Susanne Schmitt & Cornelia Ertl
The well-balanced Shop Window
When the inhabitants of the North Atlantic cities began to buy the first »Wardian cases« for their living rooms in the mid-19th century, they became pioneers in spreading an astonishing insight: aquatic ecosystems must be in a chemical and biological equilibrium to survive. This knowledge, which we take for granted today, was new and decisive for the development of ecology as a scientific discipline. It did not take long for the underlying principle, the hydrological cycle, to be applied to aquariums as we know them today: closed ecosystems in which all actors have their important place and are connected by material cycles. Suddenly, underwater worlds, hitherto eerie places in the public imagination, known only from gruesome stories and drawings, spilled over into the cities: they shifted ecological ideas and occupied a complex space between science education and entertainment with undertones that oscillated between respectful awe and extractivist business acumen. Aquarium keeping became a global delusion, a »mania«. Aquariums became boundary objects, bringing together different social groups under the umbrella of a common scientific and aesthetic fascination.
»The well-balanced Shop Window« was part of the room installation Haptic Hortus, which previously occupied a nail salon and traced traces of contact between species in underwater pools and water lily gardens. At ETF! the work poses new questions about »domestication« – which is intentionally »misunderstood« not as a purely genetic process, but as a way of material and logistical traversing places considered »human« or »more than human« . The video, shot at the Botanic Garden Berlin, draws attention to the humble and curious origins of a paradigm shift we now take for granted – the living rooms of the nineteenth century. Also on display is the work »Two Sensoria«, which takes up the work of the water gardeners in the Victoriahaus of the Botanic Garden Berlin – another facet of care cycles and interdependence in closed systems. The text contribution by Cornelia Ertl deals with the non/availability and wilfulness of vegetal life. »Victoria amazonica« explores the imposing nature and the fragility of the giant water lily and examines possibilities and limitations of artificial environments for planty creatures.