Touring Exhibition: Disappearing Legacies The World as Forest

"Useful Nature, Useless nature" (2017) an artwork by Robert Zhao Renhui. | Photo: UHH, CeNak, Reiss

The exhibition space as a forest. Until 29 March 2018, the Centre of Natural History in the Zoological Museum at the Universität Hamburg is showing Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest. The series of exhibitions supported by the Goethe-Institut Singapore looks at European colonialism in the tropics and the destruction of the rain forest.

Visual art encounters natural history collection; botanical and zoological objects are given a new frame of reference. Recent research findings, historical archives and natural history collections meet aerial drone photography, x-ray images and video essays. For the first time, an art project will fill the space at the Hamburg Zoological Museum. For the director of the Centre of Natural History (CeNak), Professor Matthias Glaubrecht, it is only natural, for, “In fact, we shouldn’t separate science and art. So for me, art logically belongs in a natural history museum.”

The artists Armin Linke and Giulia Bruno during filming in the Indonesian province of Riau, Sumatra. The artists Armin Linke and Giulia Bruno during filming in the Indonesian province of Riau, Sumatra. | Foto: Reassembling the Natural/Anna-Sophie Springer

Installations, photographs, films and sculptures

The art and science exhibition begins with the works of the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), who helped establish biology as an academic discipline. Installations, photographs, films and sculptures by contemporary artists reveal connections between his expeditions and the present-day destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia and South America. Disappearing Legacies: The World as Forest tells the story of ecosystem diversity and how it is gradually at risk of disappearing. The development of the exhibition goes back to the year 2013 when initial ideas for the concept were developed on a research trip sponsored by the Goethe-Institut.

Insects originating from Southeast Asia, collected by Alfred Russel Wallace. Insects originating from Southeast Asia, collected by Alfred Russel Wallace. | Photo: Reassembling the Natural/Etienne Turpin, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

How a rain forest island became a megacity

One of the participating artists is photographer Robert Zhao Renhui from Singapore. The artist explores and catalogues natural evolution while taking a closer look at humankind and its influence. With his installation, he reflects on how Singapore has grown from a rainforest island to today’s megacity. He unites objects and images from his own collection and those from the collections of the CeNak and the Universität Hamburg’s museum of cultivated plants.

Robert Zhao Renhui, Robert Zhao Renhui, "Moondust" (excerpt), 2013. A pile of ashes from 103 insect species burned by a light bulb in Singapore, 25 of which are as yet scientifically unidentified species. | Poto: Courtesy Robert Zhao Renhui The artistic positions presented in the exhibition contradict the romantic image of unspoilt nature, instead asking about legacies that remain in the face of the progressive destruction of highly complex ecosystems. “We believe that natural history museums have the potential and a mission to address current issues such as species extinction, deforestation and climate change,” write Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin, curators and initiators of the exhibition. “It is still an important place for people to learn something about nature.”

Further stops in Berlin and Halle-Wittenberg

After its stop in Hamburg, Disappearing Legacies will travel on to Berlin and, in autumn of 2018, to Halle-Wittenberg. The exhibition will be further developed at each location and adapted to the respective collections’ holdings.