A transdisciplinary play in 3 acts
Monday, 23.6.2014, 9:00: A normal working day at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) began. But hold on-was it really a normal working day? Posters with the title “Biosphere n+1” showing a person with a yellow spacesuit were attached all over the Exner – Haus and the Schwackhöfer-Haus of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU). So what was going on there?
Intrigued people who followed the poster-trail learned at the info/registration desk that Biosphere n+1 was the title of an event taking place as cooperation between students of the Art & Science (A&S) master’s programme of the University of Applied Arts and the Doctoral School of Sustainable Development (dokNE) at BOKU. Biosphere 2, an experiment implemented in the 1990s that tried to build a closed, independent system served as starting point to develop a transdisciplinary play that enacted “biospherian” versions of sustainability.
As soon as people registered they also transformed into “biospherians” by putting a “Biosphere n+1” badge on their clothes. This and the detailed information material they got ensured that they were ready to dive into the matter.
At 10:00 the event started with an official welcome and introduction lecture. After a short insight into the concept of the doctoral school by Andreas Muhar, the head of dokNE, and a description of the “A&S”-program by Virgil Widrich (leading the A&S master’s program), Bernd Kräftner (senior lecturer at the University of Applied Arts) focused on the concept of “Biosphere 2” and the developed “Biosphere n+1” that was based on the considerations of a closed ecological system. The introduction was complemented by an interview with Martin Schönhart (expert on sustainable land use, BOKU) who reflected on “Models and the Real”. This interview was conducted by the sustainability expert Christian Münchner.
After this background information, the transdisciplinary play began. The participants had the choice between seven interactive modules that were divided into three acts:
This module was dealing with decision making in constructing a sustainable landscape. Participants cooperated in small groups building landscape-sculptures and attaching specific properties to the materials involved. The different created landscapes were evaluated regarding their degree of sustainability using mathematical models. The collaborative action reflected scientific as well as artistic decision making and gave an idea of how those different approaches cross-fertilize.
In the position of world leaders the participants had to deal with an extreme crisis and thereby reflect on the rationality of global decision making processes.
Scientific theses from dokNE-students were transformed into edible taste experiences. The participants could try different food and guess which PhD project it reflects.
In the frame of a citizen conference participants were asked to develop strategies to enhance climate protection in agriculture. They learned only in the end of the module that they had been part of an experiment aiming on finding out to which extent priming in the beginning can influence people’s behaviour.
Based on the exponential growth of scientific publishing and artwork productions the approach of emissions trading as a market-based approach to achieve reductions in CO2 emissions was applied to publishing and artistic works. The consequences of such a system for various stakeholder groups were explored.
In the roles of different stakeholders participants discussed and decided on the replacement of 50% of meat consumption for the City of Vienna with meat substitutes and alternatives. Scientific as well as artistic analyses were used to reflect upon this discussion regarding different aspects.
Ralo Mayer, an artist dealing with real and model worlds,artistically investigated the experiment “Biosphere 2” in the context of socio-political and technological global changes of the past decades.
Apart from these 7 modules the “biospherians” also had the chance to take a look at the artworks from the A&S students. The following artworks were exhibited:
A slide show took the audience on a trip through the diversity of Viennese indoor plant environments and showed that, without visiting a botanical garden, many different tropical and subtropical plants can be encountered in the city of Vienna.
With the help of a Viennese indoor plants pocket guide participants were also invited to explore the vegetation of the Schwackhöfer-Haus.
The intervention explored the roles of experts in society and questioned how the controversial nature of expertise in society influences decision-making processes and shapes our identities.
Participants were asked to reflect on their relationship to nature (Human-Nature Relationship/HNR) by staging different ceramic sculptures in a human-nature theatre and document this.
A reflection whether punishment for eco-sins makes us more conscious about our actions or lets us rather feel obligated to find excuses for our actions without substantially changing them.
The event was closed with a wrap-up by Andreas Muhar and Vice Rector Josef Glößl who described the cooperation between dokNE and A&S as “positive and valuable”.
From the 23rdto the 27th of June all artworks produced in the modules as well as installations designed by the A&S students were exhibited in the Schwackhöfer-Haus.
The event “Biosphere n+1” built also the frame for dokNE’s final advisory board meeting. In a poster session that took place before the official event the dokNE students presented their main findings to the Advisory Board. These posters were then also exhibited together with the artworks. In the afternoon a reflection on the role of the Advisory Board within dokNE, their perceptions on career options of the doctoral students as well as recommendations for a future doctoral school were discussed.