Liz Orton is a visual artist whose practice is broadly concerned with entanglements of land, vision and natural science. She engages widely with archives, both real and imagined, to explore the tensions between personal and systematic forms of knowledge. Liz currently holds a Fellowship at the University of Arts London, and has recently been awarded a Wellcome Trust Arts Award for a project on social and cultural aspects of medical imaging. She has exhibited widely in group shows both in the UK and internationally, and her recent body of work, A Handful of Soil for the Whole Horizon won the MACK photography prize, and was exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery as part of FreshFaced+WildEyed 2015.
The bundles photographed in Splitters and Lumpers only exist for the camera, created temporarily as extracts from larger specimen piles that may sit for months or years awaiting taxonomic attention in the extensive network of boxes and cupboards that make up the Herbarium plant matter towards the edges of the paper. The cross-section view produces a kind of stratigraphy in which layers of organic and inorganic materials from around the world come together as temporary assemblages. The photographs deliberately decontextualise the material, opening it up to a more speculative, non-taxonomic consideration.
This series reflects Orton's continuing interest in herbaria as complex, physical systems, and their relationships to the evolutionary, botanical world. Taxonomy seeks boundaries where in nature there is often continuity and similarity. As new knowledge comes to light, old categories can fall apart. The title of the work, Splitters and Lumpers, is a reference to the acknowledged role that subjectivity plays in classification: in establishing distinct species some taxonomists emphasise differences and others commonalities. Though categorical, taxonomy is also a sensuous and tender science. The material is delicate and requires the gentlest of touches.