Virtual Natural Order between Art and Science

Marlene Bart

A guest contribution By Marlene Bart
20.07.2022 | 5 minutes reading time

“Theatrum Radix” is a transdisciplinary exhibition project with an associated series of events. It is a cooperation of the artist Marlene Bart with the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the Tieranatomisches Theater , which will be realized in May 2023.

Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart
Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart

The project is based on Bart’s artistic research on encyclopaedic metaphors of order in the early modern period, following and illuminating the trails of their development across  exhibitions and collections in the age of digitization. The exhibition, which features an installation with objects from the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde, original sculptures and a virtual reality animation by Bart, will be on view in the historic lecture hall of the Tieranatomisches Theater on the campus of the HU Berlin.

Lecture hall of the Tieranatomisches Theater © 2021, Gideon Rothmann
Lecture hall of the Tieranatomisches Theater © 2021, Gideon Rothmann

Historical objects from the museum’s collection shown in the installation and their digital copies, which are scans from the museum’s CT lab and a 3D project of the Mediasphere For Nature, are narratively and artistically expanded and interconnected by the VR animation. In one animation scene, featuring one such CT scan of a honey bee, visitors take on the perspective of the animal. In another chapter of the VR work, however, they  become witness to an unusual interaction between the scans of a Dung beetle and a Hercules beetle, brought to life in yet another surreal setting.

 Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart
Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart

Such changes of perspective dissolve the linearity of the encyclopaedic book and the strictly structured theatre architecture. As a result, the hierarchical concept of early modern to modern biological systems of order with man at the top of “creation” can be inverted. In this sense, it requires a questioning of anthropocentric ways of thinking in order to generate new models of knowledge. These are models that can enable us to meet challenges such as the decline of biodiversity in society as a whole.

The VR animation is being developed in cooperation with the company Ikonospace , represented by founder Joris Demnard and 3D designer Manuel Farre. The accompanying soundtrack is composed by Daniel Benyamin .

A portrait of Marlene Bart by Gideon Rothmann, Theater and Virtual Reality Animations, 2022

Based on the ideological and historical connections between the Berlin institutions, newly conceived guided tours will be offered within the framework of the exhibition, which will take visitors both into the Tieranatomisches Theater and into areas of the Museum für Naturkunde that are otherwise not open to the public. These tours are closely related to Bart’s artistic approach, in which she reflects upon the handling of digitized collection materials. The Museum für Naturkunde welcomes and supports this artistic approach to the digitized material, as the project’s creative and original engagement with the collection’s data extends beyond conventional spheres of research.

Furthermore, Bart’s alternative approach to the objects creates the incentive to formulate further critical questions about their colonial origin, preservation and presentation.

Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart
Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart

 Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart
Still, Theatrum Radix, Virtual Reality Animation, © 2022, Marlene Bart

The project illustrates the relevance of a dialogue between art and natural history through cooperation with the Tieranatomisches Theater, a stage for experimental forms of presentation, and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, which is currently carrying out extensive digitization projects and digitally discovering and developing its entire collection.

In the coming months, the virtual narratives of the seven chapters of “Theatrum Radix” will be finalized. The selection for the physical objects in the presentation in the Tieranatomisches Theater will also be made through an interdisciplinary exploration of the MfN’s holdings and discussions with curators and taxidermists. An essential part of the artistic conception of the project is the examination of the background of the digitized objects and their relation to the museum’s sub-collections.

Artistic direction: Marlene Bart , artist, Bauhaus University Weimar

Project management: Katharina Serrano Otto, artist and curator, University of Fine Arts Hamburg