Exhibition about the beauty of nature: The art of animals

Migratory birds, ants and biodata should create art? The Frankfurter Kunstverein shows beautiful things from nature to counteract its destruction.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s “Pollinator Pathmaker: ARr77z-vQW8Bq8q6hgDHUmp” Photo: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg Ltd.; Courtesy: the artist

Shelves full of terrariums connected with glass tubes and filled with soil, leaves, branches and ferns. You have to look closely in the semi-darkness to notice that leaf cutter ants are scurrying around everywhere and gnawing on the leaves. That they chew these leaves into a mushy pulp, which in turn serves as a breeding ground on which the fungi grow, which the ant colony feeds on.

“Bending the Curve”: Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main, until March 3, 2024

The installation is currently on display at the Frankfurter Kunstverein, but it could also be shown in a zoo. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the installation actually comes from the Frankfurt Zoo, which was just as involved in organizing the exhibition “Bending the Curve – Knowledge, Action, (For) Care for Biodiversity” as the Frankfurt Senckenberg Nature Museum.

Collaboration between zoo and art association

The unusual collaboration between Franziska Nori from the art association and Katrin Böhning-Gaese, director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, does not show any – often gimmicky – “bio art”. The exhibition presents carefully selected exhibits from natural science and fine art under a concise thesis: In order to stop climate change, loss of biodiversity and environmental pollution and thus protect ecosystems, “positive narratives” are required.

And in fact, all of the exhibits shown have in common that they are about an alternative, resource-saving way of dealing with our environment. Whether this thesis is correct remains to be seen. But the exhibition works wonderfully even if you don’t agree with it, because you can simply view most of the exhibits as art, even without the superstructure or ecological reference.

What is hardly mentioned in the detailed wall texts is the fact that many of the exhibits from the natural sciences are strikingly similar to well-established art practices. Let’s take the “Movebank” from the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Biology presented in the exhibition, in which the movement data of wild animals is stored.

It is represented in the art association by a video installation in which the stored information about the routes of migratory birds and animal migrations is placed on a rotating globe using geo-mapping. The resulting network of lines is reminiscent of Paul Klee’s often-quoted sentence: “Drawing is the art of making lines walk.” Like this Just as Klee created complex image structures from many simple strokes, the animal movements draw complex, global patterns on the planet.

Formally and conceptually similar, biodata is also used in the video and virtual reality installation “MYRIAD. Where we connect” by Interactive Media Foundation and Filmtank from Italy is translated into white patterns on a black background that are reminiscent of the video installations by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau.

Ant buildings like small sculptures

Once you start looking at the exhibits as if they were pure works of art, the most amazing associations come to mind. For example, there are six aluminum casts of underground ant burrows by the American biologist Walter R. Tschinkel. Hanging from the ceiling, they look like small abstract sculptures that could have been inspired by Calder, Giacometti or Brâncuși.

The time-lapse footage of mushroom growth by the Italian artist Maurizio Montalti is reminiscent of stoner video art full of visual metamorphoses and transformations, such as those produced by Dan Sandin and Ed Emshwiller in the 1970s with the help of video synthesizers.

Fernando Laposse: Totomoxtle-scaled Photo: Fernando Laposse, Courtesy: the artist

And the ants from the Frankfurt Zoo who create their own kingdom in their terrarium habitat? If this isn’t a “social sculpture” in the sense of Joseph Beuys, i.e. a work created from the collaboration of many actors! Every animal is an artist.

In order to view the installation in this way, one must of course accept that ants can also be a society and have a genuine ant-like social aspect. And that is ultimately the aim of the exhibition: a shift in perspective from an “anthropocentric” point of view to a complete perspective that also includes the perspective of animals and plants.

Jean Harris

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