Forms Suspended, Forms Revitalized
The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin has a history of more than 200 years and an inventory of about 30 million natural history specimens. Historic and contemporary networks – inflected by diplomacy, politics, and international scientific infrastructures – facilitate research and exhibition-making. Having been assembled, disassembled, and reassembled over the years, the collections reflect an intriguing history encompassing German colonization on the African continent, two world wars, the National Socialist regime, the GDR era, and now a reunified German state. This complex past has left its imprint on the museum’s collections, its research, and on individual staff members’ biographies. The architecture of the museum, in its foundational concept, was guided by notions of how scientific production should be rendered transparent.
Today, living in the digital nuclear age, we are going through a period of accelerating species extinction – caused by humans. Natural history museums bear witness to our changing environment. The Berlin museum holds such diverse objects as the radioactive mineral uraninite (pitchblende) and the axolotl, an endangered amphibian. The museum is a unique repository of matter: both of life (animals and plants) and non-life (such as minerals). Its archives suspend these life forms and distribute them in time, space, and dimensionality.
The curatorial approach is concerned with the exploration of authorship and inventions of new modes of exchange. The artists will be exploring the fascinating histories, geographies, and extended knowledge infrastructures hidden within the museum. Their artistic search might well open up an extended contact zone with communities and citizens both within and beyond the museum in order to make the manufacture of biodiverse facts transparent.
Bergit Arends is curator for visual art. She is exploring the interferences between art and science.
Foto: Uraninite © Hwa Ja Götz/ MfN