Archetype and Transformation. Natural Models and the Paradox of Artistic Naturalness

The archive of the University of the Arts Berlin (UdK) contains, in the collection of Karl Blossfeldt, an extremely valuable stock of images of nature from the first third of the 20th century. Until 1930 Blossfeldt gave lessons on the topic »Modelling after living plants« within the former institution of the UdK. For his teaching, he developed a collection of pedagogical materials that included gypsum and bronze models, drawings, and photographs. This project addresses this collection, situating it historically and theoretically.

The artistic practice of drawing and painting »from nature« played a fundamental role in the creation of the concept of scientific objectivity, which negotiated diverse forms of visualisation. The epistemic shift from a holistic idea of natural research to the natural sciences, which emancipated themselves from a philosophical basis, resulted in a new view of flora. With this change, flora shed its association with feelings of longing. Representations of plants came instead to play an essential, constitutive role in a new paradigm of »nature realism«, in which images of vegetation were considered to offer supposedly unclouded access to reality. Along these lines, Blossfeldt's 1928 illustrated book Urformen der Kunst, in which he presented his photographs of plants, was understood as a conceptual counterpart to Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904). In contrast to Haeckel's images of »nature as an artist«, Blossfeldt concentrated on transmission and translation processes that transformed the bio-fact to the artefact, using natural models as the basis for artistic production. This project analyses the varied collection of materials that resulted from this process of ›translation‹ (including the material-practical methods of photographic enlargement, the modelling and direct life-casting of nature). On the basis of these visual and material objects, it examines the intricate set of relationships between the concept of the »archetype« (Urform) to social programs of »education« (Bildung) and artistic practises of »transformation« (Umbildung), which were central to Blossfeldt’s project. The main line of the project’s inquiry is the emergent conceptual relationship that can be traced in Blossfeldt’s work between the notions of natural form and art form as well as corresponding connections between the notions of the art of nature and natural art.

Blossfeldt’s pedagogical pictures and materials were specific types of didactic instruments, which have rarely been the object of academic inquiry in the German academia. This project examines the full scope of the Karl Blossfeldt Collection and contextualizes Blossfeldt’s methods and objects alongside other related bodies of work contained in the archive of the UdK, such as the rarely investigated photographs of nature taken by Ottomar Anschütz. The historical collection of such objects contained in the archive no longer serve a didactic or pedagogical function. Yet they introduce questions about the history of scientific objectivity, the special role of flora within this history as well as illuminating shifting understandings of the intertwined relationship between art and nature. The contemporary currency of these questions suggests new potentially vital pedagogical uses for these objects for contemporary art.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF): Vernetzen – Erschließen – Forschen. Allianz für universitäre Sammlungen 2017–2020
Head researcher(s): Judith Elisabeth Weiss
Partner(s): The Project is part of the collaborative research project »Bildvorlagen«, in cooperation with Universität der Künste and Münchner Stadtmuseum.


31 Jan 2018 – 01 Feb 2018

Bildvorlagen. Zwischen Ästhetik und Zweck

Archiv der UdK, Einsteinufer 43, 10587 Berlin / ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et.

read more
15 Sep 2017 · 5.30 pm

Judith Elisabeth Weiss: Vom Biofakt zum Artefakt. Karl Blossfeldts Pflanzenkunde

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle Wittenberg, Institutsbereich Geobotanik und Botanischer Garten, Am Kirchtor 1, 06108 Halle (Saale), Großer Hörsaal

read more