This week the installation Soft Voices by Anna van Suchtelen is on display in the permanent exhibit. Her installation is a result of an artistic exploration of time and memory. The central theme of this exposition is the memory of the passionate ebryologist and Darwinist Ambrosius Hubrecht (1853-1915) and his collection of invertebrate glassmodels.
A famous anecdote about the scientific work of Hubrecht is that he found an ingenious way to collect a huge amount of embryos in a relative short time. A dime for an embryo became his credo. For every embryo which was delivered on his doorsteps he would pay a dime to the finder. It didn’t take a lot of time before Hubrecht had a wide ranging network of collectors and could rely on a steady stream of new embryological specimen. This resulted in enormous collection which is still in use in Berlin as a reference collection for embryologists.
Though Hubrecht is famous for his embryological work, not a lot of us know that he bought a large collection of glass models of invertebrates from the famous Blaschka family.
Father and son Blaschka were skilled glass artists in the nineteenth century. The started their careers manufacturing decorative glass object for upper middle class living rooms but soon ended up producing glass models of animals and plants for the academic world
The combination of real naturalia and the curved glass objects in the semi dark exhibition cabinets in the museum makes walking through the installation an interesting experience. One can’t help wandering off to long gone times when looking at the organic and delicate but vivid shell shaped objects. For a biologist as I am, these mysterious curves unlock associations with historical heroes like Hubrecht, but also do to the age of the great explorers like Von Humboldt and not to forget Darwin. And if I listen very carefully I can hear their soft voices whisper in my ear: Go, Enjoy, Explore!