de| en| es  

Translating - between the manifold languages of science, multiple perceptions of reality, diverse concepts of value and different forms of memory. How can we all understand each other? How can we translate, compare, communicate and archive our ever evolving fields of knowledge? What approaches would help us build bridges of understanding? You want to be the PROJECT OF THE MONTH? See how it works! >>


JOIN THE DIALOGUE - every four months the section under the heading "translating" presents a new topic or project. Previous topics and projects can be found in the ARCHIVE. >> You want to comment upon or challenge the TOPIC | PROJECT OF THE MONTH? Then visit our RESEARCH ARTS Dialogue Blog. >>


Generating and exhibiting "scientific objects": From the „Cabinets of Curiosity“ to the Research Museums



Mark Dion's "Xylotheque (Wood Library)", Ottoneum, Museum of Natural History Kassel. documenta 13, 2012. (cc Stella Veciana)






Presentation of the "Federal-State Key Issues Paper on the research museums of the Leibniz Association", Museum of Natural History Berlin, 12th of December 2012.
(cc Stella Veciana)

Generating and exhibiting "scientific objects": From the „Cabinets of Curiosity“ to the Research Museums

The "Xylotheque" (Wood Library) by Carl Schildbach dates from the 18th Century, and is located in the Kassel Natural History Museum. It consists of 530 "books". Each book is made from the wood of a native tree species. The bark of the trees is used for the spines, and the plant parts, dried or reproduced in wax, are "exhibited" in the interior of the books.

Joachim Heinrich Campe, who was a contemporary of Schildbach, gives an interesting description of him: "This to me remarkable man has neither education nor scholarly knowledge of any kind, and yet he has acquired skills and knowledge in natural history and the theory of nature by his own diligence and without any aid, that would bring honour to any scholar. He is a born artist, but as far as I know – he has never learned art from others, nor worked professionally. Everything his vivid imagination shows to him, he is able to represent artistically." According to this source, this is not a natural history scholar, but an interested self-taught man with artistic skills, who has found his way into the "ivory tower" of a scientific museum. What prerequisites and legitimacy are required of citizens without academic title, for them to be accepted as citizen scientists capable of generating and publishing their findings?

In 2012, at the documenta 13, Mark Dion (*1961, New Bedford, Mass.. USA) presents Schildbachs’ “Wood Library” within a hexagonal oak cabinet. By using oak as his material he refers to the ecological urban intervention "7000 Oaks" by Beuys, which was presented during documenta 7 and 8 (1982 - 1987). Furthermore, the cabinet as the form of presentation refers to the cabinet of curiosities, the historical antecedent of the natural history museum. With this cabinet, Dion presents the research object "tree" in a new light. He also adds a further six books from other continents to the collection. With his project, Dion questions the classification systems of science museum collections. What kind of scientific classification systems, models of archiving, and presentation architectures are needed for a contemporary participative science communication? How can we all take part in shaping to our collective memory?

The cabinet of curiosities as "accumulated collections of scientific objects", in the 19th Century develops into the systematized knowledge archives of natural history collections with increasing scientific claim. Now, at the beginning of the 21st Century, the model of the "research museum" is being discussed. On the 12th of December 2012, in the Natural History Museum Berlin, a parliamentary evening on the theme "Museums as bridges from research to education" was organized. The director of the museum, Dr. Johannes Vogel, presented jointly with Thomas Rachel (Parliamentary State Secretary BMBF), Dr. Karl-Ulrich Mayer (President of Leibniz-Gemeinschaft), Dr. Volker Rodekamp (President of German Museums Association) und Dr. Wiebke Ahrndt (Vice-president of German Museums Association) the "Federal-State Key Issues Paper on the research museums of the Leibniz Association (WGL)”. It explains the science policy framework for future scientific work in the museums of the WGL, and how it will contribute "to strengthen Germany as a centre for education and science”. The following are considered the four most relevant areas of guidelines for the development of future fields of action for the research museums of the Leibniz Association:

  1. The Research Museums of the Leibniz Association are primary places of Science and Research
  2. Museum collections as research infrastructure for scientists from around the world.
  3. Museums as bridges from research to education.
  4. Interactions of different research areas and synergies between the research museums.

The third point relates to the areas of science communication, (specialized) knowledge transfer, knowledge dissemination, "critical dialogue" and consultancy regarding socially relevant issues. The following fields of activity were presented under this heading:

  1. The participation of research museums in the German program "science year"
  2. Public involvement of the research museums in the theme of "Innovation and Technology Foresight"
  3. The development of measures to attract young people and “educationally deprived strata of society“
  4. Linking the regional roots of research museums with regional educational initiatives
  5. The specific contribution of museums on "Research, Science and Technology as cultural heritage"
  6. Strengthening the sustainability of knowledge transfer: Long-term and wide availability of knowledge
  7. Trade-related knowledge transfer
  8. New forms of knowledge
  9. Permanent exhibitions as “windows to research”
  10. Research museums set their own topics for the work with public relations.

Dr. Volker Rodekamp, President of the German Museums Association, emphasized in his speech that Germany no longer needs (new) museums, but rather that the already existing (old) museums, need to become more modern, more efficient: "with standards that we develop on our own, with needs that we formulate ourselves, with criteria of excellence that make the scientific quality measurable, with an increasing significance that will give us more political weight, with a intermediation capable of moving people, with a target group knowledge that achieves a growing effect"... All these standards would, of course, need the appropriate funding and infrastructure.

What would a more “contemporary” scientific knowledge communication (in museums and art institutions) look like? How could the citizens be more actively involved in the curatorial work instead of just being analysed as target groups by market research agencies? The challenging task of "translating" between science and society also raises the question of participation within science and the art system: the question of the participation of formerly untrained "non-scholars", which we may now call "the experts of the everyday". What should the relevant guidelines and the future fields of activity of “research museums” look like? What claims do the RESEARCH ARTS community have towards a natural history museum, a research museum, or towards cultural institutions in general? What should the RESEARCH ARTS community demand of science policy?


stella veciana

Author: Dr. Stella Veciana - Studies in Experimental arts at the UdK University of Arts Berlin, Computer Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and Cultural Policy & Management at the University Barcelona. Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Barcelona and author for online master modules at the Postgraduate Institute of Madrid. PhD dissertation entiteled "Research arts: the interface between art, science and technology as a field of knowledge and action" at the University of Barcelona. more

THE ARCHIVE PROJECTS and THEMES of the area of activity "Translating" 2013



THE THEME OF THE MONTH (May/Aug 2013): "Re-valuing Archives". Collections of fieldwork as a breeding ground for the future”. Stella Veciana in conversation with Richard Schütz.

What does an ethnographical museum have in common with a museum of natural history? How does the methods and procedures used to examine the ‘scientific objects’ in their collections compare. The article examines scientific objects, such as stuffed animals, which have been taken out of the context of their historical archives. It also studies how ethnological artefacts, such as weapons, are liberated from the patina of their colonial past.
The trend to re-evaluating archives is illustrated by two examples. Firstly, by introducing the research of visual artist Richard Schütz. His work not only alters the meaning of artefacts from collections through visual storytelling, but also encourage us to envision their future. Secondly, the innovative concept of the exhibition "Object Atlas" of the Weltkulturen Museum / Frankfurt is presented, where innovative research methods have enabled artists and museum staff to take on new roles in their research relationship. Both approaches show how collections can further develop their potential to pioneer new views on the problems of the 21st century. (German version) more

January 2013

THE THEME OF THE MONTH (Jan/Apr 2013): Generating and exhibiting "scientific objects": From the „Cabinets of Curiosity“ to the Research Museums. Stella Veciana. At the documenta 13 Mark Dion puts the Schildbach Woodlibrary in a hexagonal oak cabinet presenting the research objects in a new light. By doing so he questions existing regulatory, collection and classification systems. This novel artistic-curatorial "presentation architecture" and "archiving model" is faced to a new science policy framework for Natural History Museums recently discussed in Berlin. more

cc v

imprint | contact