Taxing Nature at Esher's Civic Centre

Elmbridge Museum's latest exhibition opens in Esher as kestrels and chickens find their way into the Civic Centre

With this latest exhibition, Taxing Nature, we wanted to construct quite a complex narrative, a narrative that could be read in different ways by different people, without hundreds of unnecessary objects.

The basis for the construction of the exhibition was two-fold: John Berger's essay 'Why Look at Animals?' and Elmbridge Museum's fantastic natural history collection. However, the objects on display don't fit into traditional historic categories (such as 'Victorian' or 'Roman', etc.) and apart from all containing animal imagery, they don't have much else in common.

By thinking about themes, rather than specific objects or the physical attributes that connect them, artefacts as different as mounted butterflies and Noah's Ark toys can sit side by side. Both these objects intrinsically contain the classification of animals, a systematised structure, which has been imposed on them. From these two objects you can trace other histories of animal and human interaction (or distancing) - one that leads from a collection of butterflies, assembled domestically as a hobby, to the museum in the elaborate mounting and arranging of larger animals. Another brings animals into the home in other ways - cartoons and book illustrations, commercial packaging, toys and teddies.

This rounded narrative raises interesting questions through beautiful objects. Some of the butterflies on display, such as the Large Tortoiseshell that was collected locally, have been classified as extinct in the UK since their capture when they were very common. It has only been in the last 10 years that the Large Tortoiseshell has started reappearing due to expensive and complex reintroduction techniques. Fewer and fewer households currently keep animals for food; however, it was very a common practice in the local area during the twentieth century because of Elmbridge's vast amount of open space. While animals were disappearing from our gardens we introduced them into the nursery. One object on display - a toy chicken coop - shows a paper mache chicken springing out of its cage. This would have been a prized possession for a very lucky child when it was made, around 1900. But why put it in a cage? It isn't going to run away.