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Location: London
Stage: Competition - Shortlisted
For the Reimagining Museums for Climate Action competition, Studio JZ uses the British Museum as a testbed to ask how existing museums can be made into new institutions for the decolonisation of nature, and spaces of not just knowledge, but also of climate justice. Our submission was shortlisted from over 260 entries from 48 countries, and will be part of an exhibition at COP26 Glasgow. 

The British Museum of Decolonized Nature

With their roots in western imperialism and colonialism, museums contribute to a regime ‘not limited to the governing of peoples but also the structuring of nature.’ Modern museums are machines that feed the process of ontological objectification and reification. They reinforce the false Cartesian dichotomy of human and non-human worlds. Consequently, museums are designed to perpetuate our dominion over the foreign other and our human empire of things. If this status quo continues, museums will eventually lose the trust of the public, and face their own extinction.

Using the British Museum as a testbed, this proposal asks how existing museums can be made into new institutions for the decolonisation of nature, and spaces of not just knowledge, but also of climate justice. 

Imagine an emptied British Museum. With the vast majority of its collection already repatriated, what remains are a series of ghostly vacant interiors that have been architecturally augmented and re-programmed, so we may see our relationship with nature anew. 

Welcome to the British Museum of Decolonized Nature. Take a look around:

  • With its Parthenon marbles returned to Athens, the Duveen Gallery, once the crown jewel of the museum, has become an allegorical space of repatriated nature, closed to the public, partially dismantled and exposed to the elements. This purposeful decay creates a sweet disorder that allows its interior to be ‘re-wilded’ and returned to first nature: nature as un-exploitable and chaotic wilderness.

  • In the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery, treasures from China and South Asia have all been repatriated. The vast empty space is now an archival space for contemporary works of art that are engaged in the politics of ecology: from the multimedia work of the World of Matter collective, to Li Shan’s mutant dragonfly sculptures; from Helen Escobedo’s black garbage, to Olafur Eliasson’s melting iceberg.

  • Elsewhere in Room 55, the world’s oldest map, the imago mundi, has been returned to Iraq. Projected digitally in its place is a dymaxion map of the globe that presents a polar-centric view of the world.

Devised as both an allegory for the age of climate action and a real architectural scheme, this proposal asks if we can ‘imagine another way of responding to crisis other than one of deepening inequality, brutal disaster capitalism and mangled techno-fixes?’

As a physical manifestation of these ideas, Studio JZ has designed a 1:20 architectural model of the ‘re-wilded’ Duveen Gallery, which is simultaneously a terrarium. Constructed from recyclable materials, the interior that once housed the Parthenon sculptures will be accurately recreated and hermetically sealed, seeded with plant life to generate its own micro-ecology. Inspired by Samuel van Hoogstraten’s 1655 London Perspective Box, peep holes on the muted exterior of the model/terrarium provide eye level glimpses of the surreal and verdant interior. Over time, the chaotic wilderness within will slowly begin to burst out of the exterior shell, in a metaphorical act of nature taking back control. 

Images by Studio JZ
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