captured the sound of the skeleton of a coral dissolving, alluding to ocean acidification. These recordings, as well as music from composer Georgia Rodgers, are all part of the soundtrack composed for the film.

I also created a large-scale tapestry made from cyanotypes on fabric, which is part of the film installation. Titled Atkins Blue the work is a direct reference to Anna Atkins, an acknowledgement to her contribution in the history of science and art.       

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast

In conjunction with my exhibition, Obsidian Coast commissioned a reading list; We are All Bodies of Water, from scholar Astrida Neimanis.

What drew you to Project Coral?

I spent a spawning season with the team at Project Coral, through the invitation of Jamie Craggs. I was really fascinated by what they achieved.

To be the first in the world to successfully induce coral to spawn by recreating the environmental conditions of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as other locations like Singapore, in the basement of the Horniman, for me was a powerful and striking image.

Coral bleaching appears simultaneously as a sign of climate change, their death providing visual evidence of the rising of the sea temperature. As anthropologist Irus Braverman has put it, corals emerge as a 'catalyst for action'* for many activists, scientists and artists.

Corals are stunning entities and coral reefs are some of the most beautiful ecological assemblages on Earth. The corals’ ability to perplex the notion of individuality, the distinction between self and other. There is something interesting about the figure of the coral and its capacity to blur the boundaries between organism and environment, expressing this idea that we are environments for others, as well as not being separated from our environment.

I have also worked with Project Coral to produce a short film, viewable on site at the Horniman's Aquarium, as well as online. We worked with Jamie Craggs’ research footage to tell Project Coral's ongoing work and explain its workings. I wanted the visitors to catch a glimpse of this vital research happening behind-the-scenes.

What techniques did you use to document the coral?

Some of the most extraordinary ways of filming involved coral larvae shot through a microscope. The larvae are no bigger than 1mm and I could see the cilia, the hair-like organs that propel them.

  • Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We documented the coral in other ways, such as the use of macro lenses and under blue light (actinic light), which produced a beautiful result. When pointed at corals it makes the symbiotic algae living within their tissue fluoresce.

  • Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We also collaborated with Jamie to make microscope time lapses of coral embryos development, as well as egg-sperm bundle dissociation.

  • Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy:, Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy
    Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy

What is your favourite moment from the film?

To film the juvenile corals I saw coming to life in 2017 as yearlings, but still no bigger than a thumbnail.

It was very moving for me to film them under blue light and see how they acquired their symbiotic algae. I also loved to plunge at the scale of those tiny corals and see the many critters and microorganisms living alongside them.

  • 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

What is the next stage of this project and for you?

I am working with Obsidian Coast on a publication around the project, to be released in 2019. Additionally, I have a few screenings and exhibitions of the project planned in France, the US and Germany. But, what I am really interested in doing is to carrying on filming and progressing the project.

I would like to go to Florida where Project Coral is working in partnership with the Florida Aquarium Centre for Conservation. It would be really exciting to see how Project Coral’s methods are being used to help restore damaged reefs there.


For the Love of Corals is on view at Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon, until the 26 of January. For the Love of Corals was produced with the support of Obsidian Coast and Fluxus Art Projects. Sonia Levy wishes to thank Jamie Craggs, Project Coral team and the Horniman Museum and Gardens for their in-kind support.                                                               

 

* Irus Braverman (2018), Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink,University of California Press.

Horniman Youth are Charmed and Hypnotised

Artist Rachel Emily Taylor has been working at the Horniman as part of an Arts Council Award project, Charmed & Hypnotised. The project explores the Horniman's collection of British charms and amulets.

Working alongside hypnotherapist Lorna Cordwell, with the support of Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, Rachel collaborated with members of the local community to explore the benefits of the charms through touch and hypnotic inductions. The participants were not told what the charm was before they worked with it and their experience was audio recorded.

The project allowed for the participants to think outside the standard set of meanings presented in relation to the objects. For example, rather than reading facts about the origin of the item, they could focus on the temperature of the object: was it hot or cold?

  • Image-from-Charmed-and-Hypnotised, Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor
    Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor

The audio recordings can be considered as an alternative “caption” to accompany the Horniman objects.

Listen to the hypnotic recordings.

The research was disseminated through art workshops with the Horniman Youth Panel.

The group listened to the recordings and, without seeing what the object was, drew what they thought it might be. Like a game of Telephone.

  • Image-from-Charmed-and-Hypnotised, Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor
    Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor

The artwork made during the workshop with the Horniman Youth Panel will be included in a publication and an exhibition on the project, which will take place at V22 Louise House in August 2017.

Funded through the National Lottery by Arts Council England.

The Badger at Burgh House

Hello, I’m Becky Lodge the Curator at Burgh House, an historic house with a local history museum, based in Hampstead.

We borrowed the Object in Focus taxidermy badger from the Horniman last year and the staff all became very fond of her. We have no natural history specimens in our own collection, and the badger is super cute.

The badger featured in an exhibition of picture postcards of Hampstead called Hello from Hampstead! Discovering a History through Postcards.

Hampstead is a suburb of London that has been a popular visitor destination for centuries, especially for its vast and famous Heath. Not only is the Heath an incredible place to explore, it is host to a wonderful variety of plants and animals.

The badger helped us to show this, complementing our postcards beautifully.

Working with Sarah and the conservators from the Horniman on the loan was a really enjoyable experience. The whole process was so well managed, it was a delight for our small team. Thanks, Horniman Museum and Gardens!

Find out more about our Object in Focus loans project.

Discover more from Burgh House on their website or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Photography on a Large Scale

One of the aims of the Collections People Stories project is to properly image and accurately document a much larger part of our Anthropology collections than has ever been done before. While most of our objects are fairly small, the size of some objects offer some extra challenges.

In June 2014, I started planning for the “Long Object Photography” Project, which was about photographing very long objects from our Anthropology collection as part of the Collection People Stories Project that had been running since June 2012.

The objects to be photographed by me and reviewed by the CPS teams were mainly canoes, some of them up to 7.5metres long. Some of these object had no record shots or if they had they were not good enough for a documentation point of view.

The main issue was space: where to photograph such long objects? Our studio space wouldn’t be big enough so my first idea was to photograph them outside but in order to do so we would need to build a marquee to protect the objects from the environment.

After a lot of discussions and visits from specialist art movers we realised that the biggest canoe would only come out of its storage if the entire shelf surrounding it came apart and for that to happen we would need to make a lot of space beforehand, breaking down other shelves around it.

Once this was agreed, I then reassessed the area and came up with an indoors solution for the photography set up, which not only would allow the objects to be in a safer environment but also meant we would spend much less on hiring the marquee. This new solution meant that all the electric cables and wires attached to the photographic equipment would be hanging from the ceiling, meaning a much safer working condition for all the staff needed to make this project happen.

On 24th November, the specialist art movers arrived and started breaking down Hall 1 at SCC – the Horniman Museum storage area where the canoes are located – and leaving the canoes ready for the conservators to clean them.

On the 5th December we started the photography – which was like being in a film set, with lots of people around where each had their own role and just had to be waiting to get in action when needed. By the end of the week we had managed to photograph and review the objects and on the following week the art movers put everything back in place.

I also made a time-lapse of the whole process, so you can have a taste of how it all worked out. A bit of a behind the scene!

 You can find out more about our behind the scenes work at our event Secret Late.

Enter a European Design Challenge

  • Food and Drink, Some objects from the Horniman's collection relating to food and drink: a teapot from India, a cup from England, a porringer from Romania and a butter container from Ethiopia.
    Some objects from the Horniman's collection relating to food and drink: a teapot from India, a cup from England, a porringer from Romania and a butter container from Ethiopia.

Calling all designers, makers, creatives and crafts-people! Have you ever been inspired while visiting a museum?

The Horniman is a partner in a Europe-wide project called Europeanan Food and Drink. It aims to create exciting products inspired by Europe's rich food and drink heritage.

Our recently launched web app Tea Trail London is our contribution to the project.

The project has recently launched a product design challenge with two prizes of €2,000.

Explore food and drink related collections (like those above) in Europeana and also on the Horniman site.

Use the inspiration you find there to design a 2D or 3D product - it could be product packaging, towls or tiles or something we've not thought about so far. The two winners (one for 2D and one for 3D) will receive €2,000 which will be presented at a Challenge Event in January in Seville, Spain.

To enter, make a short video explaining your product idea.

The closing date for entries is 20 December 2015. There is lots more information on the Europeana Food and Drink website

We'd love to see your ideas. If you have any questions, feel free to tweet us or Europeana Food and Drink.

 

An evening of coral

This week we hosted our exclusive Members’ Coral Reefs: Talk and Tour. A special event in partnership with the Natural History Museum which explored our recent collaboration on their exhibition, Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea.

Ken kicking the event off to a full house in Gallery Square

With half the Members from the NHM and half from the Horniman, Gallery Square buzzed with excitement about our mutual coral interest.

Our Members enjoying a private view of our popular aquarium

The evening gave Members a fascinating insight into coral reefs and the threats that face our marine life with interesting talks by NHM’s coral reefs expert, Ken Johnson, and Horniman Aquarium Curator Jamie Craggs.  

Ken gave a fascinating introduction to corals, which are in fact an animal, made up of thousands of tiny polyps. It was shocking to see the serious effect of coral bleaching and how that has completely changed the history of coral reefs.

Members also enjoyed one to one chats with curator Jamie and Ken from the Natural History Museum

Jamie complimented this talk well by reflecting on the exhibition collaboration, the amazing installation of the tank at the Natural History Museum and introduced Project Coral; an innovative coral sexual reproductive research project.

A behind the scenes look at our Mangrove display

After the talks, the Members had an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium, an opportunity to look closer at the ground-breaking work of Horniman Project Coral.


You can find out more about Horniman Project Coral here 

 

 

A Tale of Tea Packaging

Tea Trail London is the newest page in the Horniman's tea story. Tea has been an integral part of our collections and museum, dating right back to the 19th century when Frederick Horniman's tea trade was at its height.

Frederick Horniman left his mark on the tea trade by using mechanical devices to speed the process of filling pre-sealed packages, rather than selling tea loose.

This greatly reduced the cost of production and maintained a higher quality of tea. Unsurprisingly, some of Horniman’s competitors were a little disgruntled, but by 1891 Horniman's was the largest tea trading business in the world.

The Horniman tea packaging is still very iconic, featuring the coiling dragon like in the example above. One of the great things about working on Tea Trail London was the chance to explore other collections, and we found Horniman tea in other institutions.

This tea advert is from the Museum of Brands and is a packet we hadn’t seen before, here at the Horniman. Interestingly, red seems to be the colour of choice for tea packaging, like this Typhoo example, also from the Museum of Brands and this Horniman packet in our collection:

Tea Trail London is viewable online, you can check out some of our tea collections as well as archives, objects and stories from other collections, from afternoon tea to tea packets, it’s all there!

Be sure to tweet, instagram or facebook us using #TeaTrailLondon and let us know your thoughts, or if you have any tea stories to share.

Sponsors

Give a Dog a Bone

As we continue to improve the storage of our natural history collections, we have been able to reunite yet another specimen with its missing elements. Today we are working on a dog skeleton.

A perfect fit! This portion of cranium and mandible belong together.

In this case we were able to unite this skeleton with its cranium.

Working through the disarticulated skeleton.

Volunter Lizzy lining up the dog's vertebrae.

All together, the specimen is now housed together in one box.

Knowing the specimen’s journey to the Horniman Museum was via Kings’ and Chelsea College, curator Paolo and volunteer Lizzy were able to reunite this dog with its cranium. Excellent detective work!

This dog is one of many happily reunited specimens. We previously featured a porpoise whose flipper was reunited on our in-the-horniman tumblr page. Be sure to follow the tumblr blog to find out more about our activities behind the scenes.

Seeing Double

Documentation Assistant Rachel updates us on what the Collections People Stories team are getting up to in the stores.

Having reviewed over 27,000 objects from the Anthropology collection to date, the teams are currently pausing to carry out another important task: removing duplicate object records from our database.

Why do we have duplicates? Over the long history of the Horniman, some of our objects have become detached from their identifying numbers, labels, or other documentation. These have been assigned temporary numbers so that we can still keep track of everything that we have. Thanks to sterling detective work by our curators and the review teams, we are now able to identify some of these objects and reconcile them with our original accession records.

The teams are currently trawling through the database, copying all of the information from the temporary records into the ‘real’ record for each object and then deleting the redundant duplicates. This tidying work is important: the aim is that eventually each object will have only one record containing all of its information, so that we know exactly how many items we have in the collection, and where they all are. Duplicated information can cause confusion for both staff and visitors, and just makes our database look untidy!

The process may sound somewhat laborious (and it is!), but it is also quite exciting: a number of the objects with temporary numbers are from our founding collection, acquired over the years by Frederick Horniman and first catalogued between 1897 and 1899. It is very satisfying to restore the true identities of our oldest objects. The earliest number so far reconciled is object number 18, a beautiful Japanese clay figure of two shishi (lions) fighting.

Other important objects reconciled with their original numbers are these two Belu heads from Burma.

They are number 649 in our accession register, and they are important not just for being part of Mr Horniman’s collection, but they were also collected by him on a journey he made to Burma in the late 1890s after he retired from the tea trade.

So far we have reconciled the records for over 500 objects, including spoons, skillets, swords, charms, containers and chess pieces. There is a long way to go, and it will take years (if ever!) to achieve a duplicate-free database, but we are making a good start.

Keep up with the team from the stores on Twitter @HornimanReviews, or follow their Tumblr blog for more fascinating finds from the stores.

The Islington Twins and Ibeiji

Assistant Curators Tom and Johanna share the story of another behind the scenes visit and reveal some of our collections objects representing 'twinness'.

A couple of weeks ago we hosted a visit from the charming, stylish and erudite Chuka and Dubem Okonkwo, aka Chet and Joe, aka The Islington Twins. Well known on the London fashion, fine art and general culture circuit Chet and Joe make a big impression even before you meet them: they are identical twins, who more often than not dress identically.

Chet and Joe’s parents come from Onitsha, a city in Southern Nigeria. They told us how:

In Onitsha... twins are considered a double blessing. If they are identical twins, their parents are considered to be extremely lucky. We've always found the jubilant reaction from Africans who meet us in London peculiar. Westerners are excited with the idea of seeing 'two peas in a pod'(we don't believe there's such a thing), and curious about whether we feel each other's pain. Africans tend to bless us and our parents. Over the years we've been blessed by many strangers.

At the Horniman we have a collection of ibeiji twin figures, and other objects from around the world associated with ‘twinness’, which we were keen to share with Chet and Joe. Ibeiji are very moving objects, made on the sad occasion of the death of a twin at or shortly after birth. They are traditionally said to hold the soul of the twin, cared for by the family in the same way one might care for a loved-one. Some of our examples show signs of the careful attention once bestowed upon them, with marks where they have been gently and repeatedly rubbed.

We wanted to show Chet and Joe some light-hearted objects too. Since they are known for their love of English clothing and can at times cut a dapper dash we shared some of our favourite fashion items made in Nigeria, yet very British indeed. These included a strange little model of a District Officer in horn-rimmed glasses, a smart little jacket, a pith helmet and a nice little pipe. It is the work of Thomas Ona Odulate, a well known Yoruba artist who made fun of colonial administrators through such models between 1900 and 1950.

  • Detail of an adire Oba shirt depicting King George V and Queen Mary along with scorpions, a Guinea fowl and a peacock, The shirt is printed with indigo using a stencil cut from a British tea cadd
    The shirt is printed with indigo using a stencil cut from a British tea cadd

Chet and Joe were only at our stores for a couple of hours, but they managed to say something positive and sometimes even inspiring to almost everyone working there. We were left with the feeling that we had met two very unusual and rather wonderful people.

Previous Next
of 84 items