The exhibition Natural Histories. Traces of the Political (September 23, 2017 through January 14, 2018) explores representations of nature in reference to social processes and historical events. The works on show undermine both ideas of nature as a realm disconnected from history and the fiction of an unchanging, natural concept of history. Looking at various themes, they illustrate the mutual interrelations between nature and history beyond all romantic idealization of either. On three exhibition levels, the presentation spans a period from the 1960s to the present. It shows that art that takes a critical view of contemporary issues and systems, that refers to colonialism and its consequences, to totalitarian ideologies and military conflicts, and also to social transformation brought about by political system change is still highly relevant today.
Natural Histories begins with neo-avant-garde works that include the dimension of a critique of history and society in their reflections on the conditions of artistic production and reception. Representatives of the next generation of artists make use of traditions in the critique of colonialism and also the neo-avant-garde’s critique of society and history, updating these for their own contemporary environments. Representations of nature are also features of works that address genocide in totalitarian systems and military conflicts. The exhibition presents further works that also deal with politically motivated violence, flight, or resistance.
External Projects by Christian Philipp Müller and Mark Dion Associated with the Exhibition
In Drei-Schwestern-Korridor Christian Philipp Müller explores the import of plants as an aspect of the appropriation of foreign culture and nature. His installation of vegetable plants and fruit trees of American origin was first created in 2006 for the monastery garden in Melk, where it has remained and been cultivated. For this exhibition, it will be restaged in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. Plants that are now seen to be at home in Europe, such as the potato, the melon, maize, runner beans, the pumpkin, tobacco, paprika, courgette, and tomatoes were once the basic means of subsistence for the indigenous population of what was called the “new world.” The European invaders first thought that some of these vegetables were decorative or poisonous plants, before they realized that they could be cultivated and eaten. The European mistrust, deprecation, and misuse of these plants is also a reflection of the invaders’ corresponding perception, evaluation, and treatment of indigenous peoples.
During the exhibition, Mark Dion is showing The Tar Museum in the nearby Vienna Natural History Museum. This work displays stuffed and tarred animals on transportation boxes, offering a picture of nature destroyed that also highlights a specific phenomenon of perception and repression. It is not only a critique of economics and ecological and environmental catastrophes that is at stake here, but also the fact that it is only the macabre black of the tar that makes us aware of death and the act of killing, and not the mere presentation of stuffed animals. Dion is especially interested in this aspect, as he raises our awareness of how we internalize and accept techniques in archiving and museum presentation that simulate life where death long reigns.