The urge for humans to collect and classify is instinctual – a need to arrange the world around us into patterns, to form order from chaos, compels us from childhood to death. This desire became formalised in the sciences, especially so in natural history, where arranging collections systematically became integral; an activity that would evolve into taxonomy – the placing of creatures and plants into groups.
But as a science, taxonomy seems to belong to the past – evocative of forgotten rooms in Victorian museums, silent curators stooped over boxes of fragile, dusty specimens: more reminiscent of Gormenghast than of a 21st-century endeavour. That taxonomy deals almost exclusively with corpses adds to the melancholia: it seems more concerned with the dead than the living; it is science as memento mori. Perhaps for these reasons, taxonomy is in decline, despite a pressing need to catalogue species stemming from today’s pressures on biodiversity and conservation.
And time overwhelms that which has been so carefully hoarded; a return to incoherence and entropy. It is this failure that fascinates Rich Cutler in his project Insecta. Dust and disintegration are the hallmarks of the fragmented collections depicted in his photographs. These creatures have died twice, first poisoned in killing jars, then turned by time into ruins. What remains are cul-de-sacs: their stored knowledge dissipated, their context lost.