Unnatural Histories

This event has now finished. Please see our events website for details of upcoming events at Brookes.

Natural Histories Event image

Who this event is for

  • Everyone


Abercrombie Building, The Glass Tank, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site


Unnatural Histories, an exhibition of fine art photography by Paul Kilsby, explores our relationship with nature, suggesting that it is far from straightforward. Our experience of the natural world, Kilsby proposes, is increasingly mediated by our pervasive televisual culture. Television series by David Attenborough and others, broadcast in high definition, always show nature at her most spectacular, often adding exaggerated artificial sound effects and intensely dramatic music. Kilsby argues that these immensely popular programmes have the cumulative effect of raising our expectations to the point where everyday nature can often seem dull and uneventful - even disappointing.

Kingfisher with Violin Beetle

‘It sounds like heresy to criticise Attenborough as he is rightfully regarded as such a hero of the environmentalist movement, but I would argue that programmes like Blue Planet 2 are in many ways dramas rather than the documentaries they purport to be. The creatures chosen are the most spectacular, invariably engaging in the most extraordinary behaviours in the most exotic locations.’

In Kilsby’s photographs, birds are depicted in vivid detail seizing their prey as though caught in car headlamps or flash. In reality, these are meticulously constructed studio tableaux using taxidermy specimens. His strategy of inauthenticity asks us to question our casual acceptance of the truth of ostensibly documentary series such as Blue Planet 2.


In a related series, Flora Nova, also on show, Kilsby creates hybrid flowers grafted together onto a single stem. These take their inspiration and aesthetic from Dutch seventeenth century flower paintings which sometimes show flowers blooming simultaneously which, in reality, flower only in different seasons. Kilsby explains that the images offer a critique of the headlong pursuit of ostensibly ‘bigger and better’ flowers in the huge and lucrative horticultural industry, achieved through increasingly routine use of invasive genetic modification, cloning and hybridisation. Again, ‘natural nature’ is characterised as somehow inadequate to meet our insatiable desire for a vivid, hyperbolic version of the natural world. 

 Flora Nova

Unnatural Histories will be open from Thursday 5th April until Thursday 3rd May in the Glass Tank. The Glass Tank can be found in the Abercrombie Building on Headington Campus at Oxford Brookes University. Admission to the exhibition is free and open to all members of the public. A book of Kilsby’s photographs, Unnatural Histories, with an introductory essay by James Attlee, will be available to purchase for £9.95 at Blackwell’s Book Store on Headington Campus. You can view UNNATURAL HISTORIES ONLINE .


On Tuesday 10th April Paul will be giving a talk to discuss Unnatural Histories in the Glass Tank. To make sure you do not miss out on this event, please register your attendance through: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/brookes-fine-art-research-talk-paul-kilsby-unnatural-histories-tickets-44139488398


The private view for this event will be taking place on Thursday 5 April between 6-8pm. To RSVP to this event or to ask any questions about Unnatural Histories, please send an email to glasstank@brookes.ac.uk.


Unnatural Histories PV Card