First Impressions brings together images concerned with natural history – art and science. There is an historical space between the two domains of art and science which this exhibition is intended to evoke, to bring into focus. The clarity of the focus is cast in a moral and ethical shadow, however, when one comprehends that the messianic mission of the Christian faith, combined with the power of systems of classification shaping new knowledge of the globe, systemically destroyed or covered over indigenous systems of knowledge and in turn devalued the local cultures encountered in the great quest for the ‘Other’. This destruction continues today, driven by the power of capital and commerce. The images in First Impressions demonstrate the ongoing attempts to describe and delineate Nature’s parts as they were encountered by natural scientists, both professional and amateur.
In their completed works from the very earliest until the latest, whether unique watercolours or William Ivins’ ‘exactly repeatable pictorial statement’ – printed images, artists aspired to overcome the shortcomings set out by Pliny. By the time the last image in First Impressions was made, photography had changed immeasurable the practice of making images for science.