Threatened with extinction: a butterfly painted larger than life in a mural

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 painted the large-scale mural on a house wall on Uferstraße in the Heidelberg district of Neuenheim in July 2022. The research network accompanied the process and gave 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 science and art, “Perceiving Extinction” was a project in cooperation with the Metropolink Festival.

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 outsized portrayals of the insects – of attracting attention to the rapid decline in biodiversity. While he was painting the wall of the house in Heidelberg-Neuenheim, passers-by had the opportunity to enter into dialogue with members of the “Umwelten – Umbrüche – Umdenken” research network and with active participants in the Metropolink Festival. A central topic featured the relationship between science and the arts. 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 was taking shape, scientific facts were complemented by artistic presentations, e.g. by Berlin poet Sabine Scho’s poem “schmetterlinge” (butterflies) which was not only recited but also enacted visually.

“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.