— Cultural Sources of Newness

Newness emerges in unexpected places


Dinosaurs waiting for newness--or the End of the World

Dinosaurs waiting for newness–or the End of the World

A museum with dinosaurs is not where one would necessarily expect to find newness.


Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, still pockmarked by war damage

Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, still pockmarked by war damage


But this is precisely where it is in the making right now in Berlin. The Museum für Naturkunde and the German Federal Culture Foundation have launched a four-year artistic intervention program with international artists. The program is very ambitious: It

“aims to experimentally transcend the communicative barriers between the artistic domain and that of the natural history museum, in order to open up fresh perspectives both on nature and on museum culture, to shed new light on scientific objects, and to change the way we view natural history museums in general.” 

To support the museum’s learning process, the program is being accompanied by two complementary external research teams: the WZB team is focusing on the experience and effects from the point of view of the employees, project owners and artists, and will bring a comparative perspective from cases in France, Germany Spain, Sweden. The team from Lernkultur, Institut für Bildungsforschung und Evaluation  is undertaking a formative evaluation that will include the perspectives of visitors to the museum, and will use art to communicate its findings and recommendations.

Project leader Anita Hermannstädter with Lernkultur team

Project leader Anita Hermannstädter with Lernkultur team

Three projects are already underway, and will be opened to the public this month (Thursday August 27, 19:30). The artists have taken different approaches to connecting with the museum: one has created the  first recording of fish voices in the animal sound archive of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, a team of two artists has written poetry and drawn illustrations inspired by engaging with the museum’s extraordinary zoological collection to explore “the origin of the senses”; and another has chosen to address the theme of “The End of the World” with an ephemeral performance. The exhibits are dispersed throughout the museum in spaces the artists found particularly resonant, including a hall that is usually closed to the public.


Life in liquid environments

Sound art site

The project, which is embedded in an ongoing change process at the museum (and is happening at the same time as major construction work on the building), has already stimulated conversations among employees, some critical, some excited. Those who have interacted with the artists (including participating in the expedition to record the mating sounds of cod in the arctic) and with their work (for example, listening to poems recited among the enormous bird collection) are visibly moved by the surprisingly intense sensory experience that has already triggered new ways of seeing the collection and appreciating their own senses.

How will the employees and the public respond to the unusual art works on opening night and in the weeks ahead? Will they feel provoked? Delighted? Confused? What kinds of conversations/controversies will the interactions with the sights and sounds introduced by the artists into the space spark? And what traces will remain in the way people see (and hear) the collection?

Three more sets of projects will follow in the coming years, offering multiple learning opportunities not just in Berlin–also for museums in other cities around the world.