Eloquent Eggs & Disintegrating Dice
Eggs and dice — what do they have to with art? The title
at first seems bizarre, but it is quite fi tting for the work
of Rosamond Purcell. The exhibition Eloquent Eggs &
Disintegrating Dice opened last Wednesday at the Silver Eye
Center for Photography.
The exhibition is divided into two parts. The first is Purcell’s
latest project, which took her to the Western Foundation
of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ). WFVZ has the largest egg
and nest collection in the world and is also a research
and education institution dedicated to bird conservation.
Examining the ornithological treasures of the WFVZ, Purcell
produces pictures that are almost artifacts.
The patterns of egg shells range from the dotted lumps and
bumps of the Guira cuckoo eggs to the smooth and almost
candy-coated bright shine of Tinamou eggs in a rough
stone container. The textures of egg shells are zoomed in
on, which allows us to closely examine the textures. There
is immense diversity even in the texture of the shells. One
of the photographs captures the intricacy of nests; different
materials are woven together. When seen from far away, the
nest may seem just like a basket, but Purcell’s photographs
show us the delicacy and effort of the birds. She depicts
the diverse beauty, quirkiness, and allure of eggs and the
remarkable resourcefulness of birds through this exhibition.
“We’ve been wanting to exhibit her work, but this is
the right timing since her book just came out,” Amanda
Bloomfield, a curator at Silver Eye Center, said about the
exhibition. Purcell’s photographs are featured in Egg & Nest.
The book fuses science and art; the photographs convey the
appreciation for biology and evolution. It further explains
about the history of egg collecting and bird watching. These
are natural history, and they are also the most natural art.
The second part of the exhibition contains the various
photographs of disintegrating dice. This project was inspired
by a decomposing and crumbling dice collection belonging
to magician Rick Jay, one of Purcell’s good friends. He
personally asked Purcell to record the “dying of the dice.”
The dice are made out of celluloid, which is a notoriously
unstable substance, unlike plastic which can last a very long
time. Purcell’s suite of photographs captures the texture and
the vibrant colors of dying dice.
“These dice were donated at the Museum of Jurassic
Technology. If you see the pictures from that exhibition,
you can see that Purcell’s photographs of dice are slightly
different,” Bloomfield said. The scale of dice is also out of
proportion, which brings a different perspective on the dice.
These photographs were featured in Rick Jay’s book, Dice:
Deception, Fate, and Rotten Luck.
Purcell finds the most ordinary objects and turns them into
a piece of art or an artifact. We have seen eggs and dice
before, but when we see her work, we realize that she has
scrutinized the ordinary objects and captured the different
aspects of those objects. We haven’t seen the shiny eggs or
close-up intricately woven nests. Her photographs offer us a
new view of these ordinary objects.
“She has definitely done some very interesting work in the
past, including photographs of the skins, bones, carapaces,
shells, and preserved bodies remains,” Bloomfield said of
Purcell. She has long collaborated with natural museums,
and her work has been published in various books. One of
her more recent works, Book Worm, is a book containing
photographs of decayed old books, praising their beauty as
raw material in collages of dissolution of objects.
She is also a writer, having majored in English in college.
Owls Head, one of her books, details her long friendship
with William Buckminster. Buckminster is a collector of
antiques, and owns a now-famous antiques shop and
junkyard in Maine. When Purcell was asked why she chose
to write more instead of speaking with her photography in an
interview with The Boston Globe, she answered, “I wanted
to articulate a philosophy of objects, and you just can’t show
that in pictures.”
Through the writing and studying of the junkyard, she was
able to answer some questions about the material world. She
said, “I came to understand that each of these objects was
meaningful within a constellation of other objects.”
Purcell tries to make sense of these objects through her
art. As a result, her photographs help us to understand the
signifi cance behind them. After seeing the exhibition, one
may never look at eggs and dice the same way.