moor (strikethrough) with minerals (strikethrough)

An intervention with raw material



by Kerstin Flasche


The figure with the emerald cluster is one of the most famous exhibition pieces in the historic collection of the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden. A wooden figure decoratedwith gold and gemstones presents one of the most preciousstone specimens of its time on a tortoiseshell tray: a cluster of emeralds that came as a gift into the possessionof Elector August of Saxony in 1581. The Leipzig artist Bertram Haude has temporarily replaced the emerald cluster with a new cluster, decorated with so-called anthropogenic substances. Anthropogenic means that the formation histories of these substances are intertwined with human influence on the geosystem. Most are inadvertent effectsof human activities in mining, while others are actually produced industrially.


With regard to their chemical structure, anthropogenic substances are minerals. Yet they are not allowed to be called as such, for the International Mineralogical Association applies a strict criterion: minerals are “naturally occurring”. This makes the found objects shown here, designated as minerals (strikethrough) in what follows, into a contemporary curiosity—and it is well known that curious things have their place inthe Grünes Gewölbe Dresden. Just as fossilized corals, mediating between the worlds of plants, animals and stones, may not be absent from any Wunderkammer, these minerals (strikethrough) too are border-crossers, showing us the possibility of clear, incontestable categorizations. These minerals (strikethrough) are neither merely “natural” nor entirely “artificial”.


But what is still “naturally occurring” today? Where does “nature” end, which we believe to have classified and conserved in compartments once and for all? Does it really make sense to define nature’s end with human intervention? Or is it all the more pressing to proclaim the anthropocene, the new era of the earth, which describes the global human influence as the most defining factor in shaping our planet?


On the tray we find material witnesses of the tremendous impact on the earth system humans have. Yet beyond that we find a history that is likewise made by humans: the history of science, which is based on a clear separation between “nature” and “culture”, between “natural” and “artificial”, whereby humans are paradoxically regarded as natural beings and at the same time as (sole) producers of culture. These minerals (strikethrough) challenge scientific paradigms. They are rocking the unswervingly believed orders, unambiguity andseparability.




The Schatzkammer of the Grünes Gewölbe is intertwined with the history of colonialism. From a postcolonial perspective, the provenance of the original emerald cluster is problematic: it originates from Colombian mines that were exploited around 1537 during Spanish wars of conquest. And also the figure holding the cluster has become a much discussed object of investigation of contemporary ethnology, not merely because of its title but above all because of mysterious discrepancies. It appears to be arranged out of a potpourri of features, which, from a European perspective, were perceived as “foreign” and “exotic”—dark skincolor, physiognomy that was read as “African”, tattoos and jewellery which, by contrast, were interpreted as representative forms of indigenous cultures from the Americas. Nothing short of eclectic, these stereotypic features culminate in what becomes the exemplary figure of “otherness” in the collection of a European ruler. The exhibit is steepedin mechanisms of colonial rule—both the figure holding theemerald cluster as well as the emerald cluster itself.


With his artistic intervention, with the display of tiny little crystals, Bertram Haude deliberately digs deeper in an already painful subject by lending the exhibition piece an additional colonial dimension: the geological, for the anthropogenic minerals are indeed the products of global, geological colonization.


Artistic interventions in collections make it possible to contextualize critical aspects of arte-facts in contemporary discourses. For the first time in the history of the exhibit, postcolonial questions are in focus, yet not about ethnological approaches with a view to the figure, but rather about geological approaches with a view to the mineral and mineral (strikethrough) “raw material”.