Fiona Pardington | Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle
23.06.17 - 23.07.17
As the most famous novelist of his time, Vladimir Nabokov often featured on the cover of or inside Time, Life, Vogue, and the like, catching butterflies—and so became also the most famous lepidopterist of his time. Most assumed he was just a hobbyist, although a few specialists realized he was a world class scientist, as has been borne out in research, books, and exhibitions from the 1980s to the 2010s.
Internationally renowned New Zealand photographer Fiona Pardington has made it part of her practice for years to reanimate dead material she finds near her home or in museums around the world: birds, mushrooms, plaster life casts of Maori heads, fragments of archival handwriting. She interrogates death and celebrates collecting and preservation.
A Nabokov lover since her teens, she was stunned to read in 2011 how science had vindicated his hunches about the populating of the Americas by the Blues (Polyommatinae) he specialized in. To pay homage, she has photographed, in European and American museums, only butterflies Nabokov caught and killed, words or diagrams in his hand, butterfly images on printed pages he marked: “The butterflies must be his own, their thorax crushed by the fingers that held the pen with which he wrote. Butterflies taken, like relics. One degree of separation. Love and death fold together.”
After waiting for years for the right camera breakthrough, as Nabokov would wait for the right weeks and weather to catch the species he stalked, Fiona has found ways to disclose the beauty and strangeness of what he could see in“the charmed circle of the microscope” (“On Discovering a Butterfly,” 1941).
Distinguished University Professor Brian Boyd
Dr. Fiona Pardington wishes to acknowledge the generous support of Creative New Zealand; Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd, University of Auckland; Macroscopic Solutions; Robert Dirig; Anne Freita; Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation; Anthony Marx, Carolyn Broomhead, Thomas Lannon of New York Public Library and Starkwhite, New Zealand.
With thanks to the Musée Cantonal de Zoologie, Lausanne; Cornell University Insect Collection, Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection and the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts of the New York Public Library, NY.