Threatened with Extinction: a Butterfly Painted Larger-than-Life in Mural

Heidelberg research network wants to attract attention to loss of biodiversity with an action at the interface of art and science

With an artwork depicting a butterfly threatened with extinction - a wall painting of an oversized Marsh Fritillary - the interdisciplinary research network "Umwelten - Umbrüche - Umdenken" (Rethinking Environmental Change) based at Heidelberg University wishes to draw attention to the loss of biodiversity. French street artist Mantra will be painting the mural on a house wall in Heidelberg from 18 to 24 July 2022. The research network is accompanying the process and giving insight into its work, which - in view of the global environmental crisis - aims to rethink the relationship between humankind and the environment. At the interface of art and science, "Perceiving Extinction" is a project in cooperation with the Metropolink Festival.

The butterfly stands as an example of a myriad of species threatened with extinction. In view of the progressive loss of biodiversity, with its action the research network wants to attract attention to the fact that such extinction processes have impacts at both the local and global level. Artist Mantra, whose real name is Youri Cancell, captures the colours and shapes of moths and butterflies on facades worldwide, with the purpose - through his oversized portrayals of the insects - of attracting attention to the rapid decline in biodiversity. While he is engaged in adorning the wall of a house facing the Neckar in the Heidelberg district of Neuenheim, the research network will accompany the action from the nearby Theodor Heuss Bridge. This will enable passers-by to enter into dialogue with members of the "Umwelten - Umbrüche - Umdenken" research network and with active participants in the Metropolink Festival. Another central topic will feature the relationship between art and science. What contribution can they both make - also by interacting - in view of an omnipresent environmental crisis, in order to recognise and describe the spaces available for action and use them for radical ecological transformation? While the mural is taking shape, scientific facts will be complemented by artistic presentations, e.g. by Berlin poet Sabine Scho’s poem "schmetterlinge" (butterflies) which will be not only recited but also enacted visually.

The programme around the mural forms the starting point for a continuing dialogue with Heidelberg citizens and visitors. In this context, the research network plans a variety of activities, e.g. a scientific lecture on species extinction and a discussion on ways of countering the loss of biodiversity. There will also be a guided tour to different urban "points of change". It will be led by geographer Ulrike Gerhard, literary scholar Friederike Reents and physicist André Butz. Literary readings are also planned, looking at human-induced changes to our world through the lens of art. The dates of the individual events will be posted on the network’s website as they arise.

"Umwelten - Umbrüche - Umdenken" is a Thematic Research Network rooted in the Heidelberg University research fields "Cultural Dynamics in Globalised Worlds" and "Self-Regulation and Regulation: Individuals and Societies". Its aim is to analyse the current environmental crisis with its implications for individuals and societies in an interdisciplinary dialogue between the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Starting from this, the members of the research network intend to rethink the relationship between humankind and the environment, and answer the question of how crossing borders and the consequent changes can lead to taking action. In this research, they build bridges not only between disciplines but also towards society.

For the project "Perceiving Extinction" the research network is cooperating with Metropolink, a festival for urban art, which creates new perspectives on the city and beyond. Artistic interventions in the public space open up possibilities for regaining these places for the community, as has happened, for example, since 2018 at Patrick Henry Village (PHV), the former residential area of the US army in Heidelberg. Art and urbanity form the thematic core of Metropolink, which is playing a central role in developing PHV as a new, 16th Heidelberg district through combining culture with modern urban development.