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The bridge between nature and art at Triennale of Milan

by Silvia Abruscato

What does a scientist think when an artist is trying to express his/her creativity?  And, what does an artist create when he/she wants to represent a scientific concept?

“XXII Triennale di Milano Broken Nature: Design takes on Human Survival” is a thematic exhibition in the heart of the city of Milan, put into effect by the Triennale Milano. It is the right place to find possible answers to the questions above, to get inspired and fully immersed into it. Artists, designers and architects, from all over the world exhibit their interpretations of the connection and inter-relation between nature and humans.

The tour leads across history and time, across different regions of the world and fields of artistic creation. The collection is showing very diverse forms of art: from paintings across walls maps, videos, chemical laboratories to immersive sound experiences. This exhibitions encompass topics like climate change, water shortage, waste management, circular economy, human evolution, and many more. The artists want to raise awareness on the environmental challenges, and on the different relationships between human beings and our planet.

My personal tour of the “Broken Nature” exhibition started together with my old high-school friend and expert of art, which provided me a detailed explanation on the artistic productions exposed. I got attracted by pieces directly related to my professional field: forest ecosystems and natural environments.

Stop 1: Albel Rodriguez’s

Credit: Gianluca Di Ioia

His paintings represent the central role of plants and animals in his native environment, the Colombian Amazon. The artist wants to transmit the importance of traditional knowledge related to forest ecosystem functions, and of the legacy of our territories, which he directly learned from his ancestors.

Lesson learnt: common and essential principles need to be considered during the elaboration of a management plan, for instance for a national park, aiming to enhance social inclusion and the maintenance of local values.

Stop 2: A black and white map

The map highlights the importance of seeds: a source of food security, crucial to maintain and conserve plant genetic diversity. The map show the ancient journey of a stock of ancient seeds on a sailing boat from Oslo to Istanbul. This voyage has been recently repeated as part of a long-term project.

The crew (composed by artists, farmers, anthropologist, plant ecologists to name but a few) stops in different ports and harbors interacting with locals to encourage the preservation and use of endemic species which are currently out of production.


Credit: Gianluca Di Ioia

Lesson learnt: it’s important to raise awareness among the general public on maintaining plant genetic diversity through plant reproductive material, across different regions. This lesson  focuses on species which are threatened particularly by rising temperatures and other changes in the environmental conditions.

Stop 3: “Reconstruction” of a smell from an (almost) extinct flower

A video and an interactive timeline display this complex pathway. The exhibit explains each passage from DNA sequences to the plant development, trying to bring back an almost extinct species.

Lesson learnt: the intrinsic value of plant genetic data is displayed in this creation, aiming to promote the conservation of species and species’ proprieties from halting biodiversity loss worldwide (e.g.reducing extinction rates).

 Stop 4: A botanical representation on a full scale of Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

During the last century, its samples were left in a river close to Mantua, Italy. Due to global warming, the plants have become dominant and able to invade the local ecosystem. On the one hand, this is threatening the wetland and biodiversity of the area. And on the other one, Nelumbo nucifera has become a touristic attraction of Mantua surroundings due to its beauty.


Lesson learnt:  this exhibit highlights how little human interventions can threaten autochthonous organisms in altering the flora composition, and at the same time, support the local tourism as a form of aesthetic attraction. It reports a case showing the adaptation capacity of a natural ecosystem after external interference.

Stop 5: “Capsula Mundi”

A huge seed hanging in the middle of the room, with a young tree growing out of its surface. An innovative and biodegradable coffin representing the need of getting back into the soil to support the life cycle of other species.

Credit: Gianluca di Ioia

Lesson learnt: the “World Capsule” showcases a future vision of transforming our cemeteries into  memorial forests, and how the circle of life applies to everything from small seeds to the human body and as such, how we, as human, are just a small part in the ecosystems we live in.

After walking on the bridge between “Nature and Art”, I am full of enthusiasm.

All these visual representations had the power of showing the relation between nature and humans.

Everyone should once enter into this place, where “design and art can help change the climate of conversation and open people’s mind and heart” (Triennale’s wall).


Credit: Gianluca di Ioia

Featured imagine credit: Gianluca di Ioia

Courtesy: Triennale Milano

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