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Winning Darwin design takes root

Sculptor Tania Kovats has won the Darwin's Canopy competition to design a new permanent artwork for Charles Darwin's bicentenary at the Natural History Museum in London. A longitudinal cross section of a real fallen oak tree, including roots, trunk and branches, will be veneered into the panelled ceiling of a gallery behind the central hall.

Credit: NAT. HIST. MUS., LONDON

Ten contemporary artists submitted designs, which are on display at the museum until 14 September. Kovats's ceiling installation will be unveiled on 12 February 2009, on what would have been Darwin's two-hundredth birthday.

Kovats, currently tracing Darwin's footsteps in South America, has long marvelled at a piece of petrified tree held at the museum. A branching sketch in Darwin's notebook of 1837 also inspired her. “Whether a tree or a coral,” she notes, it is “quite remarkable for how it represented to him a proof of where his thoughts were going”.

Within Kovats's design (sketch, pictured), her tree's roots will represent the research of museum scientists. Its branches will represent the museum's role in disseminating knowledge, as well as taxonomy, and the use of a fallen tree hints at how Darwin felled the existing orthodoxy. The tree “is a real thing as well as a sculptural intervention, and as such can take its place amongst the other real things housed in the collection”, she explains.

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Martin, C. Winning Darwin design takes root. Nature 453, 986 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/453986b

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