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Swissnex China & UZH

Anthropocentric Arrogance

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai presents the immersive exhibition "Mirror of Nature: Biodiversity through the Lens of Technology and Art" at its pavilion in People's Park. Organized by the UZH in collaboration with Swissnex in China, the exhibition is a transdisciplinary exploration of global biodiversity loss through art and science.
Nafisa Umar & Lucia Salomé Gränicher


The Mirror of Nature exhibition reflects the diversity of species worldwide.

The concept of the exhibition, entitled "Mirror of Nature (万物之镜 )", is borrowed from ancient Chinese philosophy. In his writings, the Daoist philosopher and poet Zhuangzi discusses the mirror of heaven and earth, the reflection of all things. This philosophical stance counters anthropocentric arrogance with a holistic perspective that respects the inherent nature of the world. With this attitude, the exhibition "Mirror of Nature" brought together ecologists and geographers with Chinese and European artists to create a multi-perspective prism.

Four thought-provoking works

At the heart of the Mirror of Nature exhibition is video data from ecologists at the University of Zurich and their research partners around the world. This data was collected using camera traps in 14 different biodiversity hotspots around the world. This scientific research material is collaged into a film that alternates between days and seasons, revealing the shy animal inhabitants of these biotopes. Sophie Hengartner, Alexandra Kaufmann, Helena Klein, Andi A. Müller and Kerstin Zemp complement the videos of the (still) living animals with animated illustrations of species that have already become extinct – a stark reminder of the responsibility we all bear.

The work "Fairy Mound" by the Chinese artist Zhu Yunan also reminds us of the former existence of extinct animals. Haptic felt works depict fragments of the fur patterns of these extinct animals. Here you can touch them - but only the memory remains.

The intimate encounter is enhanced by the installation "Natural Images Massage", developed in collaboration between Claudia Röösli and Jochem Braakhekke from the Department of Geography at UZH and the Chinese artist Han Bo. The installation invites visitors to lie down on a massage bed and offers a "view from God's perspective": satellite time lapses show the progressive destruction of biodiverse habitats with alarming clarity.

The exterior of the pavilion was also used. Passers-by lingered in front of the pavilion to watch the video installation "Wiping Out" by Swiss artist Karoline Schreiber. Using a broom, the artist paints extinct species on the screen and then erases them - an artistic reflection on the destructive impact of humans on the planet's biodiversity.

Fostering international collaboration

UZH is a world leader in the field of ecology (5th in the world) – excellent research, international cooperation and public engagement are fundamental to this. With the support of Swissnex in China, the UZH has been able to further expand its broad network in this field. In particular with Dr Li Bicheng from the Shanghai Natural History Museum, who researches biodiversity in the Tianma Mountain Forest Park in Shanghai and was involved in the exhibition.

Art x Science projects in the field of ecology are a promising basis for international cooperation, especially with China, and for bringing science into dialogue with other experts and the general public. The research being carried out at the University of Zurich and internationally is promising, and yet environmental protection can only be achieved together. This is precisely why the Art x Science Office's mediation approach and the realisation of projects such as "Mirror of Nature" are so important. But as promising as the research is, environmental protection can only succeed through international cooperation - especially with China.

International headlines

Thanks to the support of Swissnex in China, the Museum of Contemporary Art, a highly renowned exhibition partner in a central location right next to Shanghai's central park, was obtained. Due to its easy accessibility, free admission and central location, "Mirror of Nature" proved to be a well-attended exhibition that also attracted media attention in China. Nine newspapers, science and lifestyle magazines covered the exhibition. For example, Forbes China wrote: An exciting crossover between art and science, "Mirror of Nature: Biodiversity from the Perspective of Science and Art" explores the many ways in which scientific research can be effectively communicated to the public through the medium of art.

The exhibition "Mirror of Nature. Biodiversity through the Lens of Technology and Art" is a cooperation between the University of Zurich, Swissnex in China and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai. (15 December 2023 - 15 January 2024)

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