The Pupfish Shelf is an experiment in aestheticizing and creating new eco-mythology surrounding The Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). I first heard about this rare species of fish from friend and historian Kevin Brown. Brown had been commissioned by the national park service to rewrite the contemporary history of this fish, highlighting the fish’s anthropocentric stressors and speaking to the conservation success of the federal government in sustaining the species.
When Brown told me that the entire species of fish could fit into a pint glass, I started to wonder if traditional methods of natural history display were adequate for such a strange and complicated ecological story. Would seeing a diorama of the fish in a dimly lit hole speak to the absurdity of their modern existence? Does reading a text that declares the species a conservation success say enough?
This piece addresses the various entanglements with humans, the landscape, and other non-humans that the pupfish engage with consistently, while not making it necessary to repeat the human-constructed narrative around the fish species. It may instead display many different parts of the complicated system through representational artifacts, models, and historical photographs. This type of visualization attempts to entangle parts of the pupfish’s history and encounters with humanity, especially those that traditional scientific writing/display would leave out.