Rachel Poliquin, in her 2012 book, The Breathless Zoo, writes that “taxidermy is deeply marked by human longing,” revealing our hopes and dreams about our place in the natural world. Natural history dioramas present a carefully constructed, perfectly encapsulated and controlled experience of nature, revealing as much about humanity as about the nature depicted.
For my recent series, Broken Models, I negotiated access to photograph dioramas in various stages of being decommissioned. Using these fictional spaces to create imaginary scenes of my own, I introduced a worker wearing a white Hazmat suit, making notes of his observations. While the worker’s tasks are unidentified, the series suggests a scientific method of understanding and quantifying our experience of nature. The white Hazmat suit was an aesthetic choice for these dimly lit interiors; however, it was intentionally chosen to evoke images of advanced technology labs where the environment needs to be protected from the worker. The series title, Broken Models, refers to the deteriorating dioramas I photographed and to our failed construct of the environment as one of inexhaustible resources and the resiliency to accommodate, unchanged to our abuses.
Jennifer Steensma Hoag is a conceptual artist working primarily in photography and video and a professor in the Department of Art & Art History at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Awards for her artwork include an artist in residence with The Center for Land Use Interpretation, a Calvin Research Fellowship, and a Community Giving Program Grant from the Target Corporation. Hoag’s photographs have been exhibited at universities and art centers across the country and her photography series, “The Nature of Invasion” was featured in The Society for Photographic Education’s journal, Exposure, and online in Drain—Journal of Contemporary Art & Culture. Hoag’s video work has been screened at the 5th Cairo Video Festival by Medrar for Contemporary Art in Egypt and exhibited across the United States in many group and solo shows.