4A Lab Academy

Ecological Entanglements across Collections – Plant Lives and Beyond


Sound plaque (kei), Bronze with remains of gilding. bpk / Museum für Asiatische Kunst, SMB / Jürgen Liepe

The interdisciplinary Academy Ecological Entanglements across Collections – Plant Lives and Beyond builds on the ecocritical turn in the humanities and invites to collectively (re)think human entanglements with vegetal/non-human life – with and against the Berlin collections, with and against their meaning and manifestation as repositories for vegetal/non-human life.

 As much as plants have contributed to the making of human worlds, human intervention has also had a deep impact on vegetal ecosystems: the plant-human relationship is one of reciprocal interplay and mutual exchange, with humans existentially depending on plant life – with every breath. Recent studies have highlighted how these organisms, far from being passive receivers at the other end of the life spectrum, are endowed with active forms of sensory perception, can react, can move and have sex. For all these reasons, vegetal life constitutes a privileged field of investigation and knowledge production, both in terms of applied technologies, as well as of theoretical thinking. This new awareness calls for novel paradigms of historical and transhistorical inquiry, focusing on the wide range of interactions between humans and plants across time and space. In particular, there is a need for transdisciplinary and transregional approaches to the interactions of plant and human ecologies that can help to retrace the Anthropocene, and think beyond it. 

The presence and temporalities of vegetal life have had a strong impact on the shaping of anthropic landscapes and urbanization processes. Plants and crops are also entangled in extant political and economic structures – one need only think of the role of plantations in recent colonial history. Plants are cultural objects, as demonstrated by the recurrence of plant-based materials, imagery and metaphors across all artistic and creative domains, as well as in religious rituals. Beyond mere scientific taxonomy, aesthetic and artistic categories play a paramount role in the human perception, classification, destruction and appreciation of plant biodiversity.

We invite international and/or local researchers, museum and collection professionals, interested members of the public and students of Berlin universities to examine new ways of thinking about vegetal/non-human life forms, and their agency or impact on human beings and vice-versa, across the Berlin collections. The Academy explores the role of plant life in artistic and aesthetic practices, human knowledge production, and theoretical critical thinking across histories, communities and geographies. 

Discussions will take place in a series of formats such as panels, lectures, workshops, site visits and artistic formats at different venues, among them the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, Hamburger Bahnhof, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Musikinstrumenten-Museum, Museum für Fotografie as well as in the open. We intend to capture the synergies that arise from different transregional perspectives and different forms of knowledge. 
The Academy will include a live performance by radio artists Kate Donovan and Ella Finer, and a recital by renowned baroque harp player Margret Koell. 

The Academy will take place over five days, each focusing on selected topics, regions, as well as specific collections and perceived as independent, though connected units. Day one will open the discussions with a critical reassessment of environmental thought as inseparable from religious and political constellations, racial and colonial dominations, the arts, the history of science, and plant biology – reflected in Discourses, Imaginaries and Common Sense. Day two will focus on the critical appraisal of the colonial legacies in Environmentalism in Contemporary Art after 1970. Day three is dedicated to the nexus of Vegetability, Power and Resistance in and across Asia 1600-1850, as Paradise Drama. Here, we will discuss the making of gardens as religious, spiritual, political and power structures, opening perspectives that illuminate resilience. Day four will consider communication between vegetal/non-human life forms and Plants, Sensory Interactions and Language in Early Modern Europe, that will reflect on perceptions, the senses, sound, smell, music, and feelings in and through plant natures before Modernity. Day five will close the event by looking into Plant Photography, Coloniality and Art in and after the 1920s.

Among others with:

Giovanni Aloi (School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Sussan Babaie (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

Etienne Benson (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

Anna Blume (State University of New York)

Zachary Caple (Aarhus University)

Sria Chatterjee (Paul Mellon Centre London)

Kate Donovan (Researcher and Radio Artist, Berlin)

Ella Finer (Writer and Researcher, London)

Monica Gagliano (Southern Cross University)

Liliana Goméz (Universität Kassel)

Daniela Hacke (Freie Universität Berlin)

Stephan Kemperdick (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

Sunil Khilnani (King's India Institute, Ashoka University)

Mahroo Moosavi (4A_Lab)

Ulrike Meyer Stump (Zurich University of the Arts)

James Nisbet (UCI, Irvine)

Christoph Rauch (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin)

André Rottmann (Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt)

Peter J. Schneemann (Universität Bern)

Feng Schöneweiß (4A_Lab)

Parul Singh (4A_Lab)

Lea Viehweger (4A_Lab)

Stefan Weber (Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin)

Ulrike G. K. Wegst (Northeastern University)

Christopher Williams-Wynn (4A_Lab)

Rebecca Wolf (Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, Berlin)


The detailed program and further information will follow soon.


04 – 08 November 2024


Further information


This event will be documented photographically and/or recorded on video. Please let us know if you do not agree with the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz using images in which you might be recognizable for event documentation and public relation purposes (e.g. social media).


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