last chance

Nicolai Howalt - Specimens

12 May 2022 – 2 Jul 2022

Regular hours

12:00 – 19:00
12:00 – 19:00
12:00 – 19:00
12:00 – 19:00
12:00 – 19:00
12:00 – 19:00

Free admission

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Galerie Maria Lund

Île-de-France, France


Travel Information

  • M8 Chemin Vert / M1 Saint Paul
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The observation of living things is at the heart of the Specimens exhibition. The term obviously has a scientific connotation; it designates a plant or animal which is an example of a particular species or type.


Specimens brings together four series of works that the photographer Nicolai Howalt has been creating since 2019 - Old Tjikko, Algae, Fasciations and Microscope/Preparation. They all share a common desire to question, reflect, marvel and perhaps understand.

Developing an initial concept, Nicolai Howalt then proceeds with a systematic and creative exploration of his subjects. Most often, this is not limited to looking or documenting. As a good alchemist, he also mobilises the very materiality of the subjects in order to extract knowledge about their profound natures, the essence of which is invisible to the naked eye. Throughout the working process, the photographer is receptive to what presents itself to him. These sometimes unexpected discoveries confer a very special poetry to the images; their perfection keeps viewers at a distance, whereas their sensuality attracts them.

Old Tjikko (2019) is a portrait of the oldest known living organism – a spruce from Sweden – whose genetic material dates back 9,600 years. These prints, developed from the same negative on vintage photo paper (from 1930 to 2007) have been drawn in many versions, 97 of which are gathered in the eponymous book. If Old Tjikko has been contemplating us for millennia, the artist’s visual choice of old paper also tells the story of passing time. Chemistry manifest itself on these papers, which alter and transform over the decades, with the tones of the prints expanding into a wide range. Some are so dark that the image is barely noticeable; in others, the state of the paper gives rise to the illusion of a veiled or starry sky. The different views of the ancestral tree are reminiscent of a souvenir album presenting a series of portraits, of moments as rituals, of variations of time(s). Beyond the materiality and the image, Old Tjikko is foremost the story of vitality, of life that resists.

The Algae series (2020-2022) is on display for the first time. The photographed specimens are part of a group of algae collected over a period of 100 years in the Øresund Sea by the Botanisk Museum (Copenhagen). The splendid variations of purple, the transparencies of these banal and essential growths reveal a part of the seabed history of this strait between Denmark and Sweden. Captured and enlarged, the algae emerge from the anonymity of the depths and unfold their graceful beauty that recalls terrestrial flora.

Fasciation (2020-2022) is an opportunity for Nicolai Howalt to focus on anomalies, another reality of life. Fasciations are rare growths that can be found in nature and in cultures. The etymology comes from the Latin fascia (bands, stripes). Depending on certain genetic, bacterial, hormonal or environmental conditions, the fasciations result from the abnormal development of the apical meristem (the tissue of rapidly multiplying embryonic plant cells). They can affect several plant organs (stems, flowers). The collection of these plants began in the nineteenth century in order to establish whether these malformations originated from the possession of plants by supernatural forces or whether they had a scientific explanation. Nicolai Howalt is captivated by these malformations that he discovered for the first time in a museum. Nature’s capacity to give rise to uncontrollable, fantastic and marvellous figures, to abstract narratives, is a source of fascination for him. Observing and recording the complex mathematics of these fractal structures, their geometry at a microscopic level, stimulates and motivates the photographer to capture them in their every detail. He photographs fragments of a tree affected by fasciation and this corpus of work resonates with a silver sculpture that is the precise replica of the shrub he was examining. The ensemble therefore bears witness to the fundamental principles of growth and forms the basis of an imaginary which, when it invests reality, becomes almost unimaginable.

Microscope/ Preparation (2020) immortalises the journey into minuteness, and focuses on the tool that enables such explorations. The recent pandemic inspired Nicolai Howalt to recreate a history of epidemics. He turned to the collections of the Medicinsk Museion – the Medical History Museum in Copenhagen. In the fight against a disease, identifying the bacterium responsible is essential, but this is not always an easy task. It is often not sufficient to use a microscope to determine the true nature of a sample or preparation. This series revisits the invention of the Gram staining method (1884) developed by the Danish bacteriologist Hans Christian Gram. Through a colouring/discolouration process, gentian violet and fuchsine (pink) distinguish Gram + bacteria, whose thick walls preserve the violet colouration; and Gram - bacteria, whose thinner walls turn pink. The Specimens exhibition presents a photograph of Gram’s microscope which, on this monumental scale, takes on the appearance of a space rocket. The series of Preparations discloses the abstract and pictorial world of coloured bacteria. This is a dialogue between research, history, nature and art: the microscope reveals other dimensions of our world in which a lethal bacterium turns out to be unsuspectedly beautiful.

With Specimens, Nicolai Howalt shares the visions and discoveries that his own curiosity allows him to access. The passage of time is materialised, the systems and structures of nature are made manifest, including in terms of their exceptions. The similarities and potentials carried by the micro and macro- worlds are the basis for ever-renewed wonder at the fragility of being.

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Nicolai Howalt


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