Inspired by the name of the Amsterdam zoo Artis (short for 'natura artis magistra', nature is the teacher of artful skill), this panel explores the ways in which living other-than-human things have been, and still are, embraced as powerful models in skilful human practices of art, craft and science.
'Artis' is a famous zoo in Amsterdam, established in 1838, a place where, according to its website, 'nature meets culture'. Its name is short for 'natura artis magistra', Latin for 'nature is the teacher of artful skill', reflecting a nineteenth-century conception of nature as a model of perfect engineering, aesthetically pleasing and morally uplifting—-an idea that has acquired a new lease of life in contemporary environmental discourse. For this panel, we invite papers that take inspiration from the Artis motto to explore the ways in which living other-than-human things have been, and still are, embraced as models for artful and skilful engagement by humans. Mindful of indigenous traditions that accommodate a wide range of natural phenomena in the category of 'living things', we are interested in ethnographic approaches to practices of art, craft, and science that take their cue from animals, plants, light, or sedimentation. Practices may range from direct material borrowings from nature (revived through taxidermy or rearranged in landscape art) to sensory emulation (as in perfume manufacturing). They may include manicured miniature versions of nature (as in landscape gardening), explorations of natural phenomena on canvas or in carvings (as in Haida split representation), but also core sampling for scientific and environmental purposes. Within these parameters, a central question that we would like to address, triggered by the caged animals in the Artis zoo, is that of the power invested in the 'natural' model: what pull does nature continue to exert in human practices of creativity?