The HU’s IRI THESys Institute presents in the Humboldt Lab research projects from a connected world.
A multimedia map of the world is the focal point of the exhibition, a map so large that it can hardly be taken in at a single glance. The kinetic research wall onto which a view of the Earth turning on its axis is to be projected in the Humboldt Lab exhibition of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) is 35 metres wide by 6 metres high. It provides insights into research projects of the interdisciplinary HU IRI THESys Institute. From banana plantations in Laos, bogs in the Spreewald and grassland in Uruguay to natural disasters in Ghana, the map leads to places on which the Institute’s scientists are engaged in research. “We accompany them in the conception, implementation and evaluation of their research and present them and their staff to visitors to the Humboldt Forum,” says Dr Gorch Pieken, curator of the exhibition, which is co-designed by Berlin excellence clusters and Humboldt-Universität institutes and faculties.
The IRI THESys Institute, established in 2013, plays a central role in this process. IRI THESys stands for Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems. Six groups of researchers in geography, agricultural sciences, European ethnology, philosophy and economics are working on sustainability, climate change, land use and the decline in biodiversity.
How Can Cities Become Greener?
These central challenges of the Anthropocene, the age mainly influenced by humankind, are the main concerns of the HU’s exhibition at the Humboldt Forum. Information is concealed at different levels on the virtual map of the world. Cameras film the visitors and register the issues that particularly interest them.
In some research projects the focus is on local phenomena, in others it is on an overarching view of a connected world. The map of the world visualises by means of connecting lines and visual axes how the two are connected. Rural and urban structures are of equal interest. The geographer, biologist and ecologist Dr Ina Säumel deals under the heading Edible Cities with urban agriculture. It is a trend that can be seen in roof gardens or vertically greened surfaces, says Anne Dombrowski, science communicator at IRI THESys. “Central issues are: How can cities become greener? How can we become less dependent on the countryside? And what does urban agriculture mean for our attitude to life?”
“We Want to Democratise the Debate”
Projects of Professor Jonas Ø. Nielsen will also be on show in the exhibition. A professor in the HU’s Department of Geography and research lead at IRI THESys, he specialises in changes in global land use. Why do farmers grow bananas instead of rice or clear rainforest to grow palm oil plantations? Thse questions cannot only be answered at the local level, he says. “Changes in land use are often determined by factors, organisations, ideas and discourses elsewhere in the world.” Professor Nielsen and his team are investigating this decoupling of production and decision processes by means of “telecoupling” approach originally used in climate research. The concept assumes that there is a spatial distance between land use and decision makers – and that these spheres are connected over this distance. “Globalisation explains what happens on a small piece of land.”
“The exhibition will demonstrate these connections,” he says, stating an example. German pork production is influenced by demand in Asia. Production in Germany in turn affects soya farming in Argentina (the soya is fed to German pigs). What frequently goes unnoticed is so-called spillover effects, or repercussions in places outside of the immediate value chain. Organically produced pineapples from Costa Rica are a case in point. They are shipped on pallets made from Colombian rainforest timber. Factors such as these must be taken into account when assessing sustainable production, Professor Nielsen says. To exemplify global connectedness satellite films of global shipping are shown in the exhibition. “The shipping routes look like enormous ant trails, fascinating and frightening at the same time,” says Gorch Pieken.
Research findings are not just presented; the resulting normative issues must also be discussed, says Jonas Nielsen. “In what kind of a world do we want to live? How do we want to use our land? Which system do we need if we are to achieve that?” For many people, he says, the end of the world is easier to visualise than the end of capitalism. But science alone cannot decide which consequences should be drawn from the research findings. Society must be consulted, the professor says. “We want to democratise the debate.” An exhibition of this kind is a great platform for that, says Anne Dombrowski. The Institute wanted to make it clear that answers to these questions were urgently required. At the same time visitors were not be discouraged. It was, after all, a matter of extermination of species, deforestation and mass consumption. The greatest challenge, Jonas Nielsen says, is that of depicting the man-made destruction of the world. As individuals we can easily lose our way in global connections, but the exhibition should show that individuals really can do something. “We don’t just want to point a moralising index finger; we also want to tell tales of hope,” says Anne Dombrowski.
|Date:||24. August 2020|