Mirror of Nature: Reflections from the curators

As the poetic art-science exhibition, "Mirror of Nature," draws to a close, our Swiss and Chinese curators, Dr. Katharina Weikl and HAN Bo, take a moment to reflect on this journey into wildlife. They shared their experiences, delved into the visionary and interdisciplinary nature of the project, and explored new possibilities for collaboration.

“The research fields of Ecology and Biodiversity are central to the future of our planet and we have to approach the challenges globally and in collaboration between many disciplines. ‘Mirror of Nature’ has shown that the collaboration between art and science is a great starting point for reaching a broad public even on different continents.”

Sharings from Dr. Katharina Weikl, the Swiss curator, from Art x Science Office UZH


Exhibition and collaboration

Thanks to the support and collaboration of Swissnex in China, we were able to create the “Mirror of Nature” exhibition at the prestigious MoCA art institution, situated in Shanghai’s central park, the “People’s Square”. This opportunity arose from our initial partnership with Swissnex for the wildlife installation “Triggered by Motion.” Building on our successful collaboration and benefiting from Cissy Sun’s expertise as the head of art and science at Swissnex in China, we seized the chance to develop an entirely new exhibition for Shanghai.

During this collaboration, I had the opportunity to work with Han Bo, with whom I co-curated the exhibition. Han Bo is a well-known Chinese poet, artist and curator. It was not only extremely helpful to have a local project partner who is known and connected in the local art scene – but it was a great pleasure and inspiration to work together and gain new perspectives. I am so grateful that I could be part of a very kind and therefore quite productive trio with Sun Cissy and Han Bo. Even though it’s almost impossible to explain what you learned from other people, I’d say that I experienced the power of a silent smile, the transformative energy of calmness and the directness of poetry.

Regarding the project and exhibition itself, it involved not only researchers from the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies but also researchers from the Department of Geography, specifically Dr. Claudia Röösli and Jochem Braakhekke. Additionally, numerous artists from Switzerland and China joined forces for this collaborative project.


Outcome and basis for future development

The reception of “Mirror of Nature” has been overwhelmingly positive, with extensive media coverage and interest from various sources to showcase the exhibition in other locations. This response has motivated me to further develop the project, although the exact format is yet to be determined.

The research fields of Ecology and Biodiversity are central to the future of our planet and we have to approach the challenges globally and in collaboration between many disciplines. The University of Zurich is leading in this area (Nr. 5 in the Shanghai Global Ranking of Academic Subjects). The project has shown that the collaboration between art and science is a great starting point for reaching a broad public even on different continents.


Art x Science Walk&Talk

The Tianmashan Talk&Walk workshop brought together a group of scientists, artists and curators. They are all working on the intersection of art and science on the topic of ecology and biodiversity. Thanks to the excellent network of Swissnex in China, I had the chance to meet and exchange with experts in the art and science field, who work on similar topics.

The unusual workshop format on a walk was very convincing. Since it was raining quite naturally we gathered and shared umbrellas. Under this intimate protection of an umbrella, we shared half-baked ideas and also revealed the problems and difficulties we faced during our projects. While we were warming up again with hot tea, we heard that there was a common thread between the different umbrellas.


Beyond …

Experiencing the vibrant metropolis of Shanghai and feeling a strong interest in exchange and cooperation was very exciting. Beyond our main collaboration on the “Mirror of Nature”, I took the great opportunity to meet with visionary and dedicated experts from different fields. Cissy’s wide knowledge and network in the cultural scene in China were the key to meeting with the right people. Especially since China operates on different internet platforms than the Western world, it is almost impossible to find the right contacts through online research beforehand. Thanks to Cissy’s support I met the ideal project partner for a future project idea. The energy and dedication to push things forward in Shanghai is impressive. We took the opportunity to squeeze several meetings into a busy schedule to develop the project forward at a very efficient pace. And now we already have a business partner for the material sponsoring on board … I am excited to continue this very promising collaboration and tell you more about it, once it is developed a bit further. The whole trip broadened my horizons enormously. And I want to express my deep gratitude to Swissnex in China and its wonderful team.


Sharings from HAN Bo, Curator, Poet & Artist


The experience of curating the “Mirror of Nature” was incredibly interesting. Since the project initiator, Dr. Katharina Weikl, was in Zurich, Switzerland, all the meetings had to be conducted via video calls. Previously, I had been very reluctant to participate in video calls and almost never did, but fortunately, this mandatory tool, which has become so popular in times of pandemic, at least aided us in accomplishing our work.

Cissy, the Head of Art-Science at Swissnex in China, and Wenqian Sun, the Executive Director of MoCA, have been long-time friends of mine. However, this is my first time collaborating with Cissy, and I truly admire her calm and clear communication style, as well as her grounded approach to execution. These qualities have played a significant role in achieving positive outcomes for the “Mirror of Nature” exhibition.

Given that this exhibition has already taken various forms in other countries and considering the specific spatial constraints of the Chinese exhibition, I proposed a renaming and a completely different approach. Katharina immediately supported this proposal, and I drew inspiration from Zhuangzi to localize the exhibition and offer a fresh cultural perspective on technology and the universe. To bring this vision to life, I invited artist and designer ZHU Yunyan to collaborate with me. Yunyan redesigned the exhibition space and created felt artworks that responded to the digital reality. Additionally, Katharina invited a Swiss artist to reflect on extinct wildlife, once integral to our planet, through a warm and feminine lens.

In Katharina, I see the vision and qualities of a multidisciplinary international curator, particularly her curiosity, which has been a fundamental driving force behind humanity’s progress. Even during the “Mirror of Nature” exhibition, she was already exploring future possibilities for exhibition projects and collaborations in this unfamiliar land she had just ventured into.