Extinction or Resurrection?

This LASER ZURICH will feature an artist and a scientist who have worked together for over five years, and will present their thoughts on this exciting and controversial topic. Anna-Maria Bauer (Zurich Artist) and Dennis Hansen (Scientist and Project leader of the Zoological Museum) will present the preliminary outcome of an expedition to Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, and discuss aspects of how they are currently working their way through their experiences and collection of data/materials to result in two joint exhibitions in Zurich/Rodrigues. The discussion will be moderated by Prof. Marille Hahne and Prof.Jill Scott.

Extinction or resurrection?

Rodrigues Island is a small volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, east of Mauritius, of which it is a territory. On this island the François Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve is home to fruit bats and giant tortoises. Isolated oceanic islands like this are one of the most recent places on Earth to be colonised by humans. After their arrival, humans rapidly caused the extinction of most large-bodied island animals, including the perhaps most famous icon of extinction, the Dodo, but also many species of giant tortoises. When large animals go extinct their ecosystems change dramatically. The empty forests become less dynamic, more homogenous, and house fewer species. On some of these islands, surviving giant tortoises from elsewhere are being introduced to ecologically replace the extinct ones, and thus resurrect the dynamics of the ecosystems. In a recent expedition Anna-Maria Bauer, a sculptor, Robin Wingrave, an Australian wildlife artist, and Dennis Hansen, a scientist-photographer, studied the giant tortoises and their ecosystem in one such ‘rewilding’ project, on the island of Rodrigues in the western Indian Ocean. During several weeks of fieldwork, they conducted a visual study of the ecological structures that the tortoises brought back to Rodrigues after an absence of two centuries. They not only focused on the structure of the ecosystem but also on the structures of the surfaces of the tortoises themselves.

This presentation uses evidence from this example to discuss the following questions: Is it possible to resurrect lost ecological functions by introducing replacement species? Is rewilding driven by aesthetic, commercial, scientific, or other unanticipated imperatives and motivations? What are the realistic conservation benefits of resurrecting lost ecosystem functions? How can art raise awareness of the structural changes that are related to extension and resurrection? What happens in the ecology of interspecies interactions, especially plant-animal interactions like pollination, seed dispersal, and herbivory? What are the impacts of environmental change and extinction on ecosystem functioning? What happens when we resurrect lost interactions of recently extinct species by using replacement species?

Dennis Hansen

Dr. Dennis Hansen is a tropical ecologist based at the Department of Evolutionary Biology & Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich. He is also a project leader for the concept and content development of a new Museum of Natural History that is being planned at the University of Zurich. His research focuses on ecology and conservation of ecosystems on small islands, especially on plant-animal interactions like pollination, seed dispersal, and herbivory. Understanding the consequences of environmental change and extinction for how ecosystems function is important to be able to reverse negative trends and trajectories. One method to do this is to resurrect lost interactions of recently extinct species by using replacement species. His favourite way to do this is to study giant tortoises as ecosystem engineers on islands in the western Indian Ocean. Dennis enjoys communicating science to the public and, strongly believing that art & science are kindred spirits, he collaborates with artists who share a passion for nature to spread the love of islands and tortoises.

Anna-Maria Bauer

Anna-Maria Bauer is a Zurich-based sculptor, who has worked as a teacher for 3D / Plastisches Gestalten, Foundation Year, BfGZ, Teilpensum and in «Fundstücke» DWB at the ZHdK. From 1991-2005 she was lecturer for Sculptural Design in the Foundation at the HGKZ. In 1979, she found the weathered shell of a turtle on the shore of the Walensee. Fascinated by the beauty of the shell’s structure, she decided to follow the example of its natural order her sculptural works. Since then, a combination of analytical research and artistic re-envisioning inspired by many different tortoise and turtle shells has led to a continuing body of work focused on the clarity of geometric abstraction. Anna-Maria Bauer uses a variety of materials, including steel, brass, copper, stone, and wood. Continually able to translate natural order, patterns and rhythm into rich poetic abstractions, she is a representative of art that operates in the intersection of geometry and nature, and her work generates interest in how the patterns of nature can provide comparative information about the changes taking place in our environment.