A feature by Maria Chotou
What do Berlin and Intelligence have in common? Τhe answer may be revealed in the essence of interdisciplinarity that inheres on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum.
Two exhibitions that are currently taking place at the Humboldt Forum, Berlin Global and After Nature, mark an encounter between culture and technology. The two are inextricably bound with the involvement of experts from various fields of science, artists and Berlin-based initiatives in both exhibitions. A cultural-scientific dialogue is fostered by the Stadtmuseum behind Berlin Global and the Cluster of Intelligence behind part of After Nature.
A Multiplicity of voices
In July of 2021, the Berlin Global exhibition opened its doors to visitors with seven diverse themes: revolution, free space, boundaries, entertainment, war, fashion and interconnection. “The exhibition Berlin Global combines an interdisciplinary representation of the city’s history and culture, but also offers a unique participatory experience of interacting with this history using multimedia technology,” says Karsten Grebe, press spokesperson for the Stadtmuseum Berlin. The Stadtmuseum Berlin has been in charge of the communication for the Berlin Global exhibition since its opening.
The exhibition embraces the fact that there is not just one ostensibly objective presentation of history, but rather many histories. A team of political scientists, historians, communication scientists, musicologists, and gender studies scholars have been working to achieve this goal.
On account of such involvements, visitors have the chance to come across aspects of the multifaceted Berlin, reflect and construct their own views through a participatory experience and interactive technologies. Visitors choose a path when going from one station to another. And at the end of the exhibition, they receive a summary of their input and decisions, enabling them to challenge further their critical view and recognise the multitude of diverse opinions from other visitors.
The possibilities of interactivity in the museum are so open-ended that their conceptualization and design are what make the experience special. Touch, feel, critique, and create, but, most importantly, be asked questions.
Grappling with colonialism
Going back now to the museum’s view, the heterogeneity of its contents can already be seen on its façade. A merge of modern architecture with baroque construction.
The new museum stands on the site of the demolished East German parliament building alongside Berlin’s Cathedral and has been dubbed one of the largest cultural developments in Europe in recent years. The Berlin palace was damaged during WWII. It was demolished and replaced by the Palace of the Republic, which housed the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
The decision to rebuild the baroque Berlin palace, which is now forming the Humboldt forum, has been undoubtedly a controversial topic. Inhabitants of Berlin have been debating about the reconstruction of a royal palace, which has associations with Prussia and the monarchy, and the Forum’s intention to host non-European cultural themes.
The Humboldt forum was built and its content, rather surprisingly, challenges and advocates a new way of acknowledgement and discussion around the colonial past.
“The Berlin Global exhibition seeks to engage critically with the history of Berlin and Germany. What underlines the whole concept is a critical view on the colonial structures of power in the present,” Karsten Grebe says.
In fact, there are plenty of examples in the exhibition that show gestures of openness and dialogue, but also recognition of the past. The exhibition opens up with an art piece by duo artists How & Nosm that depicts the history of European world views and exploitation since the early modern age. The topic of colonialism is also found in the station “Boundaries” and “War” where they address the invisibility of Germany’s colonial past in the country’s culture of remembrance and call upon political leaders and the public to take a new look at colonialism.
The performative work produced by contemporary artist Philip Kojo Metz called SORRY FOR NOTHING takes place in the “War” room and points out the German silence regarding the country’s colonial past. It is one of the main works at the exhibition that highlights this new stance of the forum to challenge the past.
From the exploration of Berlin’s society to what intelligence is
As we progress through the interactive wanderings of the Berlin Global exhibition and gather a sense of the museum from the outside, we are transported to a different room on the first floor. The After Nature exhibition room has a similar design with the rain of matrix and installations that challenge our sense of human existence. Large floodlights hang from the ceiling and hold glass boxes exposing all sorts of objects from history. The exhibition, however, begins with an emphasis on sustainability and a reference to the human mind. The Cluster of Intelligence in Berlin curated part of the After Nature exhibition and exhibited precious findings from their work.
“Members from different subject areas such as robotics, biology, and philosophy work together towards an interdisciplinary understanding of intelligence. The aim is to identify general principles of intelligence as well as technological applications that make use of these principles’’ says Prof. Dr Jens Krause, a scientist at Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries. Prof. Dr Krause’s research is part of the behavioural biology component of the Science of intelligence cluster.
A prominent part of the After Nature exhibition highlights our connection with the natural ecosystems. The exhibition starts with a massive installation of moving fishes, that just like humans, move around in swarms. Our collective actions and decisions have consequences for others. This is the power of collectivity.
The science of intelligence cluster is a joint cluster of excellence of the Technische Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. This interdisciplinary outlet focuses on research about collective intelligence and presents an experimental setting of RobFish at the After Nature exhibition.
One of the glass boxes mentioned above hosts the RobFish. Visitors of the exhibition come closer to a little robotic fish which is placed in a real-life simulation environment and through interactive technology tries out behaviours in a collective concept with other simulations of fishes.
The robotic fish is anticipating the behaviours of its conspecifics and the aim of the experiments is to use such insights for improving collective robotics.
Why collective intelligence matters
Studying how humans or animals process information and make decisions collectively can identify new principles based on which experts can address important problems in society. The study of anticipatory strategies and social responsiveness with AI models is at the core of current research by the cluster of intelligence regarding collective intelligence.
“Some of the mathematical models which are inspired by social decision making in animals were capable of providing algorithms for cancer diagnosis which are better than the human doctor,” says Prof. Dr Krause.
“Collective Intelligence is the ability of a group of animals or humans to make better decisions than a single individual could. An important prerequisite is that individuals independently gather information from their environment. This information is processed through social interaction and leads to the solution of cognitive problems that single individuals cannot solve in this way,” he continues.
The interdisciplinarity behind the exhibitions
The After Nature exhibition belongs to a part of the Humboldt Lab within the Humboldt forum, which aims to make science more accessible, bringing experimental work such as the RobFish closer to people. The Humboldt Lab is a great place to show visitors what goes on in the excellence cluster in Berlin and illustrate how interdisciplinarity, even in the most complex scientific fields, is necessary.
“The Humboldt Lab is a place for science communication and we look forward to creating more content in the future,” says Prof. Dr Krause
From Berlin Global to After Nature, it makes perfect sense to believe that all fields of life are interconnected. From culture to science and art to technology. The Humboldt Forum in Berlin at last is offering the space to experiment with those connections.
The city derives intelligence and intelligence derives the city.
If you want to learn more about the ongoing exhibitions, please click the links below:
All photographs were taken by Maria Chotou.