Dr Bergit Arends

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

I am a curator of contemporary art, museum professional, and academic.

I create and study interdisciplinary curatorial and artistic processes with a focus on environment, natural history collections, and visual art. My teaching and research explore art and exhibition histories, visual culture, and curating from the twentieth century to the present.

Currently I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate Lecturer. I started the fellowship at University of Bristol in in the History of Art department and at the Centre for Environmental Humanities in 2019, before transferring to the 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art in September 2021.

My research project is entitled ‘Routes into the Anthropocene: an interpretative method for 50 years of art and environment artworks, 1970 to 2020’. The Anthropocene proposition seeks to describe histories and consequences of human interventions into the natural world. Despite the critiques of the Anthropocene – notably in reference to western European world-making and its lack of differential responsibilities, as implied in imperialism, capitalism, racism, and their effects – the concept signals a shift in thinking through human-environment relations.

I focus on contemporary artists’ positions in dialogue with other disciplines and cultures, interrogating migration as productive principle for the co-existence of nature and humans. Through contemporary artists’ works I investigate nature as cultural practice that speaks not only to multiple readings and areas of expertise, but that extends into questions of coloniality, environmental care and just sustainability.

Part of my research is the preparation of the monograph Photography, Ecology and Historical Change in the Anthropocene: Activating Archives to be published with Routledge later this year as part of the series Photography, Place, Environment (series editor: Prof Liz Wells).

The book connects photography, archives, ecology, and historical change, and critically applies the Anthropocene as framework to the in-depth study of artists’ projects. It discards single modes of seeing environmental transformations in favour of a multiple and de-centred environmental imagination.

The study not only makes available original research into newly discovered archives, but also shows how this research is manifest in exhibition formats. I present international, transhistorical projects by contemporary visual artists who use archives together with photography as documentary and performative media for the comparative study of environments and places.

My thesis Contemporary Art, Archives and Environmental Change in the Age of the Anthropocene (2017) resulted among other in the award-winning publication Chrystel Lebas. Field Studies: Walking Through Landscapes and Archives (Fw:Books, 2018; Kraszna-Krausz Foundation Best Photography Book 2018). I curated many contemporary art projects for the natural history museums in London (2005–2013), including Ҳá貹Dz (2012–2013); After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions (2009); Lucy + Jorge Orta: Amazonia; Mark Dion: Systema Metropolis (2007); The Ship: The Art of Climate Change (2006); Tania Kovats TREE (2009), as well as in Berlin, including Elizabeth Price BERLINWAL (Kunst/Natur, Braus, 2019).

I have developed multi-disciplinary research capacity within museums in the Research Department at Science Museum Group and in the Collection Care Research Department at Tate.


Studies

I was doctoral Reid Scholar in the departments of Geography and Drama, Theatre & Dance at Royal Holloway, University of London. I hold an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art and studied Conservation of works of art on paper at Camberwell College of Arts, both in London.


Selected recent publications

Arends, B. (2024). Photography, ecology and historical change in the Anthropocene: activating archives, London: Routledge (forthcoming)

Arends, B. (2024). Seeing the Anthropocene through Montage: John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea and Elizabeth Price’s BERLINWAL, Environmental Humanities (forthcoming).

Arends B. (2022). Making plants mobile. Transports of Delight exhibition, Danielle Arnaud Gallery.

Sturm U., Heyne E., Hermann E., Arends B., . . . Wagner S. (2022). Anthropocenic objects. Collecting practices for the age of humans. Research Ideas and Outcomes 8:e89446.

Arends, B. (2021). Unequal Earth: contemporary artists’ practices and environmental ideas in modernity. Ronald Grätz and Maike Weiβpflug (Eds), NaturKultur. Göttingen: Steidl.

Arends, B. (2020). Walking through Ge(ssenwiese). In Cassandra Edlefsen Lash (Ed.), Susanne Kriemann, Ge(ssenwiese) K(anigsberg). Library for radioactive afterlife (pp. 34–66). Leipzig: Spector Books.

Arends, B. (2020). Plants in the urban night. In M. Gandy & S. Jasper (Eds.), The botanical city (pp. 139-145). Berlin: Jovis.

Arends, B. (2020). Decolonising natural history museums through contemporary art. In C. Rossi-Linnemann & G. de Martini (Eds.), Art in science museums. Towards a post-disciplinary approach (pp. 213–223). London: Routledge.

Arends, B. (2019). Animal acts. In B. Scherer, O. von Schubert and S. Aue (Eds.), Wörterbuch der Gegenwart, Berlin: Matthes & Seitz.

Arends, B. (2019). Courtyard 3: a sensuous and fantastical journey. In A. Hermannstädter (Ed.), Art/Nature. Interventions at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (pp. 172–177), Berlin: Braus.

Arends, B. (2018). A cohort of trees, photographs, scientists, an artist and a curator: the collaborative study of environmental change, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 43(1), 24–39, DOI: 10.1080/03080188.2018.1436227


Selected recent presentations and public engagements

‘On montage and repair: “Cumulative destructions and new beginnings”’, University of East Anglia, Norwich (2021).

Keynote lecture ‘Visualising the Anthropocene through montage’, Bauhaus Dessau (2020).

‘Activating photographic collections in natural history museums: Chrystel Lebas and Klara Hobza’, Valand Academy, Gothenburg (2020).

‘Empire and Ecology: activations by contemporary artists of collections at the Natural History Museum in London’, Paul Mellon Centre, London (2020).

‘Curating the object in the Anthropocene’, University of Birmingham and Oxford University Museum of Natural History (2020).

In conversation with Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, House of World Cultures, Berlin (2018).

‘Photographing the landscapes of the Anthropocene: Nguyen The Tuc’s Kohle unter Magdeborn, c. 1976’, London Group of Historical Geographers (2018).


Research interests

  • Anthropocene narratives and alternative propositions as interpretative methodologies for works of art.
  • Politics of natural sciences collections and collecting practices.
  • Montage as epistemic structure for engagements with and representations of environments.
  • Transhistorical approaches in artistic and curatorial practices.
  • Re-performances of archives and collections.

Citations