Exhibition : THE NATURE OF HISTORY Natural History Museum, London

This cow is worrying me. It's following my every move, tracking me with beady-eyed intensity. Of course, it's only on a video screen - but it's still worrying. It's worrying despite the fact that I know it's being controlled by a surveillance camera. It hangs over my head in a darkened room of the Natural History Museum relaying my movements to two screens. On one is the cow, on the other a staring face which mutates in seconds from a young boy into an old woman. They are the centrepiece of The Nature of History, an installation by artist Simon Robertshaw, which claims to bridge the cultural gap between science and art.

The exhibition, proclaims its catalogue, is "the forerunner of a new breed of interdisciplinary work". "Until recently," it continues, "artists adopting such an adventurous, hybrid approach, might well have fallen foul of what, at times, has seemed an almost unbridgeable divide between the two cultures." But such rhetoric seems disingenuous. In reality this, albeit fascinating, exhibition is the latest manifestation of one of the traditional, abiding concerns of Western artists.

Robertshaw's given theme is evolution, and in the four parts of his installation he guides us through its various aspects. On a floor-based video screen he projects a highly magnified microscope slide of the bacteria that live and multiply in a nearby glass display case. A few feet away, another screen offers the changing image of a DNA chromosome, three humanoid skulls and the carcass of a decomposing cow, filmed over four weeks. With mesmerising detail, the latter bloats, becomes infected with maggots, voids various fluids and finally deflates to a preskeletal state. Above the screen the artist has suspended a giant wooden cage and beyond this is the cow with the worrying gaze.

According to the publicity, the decaying cow "defines the scientific nature of an ecosystem". But such prosaic platitudes do the artist an injustice. It is the museum's purpose to define Robertshaw's work as a useful, illustrative learning tool. But, while his art might embrace the latest technological possibilities, Robertshaw himself falls firmly into an artistic tradition which reaches from the morbidities of the Elizabethan vanitas, through Gauguin and Mondrian to Surrealism.

His "morphing" child/ woman echoes nothing more closely than the 16th- century prediliction for those eerie anamorphic double portraits of youth and death. Robertshaw's decaying cow is essentially no different from Mondrian's studies of the slow death of a rotting sunflower. The three revolving skulls are powerful mementos mori. Robertshaw is a romantic - a symbolist. His multiplying bacteria are a constantly mutating abstract. Yet in their of-the-moment reality the artist provides a more immediate glimpse than Rothko into the sublime in which the microscopic mirrors the macrocosm. The questions Robertshaw poses are not new. They were offered almost 100 years ago in 1897 by Paul Gauguin as a title for his painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? And, despite what the scholarly hosts of this successful if misrepresented exhibition would have us believe, they still remain unanswered.

n To 28 August, Natural History Museum Cromwell Rd, SW7 (0171-938 9123)

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...