Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Kosmos – Alexander von Humboldt

Jun 29, 2017 - Felicia Honkasalo

“ This science of the Cosmos is not, however, to be regarded as a mere encyclopedic aggregation of the most important and general results that have been collected together from special branches of knowledge. These results are nothing more than the materials for a vast edifice, and their combination can not constitute the physical history of the world, whose exalted part it is to show the simultaneous action and the connecting links of the forces which pervade the universe.“1

 

I want to start my take over of the artist blog by posting as an introduction a short text about Alexander von Humboldt and his five volume book Kosmos (1884-65). This opus has influenced the series Carapace, that is featured in this week’s Artist Feature. I strongly recommend browsing through these volumes in their original editions!

Alexander Humboldt was a scientist, but also a writer, explorer and humanist. At its time of publication Kosmos, which was a scientific and artistic account of the entire world, was groundbreaking in that it shared to the world the writer’s vision that humans and nature are two integrated parts of the same whole. This vision sparked the start of a new way of looking at nature and laid the foundations of ecology. It also influenced the works of other scientists such as Charles Darwin, who carried his earlier works along with him on his journey on the Beagle. Humboldt’s social critique that marks the pages of Kosmos is founded in the idea that the study of science is also the study of the human mind in its cultural and social context and therefore his concept of nature also incorporated human culture and thought. This idea also stretched into the maps and landscapes he produced. They were not intended to only reveal the material dimensions but also depict the aesthetic and ethical relations that humans have to a place. Kosmos freely interweaves science with poetry and art, as to Humboldt, it is only through presenting the real (nature) that an image of cosmos can be realized in our mind. Therefore there will be no Cosmos without art, in the broadest sense of the word.

 

  1. Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos: a Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, translated by E. C. Otté, introduction by Michael Dettelbach. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997, pp. 23-25, 36-41, 53-56.