Trees of Life Ausstellung

Special exhibition

Trees of Life

Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet (Frankfurter Kunstverein)

10. October 2019 until 19. January 2020
Extended until 16. February 2020

From October 10, 2019 to February 16, 2020, the Frankfurter Kunstverein in cooperation with the Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt is presenting the exhibition “Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet” – an interdisciplinary exhibition project that takes a look at a historically grown, anthropocentric world view towards a systemic understanding of man as part of the evolutionary process.

For the exhibition, contemporary artists produce works and spatial installations and place them in a content-related dialogue with scientific exhibits from the collections of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum. The exhibition project is accompanied by panel discussions, in which writers, scientists, philosophers, economists, and others discuss, explain and explore the thematic spectrum.

The exhibition will cover the entire area of the Frankfurter Kunstverein. The artists Sonja Bäumel (Austria, lives and works in Amsterdam), Edgar Honetschläger (Austria, lives and works in Vienna, Rome and Tokyo), Dominique Koch (Switzerland, lives and works in Basel and Paris) and the artist collective Studio Drift were invited (Netherlands, live and work in Amsterdam). A separate room is dedicated to each participant.

The exhibition is curated by Franziska Nori (director of the Frankfurter Kunstverein) in collaboration with Philipe Havlik (scientific advisor from the Central Museum Development staff of the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research). The exhibition was created after several years of preparation, planning and numerous discussions between Volker Mosbrugger (General Director Senckenberg Society for Natural Research and Director of the Senckenberg Natural History Museum) and Franziska Nori. During this time, the following question always came up: How can one translate factual knowledge from the dimension of numerical abstraction into a perceived reality? The idea of the exhibition spawned the assumption that art and science together have the ability to experience expanded forms of knowledge in a different way than previously known.

Trees of Life Ausstellung
Edgar Honetschläger, exhibition view “GoBugsGo” and systematic collection of prepared beetles, 2019, on loan by Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung
Trees of Life Ausstellung
Sonja Bäumel, „Expanded Self II“, 2015/2019, exhibition view Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019
Trees of Life Ausstellung
Sonja Bäumel, exhibition view Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019
Trees of Life Ausstellung
Frankfurter Kunstverein Studio Drift, „Materialism”, 2019, exhibition view Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019


from Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Volker Mosbrugger

A cooperation project between the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and the Frankfurter Kunstverein – New Paths between Science and Art

Never before has the experienceable world changed so quickly as it does today. The “great acceleration”—i.e., the exponentially increasing use of our resources—is a reality and distinguishes the anthropocene with all its positive and negative effects. Never before have so many people prospered, and never before has nature and our environment suffered so much. Nature has become a limiting resource—so much so that the number of people displaced by environmental changes already exceeds that of those displaced by war.

Humanity must thus recalibrate its relationship and approach to nature in order to develop a more sustainable, future-oriented way of using natural resources. This is hardly a trivial task, and it requires a comprehensive understanding of the networked processes taking place in the human-earth system. Does science hold the keys to saving our world? Should science teach us how important nature actually is to us and how we should deal with it? Should politics simply implement these findings?

Unfortunately, the situation is more complex. On one hand, science does not deliver truths, but rather hypotheses. It always contains an element of doubt and thus finds itself at odds with the growing “intolerance of ambiguity” (Thomas Bauer) in contemporary society, which demonstrates an increasing preference for simple truths, fake news, and populism. According to evolutionary epistemology, there are also evolutionarily determined limits to human knowledge: our brain developed as a product of mutation and selection, and thus is only capable of generating “human knowledge,” much in the same way that a blackbird’s brain is only capable of producing “blackbird knowledge.”

Trees of Life Ausstellung
The Meteorit Horace. Discovery year 1940

On the other hand, scientific knowledge and hypotheses do not necessarily produce concrete transformations in our attitudes and actions. The path from knowledge to action is much longer, as the lack of clear results from the ongoing global climate negotiations initiated in 1992 most clearly demonstrates. If we wish to effect a transformation in attitudes and actions, the urgency of this change should not only be understood intellectually. It must be internalized on the level of emotions and be deeply emotionally desired.

The goal of the cooperation between the Senckenberg Museum and the Frankfurter Kunstverein is to use a novel way of bringing together art and science in order to present the audience with new perspectives and narratives about selected exhibits at both institutions. Both institutions have contributed their respective competences toward achieving this goal.

The heart of this cooperation is the continuously changing, yet constantly conflicted and ambivalent relationship between humans and nature, with all its positive and negative consequences. The interventions in both institutions conceived especially for this project enable an expansion or disruption of previous patterns of perception and thus entangle the two institutional fields. Scientific approaches can thus be experienced emotionally, and new spaces of experience and thought can be opened up.

Ultimately, I hope that this collaboration will promote our sensitization to the unique challenges of the anthropocene.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Volker Mosbrugger
General Director Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung