Unnatural History at WOW Festival Manchester

Tania Kovats’ new artwork ‘MOONMOTH’ inspired by 17th Century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian

25-26 May at Aviva Studios in Manchester. 

For its 2024 edition, WOW (Women of the World) Festival has invited Invisible Dust to curate a new ‘UnNatural History’ commission to be unveiled on the 25th May at Aviva Studios, Manchester. ‘UnNatural History’ is our ongoing enquiry with artists looking at the links between climate change and museum collections.

Artist Tania Kovats’ ‘MOONMOTH‘ will explore the work of visionary artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), and will draw a focus on insects need for dark skies. Kovats is working in collaboration with Diana Arzuza Buelvas, Curator of Entomology, Manchester Museum; Dr. Jenna Ashton, Heritage Studies, University of Manchester; and Jeanne Robinson, Curator of Entomology at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow – alongside the Manchester Museum’s incredible Entomology collection.

Maria Sibylla Merian travelled to Suriname with her daughter in the late seventeenth century, where she created a publication of drawings and watercolours of caterpillars, pupae, moths and butterflies; she was one of the earliest European naturalists to document the life cycle and interactions of insects and their metamorphosis. Working with the collections in the Manchester Museum, Kovats will reflect on the significance of Merian’s work to the current biodiversity crisis.

Before the modern invention of photography, artists played a crucial role in building intrinsic knowledge for the sciences, particularly in our understanding of nature. Renaissance artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer drew plants and animals in incredible detail, which scientists used to learn about anatomy and biology. Engaging contemporary artists with these collections offers speculative futures, creatively imagining these specimens’ significance for the future of climate.

Over 40% of the world’s insect species are already in serious decline, and moths are vital pollinators impacted by artificial light at night.

Alongside this new commission, interdisciplinary students at the University of Manchester will attend workshops on art and science collaborations, hosted by Tania Kovats and curators at Invisible Dust. 

This project is supported through the prestigious Simon Industrial and Professional (SIP) Fellowship, Manchester University, awarded to Invisible Dust.

Buy tickets for WOW Manchester here.

To celebrate the new upcoming edition of UnNatural History, Invisible Dust has commissioned a new booklet around the ideas and artists that were part of the initial 2021 exhibition. With an introduction by Elizabeth Fleur Willis and an essay around the themes of UnNatural History by Robert Huxley, the publication provides an insight into the innovative theories connecting natural history, contemporary artists and climate change. The booklet also features interviews with the artists and curators, Alice Sharp, Adelaide Bannerman and Rachel Taylor.  

About Tania Kovats:

Tania Kovats (born 1966, Brighton) studied at Newcastle Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art. Notable recent solo exhibitions include ‘Head To Mouth’, Berwick Gymnasium (2019), ‘Troubled Waters’, Phoenix Gallery, Exeter (2019), ‘Evaporation’, Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester (2016), ‘Oceans’, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2014).  Important recent group exhibitions include ‘UnNatural History’ (curated by Invisible Dust), Herbert Museum & Art Gallery, Coventry (2021), ‘Future Knowledge’, Modern Art Oxford (2018), ‘Women Power Protest’, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (2018) and ‘Vita Vitale’, Palazzo Grassi, Venice (2015). In 1991 she was awarded the Barclays Young Artist Award at the Serpentine Gallery, London. In 2015 she was nominated for the Max Mara Art Prize for Women at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Kovats’ work is held in numerous public and private collections including the Arts Council Collection, London, British Council, London, National Maritime Museum, London, Government Art Collection, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven and the Speed Museum, Kentucky.

Kovats is currently Professor of Drawing and Making at DJCAD, University of Dundee.

About Jenna Ashton:

Dr Jenna Ashton, a Lecturer in Heritage Studies and an arts-practice researcher working at the nexus between community heritage, ecologies, place, and social and environmental justice. She has a background in exhibition curation and creative producing, and arts education in natural history collections. Jenna is the Research Lead for Creative and Civic Futures for UoM platform “Creative Manchester”, which convenes interdisciplinary research (including creative practice).

Jenna brings extensive experience of research collaboration across interdisciplinary arts-science teams. She has worked as a PI, Co-I, and Advisor, and mentor and manager, on projects funded by AHRC, NERC, ESRC, Met Office, Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, and the GM Green Spaces Fund. Her research focuses on work aligned with Invisible Dust and Manchester Museum’s agenda on sustainable practice and climate. Key projects focus on urban green infrastructure and health, community climate resilience, reforestation, biodiversity enhancement, weeds, air qualities and atmospheres, human-animal encounters, food sovereignty, and environmental histories. Alongside an extensive body of practice-based outputs she has a forthcoming book, “Urban Communities and Climate Justice: Insights from Arts-Practice Research” (BUP, 2025).

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