Roundup: Kollisionen »Disciplining Nature«

Collisions. A term of car crashes, of colliding forces, of a powerful exchange. Not a cheerful image and one that misses out on the moment of opportunity that a collision can provide. This moment is the focus of the UDK Kollisionen; a week of interdisciplinarity within which different disciplines, contrary ideas, and methods collide.

Our project, “Disciplining Nature. Ecosystem Services” was led by the artist and landscape planner Alexandra Toland and myself, and was attended by a diverse group of students from the UDK, including students of product design, jazz, fashion design, architecture, and GWK (Communication in Social and Economic Contexts). The students received a wide range of theoretical and practical inputs in the form of guest presentations, games, short case study reading assignments, and guided discussions to help them gain insight into the different disciplines and methods of the seminar topic.

Ecosystems we know but ecosystems services we tend to forget about: nature provides a whole lot of necessary services to us without which human societies would suffer. Bees pollinate plants that provide many food sources; plants act as natural air fresheners, climate regulators and dust filters; the soil filters water for us to drink. These services are inevitably linked to concepts of money and ownership, political power and cultural value.

The versatility and range of ecosystems we deal with was highlighted in a set of lectures.
Alex Tolandintroduced the topic of Ecosystem Services (ESS) to the group by presenting examples of how artists contribute to ecological understanding. She also presented her most recent sci-art research project, Dust Blooms, on the role of roadside flowers in filtering dust.  

We learned from Prof. Dr. Ulrich Szewzyk from the Dept. of Environmental Microbiology of the TU Berlin about the sheer amount of microorganisms that surround us. Water, soil and woods provide their natural habitat and here they have their own functions and microcosmic lives. Out of iron in the water they create stone that can be used as building material. They also deconstruct dead matter. And they are beautiful when highly magnified.

A different perspective on ecosystems was provided by Prof. Dr. Gerd Wessolek from the Dept. of Soil Protection of the TU Berlin. Soil is something we step on all the time and yet it’s almost invisible to us. Beyond providing food, fibres and fuel, it is a source of historic value for urban planning (with the ground under our feet being used by the city infrastructure of cables, pipes and wires) and of course for a whole ecosystem that’s essential to the basic functioning of our environment.

Last but not least we received insight into the politics of ecosystem services. Herbert Lohner from BUND Berlin linked scientific knowledge to how this knowledge is mirrored in politics, society and eventually in laws. Using the case study of the Berlin Senate for Urban Development’s Environmental Justice Map, he showed how the layers of different maps can be used to visualize Ecosystem Services as they relate to different demographic and social strata.

Bringing it back to the idea of “collision” I presented additional information on interdisciplinary work and approaches and Alex led a “Methods Carousel” in which students were able to share their own disciplinary expertise and methodological insights with each other.

Then it was time for the students to use the theoretical input and interdisciplinary inspiration and create their own reflections on ESS. The outputs were worked on during the next two days and the outcomes from the three sub-groups were quite astonishing. Check out the student collision projects, Egofix, HIVE MIND and Urban Gardening.

– Nina