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The Exhibition

Thinking Path is an exhibition by contemporary artist Shirley Chubb.

It includes both images that have been created by the artist and objects that she has chosen from museum collections.

Shirley was invited to respond to the life and ideas of Charles Darwin and chose the 'Sand-walk' at Down House, Darwin's family home in Kent, as the central metaphor for the development of a new artwork. Darwin walked the sand-walk daily and it was known as his 'thinking path' by his family. This familiar, domestic route provided Darwin with a crucial setting for the further development of the ideas and theories that began on HMS Beagle.

Shirley chose to walk and photograph the path on the anniversaries of four significant dates in Darwin's life. The walk numbered 1600 of Shirley's paces, which formed a numerical base for the creation of four sets of 400 digital photographic images themed around the dates: Installation at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery his birth, the return of HMS Beagle, the publication of On the Origin of Species and his death. Shirley also created an edited moving-image record of each of her walks, presented on small LCD screens within the exhibition.

Four key museum objects have been selected by Shirley to hold their own 'conversation' with her digital still and moving images. Shirley has also selected a number of additional museum items from the particular collections at each exhibition venue, making a series of subtle changes as the exhibition tours.

12.02.1809/2003 Birthday #1-20 and DVD

Children: Birthday
  • Children: Birthday
  • 12.02.1809/2003 #17
  • Glass lenses, polypropylene and digital print, 255 x 260mm
  • 2003

In 1809, Darwin was born at The Mount in Shrewsbury. Images include the room in which he was born and take us on an evolutionary journey, from cellular structures to images of children. Children from Darwin's family and the artist's are included, as are children from parts of Africa who are currently caught up in the momentum of tragic historical circumstances. Such diverse imagery conveys our shared origins, as well as our hugely different background environments.

Pregnancy Garment

Pregnancy Garment, from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, serves to remind us that Africa is considered the birthplace of mankind. It was specifically made for a woman during her first pregnancy after marriage. Once the child was born the beads and studs were removed and the skin used to carry the child on its mother's back.

Pregancy Garment, Early 20thCentury

East South Africa
PLYMG: AR. 1981.251
From the collection of Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery

02.10.1836/2003 Beagle Journey #1-20 and DVD

Maps: Beagle Journey
  • Maps: Beagle Journey
  • 02.10.1836/2003 #7
  • Glass lenses, polypropylene and digital print, 255 x 260mm
  • 2003

In 1836, Darwin returned to Plymouth from his five-year voyage on HMS Beagle. He had been across the world visiting many new and 'exotic' landscapes, yet many of the images in this section show the gardens and grounds at his home at Down House in Kent. Although HMS Beagle is famous as a global voyage, Thinking Path represents, for the artist as it did for Darwin, an equally epic and 'exotic' journey of discovery. The images move from close-up details, to those which show a much bigger viewpoint, reflecting on Darwin's ability to observe and understand the world on both micro and macro levels.

Fragment of Log-boat

Fragment of Log-boat, from Shrewsbury Museums Collections, is in an almost 'fossilised' condition. Barely recognisable and of uncertain date, it signifies both the ancient human desire to explore, and the risks and vulnerabilities of this common endeavour.

Fragment of log boat
Date Unknown, possibly prehistoric

Chelmarsh, south east Shropshire
SHYMS: A/2004/01
From the collections of SHrewsbury Museums Service

24.11.1859/2003 Origin of Species #1-20 and DVD

Skulls: Origin of Species
  • Skulls: Origin of Species
  • 24.11.1859/2003 #6
  • Glass lenses, polypropylene and digital print, 255 x 260mm
  • 2003

On the Origin of Species was not published until 1859. Darwin had devoted his life to his theories of evolution and yet had been reluctant to publish, knowing that they presented a huge challenge to both scientific and religious beliefs. Images include the 'exotic' species and landscapes he would have encountered on the HMS Beagle voyage, as well as the scientists and thinkers who had influenced and informed his work.

Quartz Specimens

Quartz Specimens, from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, move from intense black to clear. They act for the artist as a metaphor for Darwin's emerging theories and, more generally, for the human condition: we are all made of the same 'raw materials' but change and grow in vastly different ways.

top left: Quartz with calcite, Geevor Mine, St Just, Cornwall. Richard Barstow Collection, PLYMG: NH 1986.11.2215

bottom left: Quartz with specularite, Frizington, Cumbria. René Gallant Collection

top right: Quartz, PLYMG: NH 1992.1.42x. bottom-right: Quartz, PLYMG: NH 1992.1.26x - from the collection of Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery

19.04.1882/2003 Anniversary of Death #1-20 and DVD

Interiors: Anniversary of Death
  • Interiors: Anniversary of Death
  • 19.04.1882/2003 #17
  • Glass lenses, polypropylene and digital print, 255 x 260mm
  • 2003

Darwin died in 1882 having been responsible for developing ' one of the greatest ideas in history'. In this final panel images include the interior of the Unitarian Church in his birthplace, Shrewsbury and an increasingly blurred 'thinking path'. Skyward are the web-like trees of early Spring. Quotes from On the Origin of Species, of particular significance to the artist, reflect on Darwin's insights, achievements and place in history.

Grinshill Sandstone with 'fossil' ripple marks

Grinshill Sandstone with 'fossil' ripple marks, from Shrewsbury Museums' collections, is c.220 million years old. The 'fossilised' traces of waves on sand act a metaphor for a life lived and for the impact and permanence of a tiny, fleeting moment in time.

Grinshill Sandstone with 'fossil' ripple marks
Triassic Period (c.220 million years ago)

Grinshill, north Shropshire
SHYMS: G/2004/01
From the collections of Shrewsbury Museums Service