The fate of pre Covid 19 plans for the realisation of my work at the Natural History Museum


My initial plans for my work at the museum had involved creating a suite of three or four separate installations, variously comprised of objects and text, both objects and sound or sound on its own in situ. Each installation exploring the theme of “wrong bodies”, as that theme is manifest through the museum’s relationship to its pests and infestations. Given the time constraints created by my then deadline of May 2020, there was limited scope to allow these ideas to evolve, as my initial plans for work at a site normally do. This left me feeling uncomfortable. I was left with the impression that this making had become divorced from my evolving practice and that it represented a theatrical staging of my existing research rather than an act of live practice-based research in its own right (a presentational exercise in making public the stories, ideas and materials with which I had been working at the museum). However, the need to complete to my deadline, left me feeling constrained to go ahead with these plans, which I had laid out.


In mid-March 2020, the Covid 19 pandemic measures forced the closure of the Bergen Natural History Museum and forced me to stop work indefinitely and return to the UK.


The hiatus that the Covid measures and my repatriation created in my work broke the thread of my existing work’s development, but also allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my plans for my work at the museum.


In the light of the concerns I had about my existing plans, after some reflection and discussion, I first determined that I would focus on just one facet of those existing plans for my summative work at the museum. This was the strand that dealt with the museum’s 1979 attempts to control an infestation of museum beetles by fumigating the building, using blåsyre (hydrogen cyanide). This intuitively felt like the one aspect of my proposals which would allow me to develop rather than reprise the themes of my work, as they had become manifest at the museum.


I’d remained fascinated by the mythology of this event, since it came-up in conversation with museum staff, in 2018. There was one particular image that had stayed with me: that of birds falling from the sky, killed by the fumes of the gas released from the building. In December 2019, I had interviewed a woman, who remembered the fumigation, as a student at UiB. She added a further compelling image: that of the museum wrapped entirely in plastic.


My interest in the story of the museum’s 1979 fumigation had lingered, but in Spring 2020, with the onset of Corona virus, the fear of infection and attempts to control that infection, including the closure of the museum, it acquired a particular resonance with contemporary circumstances both at and beyond the museum. At first – and against my normal instincts – this currency itself also seemed to recommend the story of the museum’s historical battle with infestations as the basis for my final work.


Working creatively with spoken accounts of the museum’s fumigation also seemed to offer the potential to concentrate on my nascent practice of working creatively with writing and texts of different kinds, in relation to site, in order to explore the themes of my work. More broadly, there was a sense in which I was once again making work not as an end itself or simply as a means of communicating my ideas, but as a live method of enquiry; that I was engaged in an attempt to create a speculative space for both myself and an audience: not a resolution, but an opening-up of discussion. ‘Not,’ as I wrote in my notes, ‘simply making work, but continually responding to the circumstances I encounter, the work changing as I do so.’ However, despite the fact that my recent work with text and what might be described as “site writing” had taken my practice in the direction of performance, even as I began to edit and work with the different spoken accounts of the museum’s fumigation, I remained curiously and unaccountably wedded to the idea of an (audio) installation, sited in the museum as the final form for this work.


I shared this proposal during a lecture I gave (on Zoom), to staff and students at KMD, in late May 2020. However even as I concluded the lecture, I reached the conclusion myself, that this new work was in fact superfluous in so far as research was concerned. I became quite convinced that by presenting the existing work I’d created at the Natural History Museum (the installation and text-work, titled The Wrong Bodies, which together represented one strand of my overall research), along with the third iteration of the performance Between our words I will trace your presence, which represented another, I could articulate my research's emergent theses.


Here is an excerpt from my reflections on that lecture:

'My experience really impressed upon me that the performance of Between our words… that I made with Idun Vik, at Kode II, represents an eloquent statement of my research’s methods and insights: it creates a work that reaches out to other key-texts; it problematises the nature of site in my work; explicitly embodies my evolving methodology; advances the key themes of my research through its interrogation of the repressed presences that are concealed within interpersonal silences and articulates my own position in relation to my work. I think it does so-much that I need to do in an exemplary way, in terms of the research and together with my work at the museum embodies my thesis.

'At the same time, the lecture equally impressed upon me the sense in which, in terms of my work at the museum, I may well have articulated what I can and need to about that site, in the context of the PhD, through the work I have already made there. I’ve begun to think that further work at the museum means either recapitulating what I have already said and done there, by other means or conversely, sending my research off in new directions: either further work will not add to my PhD thesis, in which case it is redundant or it will take me beyond the current resolution of my research, in which case it is equally, not necessary.

'Following on from my Monday Lecture, I now feel that within the context of Research Fellowship, my research project may well have been satisfactorily resolved to a point where it can be summatively presented, based on the existing Natural History Museum and auto-fiction performance work. Though it remains tempting to embark on new work at the museum, it seems clear that new work, driving new insights is properly the basis for a later continuation of my research. New work will always disclose new ideas. To embark on new work is to advance my research in some way into new territory, since work-making is the engine of that research. If my research feels as though it has reached a point of – albeit temporary - resolution, then further work-making will necessarily “destabilise” or shift that position-of-reflection, once again. I can now see that in all likelihood, I have the essence of my current research's end-point/s in the form of a). The Wrong Bodies text and drawer installation and b). the Between our words… text and performance.’ Important questions remain of course, but I think they are more presentational in nature.


'Further reflections: I am also increasingly conscious of the very real impact of the current virus-enforced interruption in my work-making, during which I think I have gradually and inexorably moved away from making, itself and into a more reflective and curatorial phase of my research. Far from dismissing or being suspicious of such sentiments, I think acknowledging them and looking at how I work with them are an important part of my process.

February - March 2020 abortive plans for the final realisation of my work at Bergen Natural History Museum



Materials from proposed installations that were to have comprised the final artistic result

Below: pages from a mock-up of the proposed catalogue to accompany my installations at the museum

Proposed installation #1, "The Falling Birds"


Below: proposed text for catalogue to accompany museum installations


Below: an account of the circumstances surrounding the fumigation of the Natural History Museum, found in an edition of Bergens Tidende, from 1979

Proposed installation #2, "The Dermestidae"



a chrysalis


Absence is a construct (a distinctly anthropocentric one) which typically masks a denial of some or other presence. Whenever we encounter an apparent absence, we should perhaps ask: here, at this site, who or what is denying the presence of what or whom?


A first visit to Bergen’s natural history museum, in Spring 2018, reveals a building that is, in insect terms, a chrysalis. During the extended hiatus created by its long closure and renovation, the museum has become a cloistered site of transition; a “pupa”. Shut to visitors and having experienced the removal of almost its entire collection, it has come to represent a site in parenthesis; one apparently characterised by absence; left to display room after room of unoccupied exhibition cases, creating a spectacle of emptiness.




Here, at the museum, silence is the disavowal which surrounds the presence of the “illegitimate” bodies which the institution acknowledges only in so far as is necessary for their identification and elimination.


If the “gaps” that first suggested themselves at the natural history museum were the ones created by the disappearance of its visitors and its collection, a second and even more intriguing gap soon emerged created by the institutional silence surrounding the complex and all-but invisible ecosystem of organisms: the “infestations”, which inhabit the museum’s buildings and indeed some of its specimens.



The Wrong Bodies





Bodies without provenance,

We inhabited the museum’s gaps.


Consuming matter, erasing data,

Condemned as pests.


An illegitimate ecosystem,

Acknowledged only by attempts to eradicate our presence.


We are the wrong bodies,

Fixed not in amber, but in glue.


Captured and catalogued,

We become specimens.


A shadow collection.









A Shadow Collection


it is absolutely not allowed to bring living, natural material into the building. [1]


Despite assiduously protecting the integrity of its collection, “foreign bodies” continue to penetrate and proliferate within the museum’s walls. Their corpses - systematically captured and catalogued - create a parody of the institution’s public collections of specimens; a shadow collection.


A natural history collection of specimens, sees the imperative of creating order to include policing the material and institutional boundaries of the archive. On the one hand, categorising certain bodies as “licit”, as acceptable; granting them admission to the collection and giving them the title of “specimens” or exhibits. These are the museum’s “right bodies”. On the other hand, working to exclude “the wrong bodies”; those bodies that are deemed illicit; those given the label of “pests” or “infestations” and which are the subject of determined attempts to exclude and eradicate them from the physical and institutional corpus of the collection and the museum.


The museum’s relationship with its “infestations” reveals its reflexive urge to collect, spawning a unique paraphernalia of entrapment and classification.


If my investigation as a whole seems to be coalescing around the phenomenon of institutional and interpersonal silences and what they conceal, then here at the museum, it is the body itself, which curiously emerges as the unspoken object of such silences and of the repression that often seems to accompany them.


The Falling Birds



‘They made a coat of plastic for the whole house. It was beautifully done and it looked so ridiculous and we laughed.


‘Why did they do this packing up? That was the most that we could see and the answer was so that the poison should stay inside the building. It should not go outside the building, in order to function better, but the idea never occurred to me that it could be poisonous for people going outside as well. It must have been. This is an old building. There is presumably a lot of leakages in such an old building, so we can imagine holes here and there and so I’m sure that if there was a very dangerous poison inside, they really needed to take care.’[2]



The institutional silence that surrounds the museum’s relationship to the organisms which comprise the “wrong bodies” in its midst, is punctuated by occasional moments of public rupture and crisis. In 1979, the natural history museum was wrapped in plastic, in preparation for an attempt to eradicate an infestation of Vepsebolklanner (“wasp-nest beetles”). Once the building was completely shrouded, blåsyre (hydrogen cyanide) gas was released into the building over the period of several weeks, in a dramatic attempt to preserve the museum’s collection of specimens, which the infestation of beetles might have otherwise ultimately destroyed.




A Proliferating Illegitimacy [3]


“stridulate | ˈstrɪdjʊleɪt | verb [no object] (of an insect, especially a male cricket or grasshopper) make a shrill sound by rubbing the legs, wings, or other parts of the body together. | (as adjective stridulating)”



Here since the 19th century, the museum’s whale skeletons are so permanent a part of the museum collection that they appear almost to have become a part of the fabric of the museum itself, but they are not inert objects; they remain organic things. A source of food and shelter, the skeletons, are ripe for colonisation by other bodies, which have found their way illicitly into the museum.


The infestations which continually infiltrate the museum’s collections, seem bent on re-establishing, within the body of the archive, itself, those complex eco-systems, whose component parts Natural History’s taxonomic ordering works so diligently to separate and isolate.


“Skin” beetles (or Dermestidae), adapted to live “in the wild”, on dried animal carcasses, continue to do so within the archive; devouring the organic material they encounter. If left unchecked, potentially reducing the museum’s specimens to piles of dust. Such species as the Museum Beetle have, as its name suggests, long been common and destructive institutional pests, living and thriving on the bodies of taxidermied and other specimens, to the extent that 19th century conservators resorted to coating the skins of such specimens with arsenic to prevent such infestations.


In consuming matter, these infestations also consume data: whether this is the DNA contained in an animal specimen itself or the words borne by a paper-label that describe an individual specimen’s identity and history.


By erasing a specimen’s provenance in this way, an infestation that does so, leaves that specimen unmoored from the time and place of its collection and sets it adrift in the archive; transforming the archive’s order into a kind of entropy and transforming the individual specimen into a mere body, stripped of its place in order of things that Natural History has created.


Reviled as pests for attacking its collections, the Dermestid beetles are nonetheless, also systematically collected by the museum, as specimens, and indeed, paradoxically, so efficient are certain species of these “skin” beetlesat consuming the decaying matter of other dead animals, that natural history museums routinely use them to strip-clean the carcasses that they wish to display as skeletons.


Small as the beetles are – only a few millimetres in length – and ordinarily invisible to the casual observer, a specimen like the skull of the museum’s Blue Whale, infested with Dermestid beetles, may be identified as such by the “frass” or mess, which the beetles leave behind. However, the beetles, present in large numbers, also create a sonic signature. Their unseen presence is not only betrayed by the noise of the beetles’ eating, but also by the eerie sound created by their stridulation. [4]






Inhabiting gaps and disclosing presences.

An artistic research fellowship, 2016 – 2020


From eerie photographs of empty chairs, and videos of coats hanging-up in deserted rooms, to gallery installations consisting of hospital breathing-machines, which stop and start unexpectedly as the visitor approaches them, Andy Lock’s work as an artist and artistic researcher makes it clear that he has been preoccupied for a long time with identifying, creating and inhabiting gaps and intervals of different kinds; in a wide variety of different settings, but always with the ambition of bringing those who participate in his works into contact with whatever presences or phenomena may lurking, overlooked, repressed, disavowed or denied within the gaps and intervals with which he works.


Andy Lock’s artistic research is preoccupied with practices aimed at identifying and creating sites which are characterised by different kinds of gaps and lacunae; with inhabiting those gaps and with disclosing that which is repressed or disavowed therein. The sites with which Andy has worked have gradually expanded over the past three years, to embrace refugee hostels, musical rehearsals, clinical high-dependency units, anechoic chambers, public squares, literary texts and personal relationships. Each of these investigations has informed his ongoing engagement with Bergen’s natural history museum.


Andy’s work at the museum makes use of found evidence - material, phenomenal and anecdotal - gleaned from his research, to disclose both forgotten histories and contemporary manifestations of the museum’s relationships with those bodies in its midst, whose presence has been systematically repressed by the institution.


Each of the installations that comprise The Wrong Bodies begins with a particular instance of the museum’s past or present relationship to those bodies, about whom it is ordinarily silent.






[1] excerpt from an email, from the Bergen Natural History Museum, denying

   permission to bring a Sitka Spruce sapling into the building.




[2] (UiB alumnus recalling events at the natural history museum in 1979)


[3] Michel de Certeau on that which resists panoptic scrutiny (1988 : 96)

[4] The natural history museum in London keep a colony of dermestid beetles and were able to make a number of recordings for me.

The sounds of insect stridulation: the starting point for the proposed audio installation, in the Museum's "Whale hall".


Below: an excerpt from a transcript of a first-hand account of the Museum's fumigation, in 1979.



I was a student at the time and I had my office just behind here so I passed here, every day and they wrapped the whole building in plastic like you see it from time to time now, when they are restoring old churches.


I’ve seen it, but that was the first time I saw something like that and I couldn’t believe what I saw. I couldn’t believe my own eyes because it looks kind of ridiculous. Like, what do they want to get out of this? Imagine the house, imagine what it took to wrap up the whole house! Like they made a coat of plastic for the whole house. It was very neatly done too, as these things are. I don’t know how they do it, but it was beautifully done and it looked so ridiculous and we laughed and as I remember it, it was there for a long time, but what it says here in the newspaper is it took only six, eight weeks, maybe.


And then it says here they’re going to exterminate the American… and there is a name of this “wasp”, I think, and the museum will be closed for three to four weeks and then, June 18th and it says it will open again. The museum will open again. The work has been going well and they have been using Blåsyre. I don’t know what the name for Blåsyre is: I’m not a chemist. And it says they want to kill the American Vepsebolklanner. That’s the name of it. V E P S E B O L K L A and then double N, E R or something like that. And then the next message: ‘the work has gone well’. Good! And then they use this Blåsyre, which I think is Zyklon B, but the first message was only this American Wasp and the other was this American wasp and ‘other animals’, other ‘skadedyr’. ‘Skadedyr’: What is that? Small animals doing harm.


And I remember one more thing: why did they do this packing up? because that was the most that we could see and the answer was… Where have I got that from? I don’t know… so the poison should stay inside the building. It should not go outside the building. It should, you know… in order to function better, but I never thought… The idea never occurred to me that it could be poisonous for people going outside as well. It must have been. This is an old building. There is presumably a lot of leakages in such an old building, it’s a hundred and fifty years old, so we can imagine holes here and there and so I’m sure if there was a very dangerous poison inside, they really needed to take care.