Helen Arfvidsson talks about … Connectedness, consumption and climate change: the exhibition ‘Human nature’ at the National Museums of World Culture in Sweden

Today’s Guest Post is by Helen Arfvidsson, curator of global issues at the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden.

This month we are highlighting articles from a special issue on ‘Museums and Climate Action’ published as Volume 35, Issue #6 of the journal Museum Management and Curatorship. Many thanks to both the Journal and the authors for allowing free access to this work. A link to the article by Arfvidsson and Ann Follin follows.

Covering themes such as connectedness, planetary boundaries; mass extinction; system change; living with things; sustainable practices; and emotional landscapes – the exhibition Human Nature explicitly encourages awareness and action. The exhibition is produced by the National Museums of World Culture in Sweden and each theme combines objects from our collection with current research, contemporary art, and activist initiatives.

When walking into the exhibition you enter a shopping mall-like setting.

CC: BY Beatrice Törnros/Human Nature Exhibition /National Museums of World Culture, Sweden

You are greeted by neon lights and stark messages of mass consumption to provoke an initial emotional reaction of despair. Crisscrossing through the shopping mall labyrinth, cracks start to appear in the walls – both literally and figuratively. The initial feeling of despair, is in the main part of the exhibition juxtaposed by dim lighting and a soothing sound.

CC: BY Beatrice Törnros/Human Nature Exhibition /National Museums of World Culture, Sweden

Alluding to how everything in nature and society is connected this design intends to resemble a living, breathing organism. The tool of juxtaposition is used throughout the exhibition to challenge the visitor to engage with, and be provoked by, the themes and content. The overall aim is to ask difficult questions without providing simplistic answers.

The exhibition was first developed at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden, where it was on display between February 2019 and March 2020 when it unfortunately had to close early due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the early autumn of 2020, the exhibition reopened at another one of the Swedish National Museums of World Culture, the Museum of Ethnography, in Stockholm. Unfortunately, also this exhibition had to temporarily close in November 2020 and it is still unknown when it can reopen.

The article, Connectedness, consumption and climate change: the exhibition human nature, takes you through the Gothenburg version of Human Nature and unpacks the themes guiding the exhibition. Learning from these experiences, the Stockholm version has made a number of tweaks to both its content and design.

The pop-up exhibition

Alongside the Gothenburg exhibition, a mobile pop-up exhibition was additionally developed. The aim of the pop-up was to reach new audiences and to visit areas in the city of Gothenburg where the population is less likely to visit the museum.

CC: BY Beatrice Törnros/Human Nature Exhibition /National Museums of World Culture, Sweden

The pop-up toured the city of Gothenburg throughout 2019 and helped make the main exhibition as well as the themes more visible and accessible. 

CC: BY Beatrice Törnros/Human Nature Exhibition /National Museums of World Culture, Sweden

And digital learning resources

To reach secondary school students, a digital learning resource has also been developed – Human Nature School, where students and teachers can find inspiration to discuss sustainability through the themes in the exhibition.

http://humannatureskola.se/

Not least during the pandemic, when many Swedish secondary school students are studying from home, the digital resource has become a much appreciated tool for learning.

ARTICLE ABSTRACT

The exhibition Human Nature, produced by the National Museums of World Culture in Sweden, addresses the concepts of mass consumption, climate change and the human impact on nature. Covering themes such as connectedness, planetary boundaries; mass extinction; system change; living with things; sustainable practices; and emotional landscapes – the exhibition explicitly encourages awareness and action, while navigating on the spectrum from despair to hope. Each theme is developed in collaboration with a variety of partners and the result is an exhibition that combines objects from the museum collection with current research, contemporary art, and activist initiatives. This article unpacks the inspirations, accomplishments and challenges generated by the exhibition, with the aim of providing a case study on how to inspire visitors to take action and change their approach to consumption and climate change.

Read more here.


Helen Arfvidsson is a curator of global issues at the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the Open University, UK. Her research interests span the fields of international relations, critical security studies, urban politics and critical museum studies.

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