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(Mis)identification, Handbook of Birds of the World, Vol. 6 (Trogonidae)

Shaun Pickard
2001

This artwork commemorates an important occasion, Bury Art Museum’s centenary, and was inspired by an encounter the artist had with a case of stuffed birds in Bury’s natural history collection.

This piece of Language Art, itself a very large sign or label, explores the value of classification and the idea of truth.

When is a trogon not a trogon?

It was inspired by the massive project of the publication of the Handbook of Birds of the World, which has taken years to produce and is still ongoing. From the most recent volume at the time of the commission [2001], which dealt with the genus ‘Trogonidae’, the artist discovered that since at least 1907 a stuffed trogon in the Museum collection had been mis-identified. It does not match the description of its type specimen in the Handbook.

Whilst it is not likely that trogon mexicanus has undergone so radical a change in the last one hundred years, that it has not in fact been mis-identified, we must allow for the fact that, despite the Handbook, it will certainly undergo some change at some point as a result of the evolutionary process.

Thus, Pickard’s text piece tackles the issues of classification, stasis and change and prompts us to ask ourselves about the nature of truth and the value of attempting to fix that which is constantly changing.