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A rhizomatic world

The ZKM Center for Arts and Media in Karlsruhe will create a greater understanding of the different expressions of media art from a historical perspective.


ZKM Center for Art and Media
Exhibit 14.07.18 – 10.02.19
Karlsruhe, Germany

The exhibition Art in Exercise Emphasizes the use of technology: The apparatus – whether in connection with production, distribution or reception – is what sets media art apart from other art. This is how many forms of media art come into consideration; from print, music and television to the telephone, algorithms and cinema. Because the distinctive quality of device-based art is bevegelse, the film medium dominates among the exhibited works of art.

Film is a medium that has traditionally fallen outside the term "media art". But the ZKM Center for Arts and Media, created in 1989 in a former munitions factory in Karlsruhe, Germany, is not a traditional museum. It was recently ranked fourth among the world's leading museums, probably due to innovative approaches such as Art in Exercise.

Art in Exercise emphasizes the use of technology.

The curators for the exhibition, Peter Weibel and Ziegfried Zielinski, use a historical perspective as they highlight rare historical documents that shed new light on technological developments. The exhibition focuses on history, but at the same time turns towards the future development of media art.


One of the rare items on display is from the golden age of Islamic culture: The Instrument that Plays by Itself, written around the year 850 by Banu Musa. The manuscript describes a programmable music machine, and has had an impact on everything from hydraulic organs to hole card-based drive systems in the 19th and 20th centuries. A reconstruction of this mechanical masterpiece is also to be seen.


Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, “Interactive plant growing” (1992)

Historical archive music archives and iconic texts follow historical objects – such as the cover of the 1955 Paris Match magazine, analyzed by Roland Barthes in his essay Myth today. Or the reproduction of a page («What is an aura? ") from the manuscript to Walter Benjamin's essay The artwork of the reproductive age and other essays (1935–36), associated with an installation with a reconstruction of Benjamin's hearing games Lichtenberg, A cross-section.

The key events in film history – such as the first recordings of movement, by Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge – are exhibited along with the development of the wheel's technology, studies by Ernst Mach, works by Marcel Duchamp and kinetic structures by Len Lye. Of particular interest is a selection of films where media technologies are part of the plot, such as Roberto Rossellini's film Love, a human voice (1948); Anna Magnani, the only visible protagonist, plays a woman who is desperately in love with her ex-lover. As she talks to him on the phone, the non-diegetic sound – that is, sound coming from an invisible source – is explored to the full, and the phone gradually assumes the role of a character in the film.


The exhibition is organized in a non-linear, rhizomatic (braided) way to make it possible to create relationships between individual works, says Peter Weibel, curator and chairman of the board at ZKM. Everything is connected.

The apparatus is what sets media art apart from other art.

The documentary Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait (by Gordon and Parreno, 2006), filmed in real time during a football match and centered solely on the French football player, appears with the documentary Football Like Never Before (by Costard, 1970), where Manchester United player George Best is similarly followed by cameras during an entire match. A third film included in the program is Water Island (1987–88) – A bold experiment by conceptual artist Ivan Ladislav Galeta: a 9 minute water polo match where the ball is constantly at the center, while players and the environment around them change as the game develops.

Digital contemporary experiments in changing the perception of time and space are framed by the historical work of the Lumière brothers from the late 1800s and Dziga Vertov from the early 1900s. Legible City (1989), Jeffrey Shaw's interactive art installation, is based on the fact that images, sound and text in digital form can be changed in real time, and the viewer can be included. This allows the visitor to ride a stationary bicycle through a simulated representation of a city. Six Pointss (2010), a looping video featuring music by Korean artist Yendoo Jung, explores the possibility that time and space axes can be exchanged with each other using computer technology. Jung took thousands of individual photographs in six different parts of New York, combining them into one impression in a street.

Media art has always been political.

Just as X-rays made it possible to see and discover the body in a new way, the device-based art also provides alternative visual opportunities, enabling the search for new knowledge and creating new realities – as it is freed from the mimetic demands of images and paintings. is subject to.


Media art has always been political, and this is very well documented in the exhibition. The audience and the world have changed; The emergence of interactive works in electronic art is thus quite logical. Interactive Plant Growing (1992) by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau – who invite the audience to touch the plants and create images projected on the screen – was one of the first digital works that introduced biology and promoted ideas about environmental protection in the media arts.

Tamás Szentjóby, "Czechoslovak Radio 1968" (1969)

Mainstream media is criticized for their rigidity in several works in the exhibition. Wolf Vostells Concrete TV Paris (1974), a huge concrete cube with a tiny TV monitor in the middle, is a good example of this. Another example, which refers to the political history of Eastern Europe, is the sculpture Czechoslovak Radio 1968 (1969) by the Hungarian artist Tamás Szentjóby, consists of two bricks camouflaged as an audio tape. As a positive counterweight, Sony's DV-2400 Video Rover Portapack is on display: It was the smallest and lightest video recorder of the time, cheap and easy to use. It came on the US market in 1968 and made video widely available – and stimulated ideas like that Guerrilla Television and creating independent video groups.

By using and recombining images, music and lyrics from 25 full-length films in their 3D video back track (2015), Virgil Widrich creates a work that conveys the idea of ​​film noir's fascination for the femme fatale figure – and at the same time criticizes it. The film's male narrative voice – in first-person, with heavily accented noir undertones – openly challenges the conventional features of traditional masculinity.

The visions presented are not necessarily pleasant.

One Million Kingdoms (2001) by Pierre Huyghe was originally intended as part of the collaborative project After Ghost Just and Shell (exploring subjectivity, real estate and copyright issues), where the character of Anlee is placed in many different artistic contexts. In this animation, Anlee wanders through a changing lunar topography as she speaks to astronomer Neil Armstrong's digitally edited voice. The story, which mixes the transfers from the Apollo 11 journey with excerpts from Jules Verne's novel The journey to the interior of the earth, accompanied by the changing landscape she wanders through, creates a gloomy impression of an upcoming apocalypse. Another environmental warning, the video Restart (2008–10) by Chinese artist Miao Xiaochun, contains a digitally created imaginary image vision of the world following the natural disaster that global warming is about to create.

The visions of the world presented in Art in Exercise are not necessarily comfortable, but we can be sure that there is a purpose behind it.

The text refers to:
Roland Barthes: mythologies, The Norwegian Book Clubs, 2002.
Walter Benjamin: The artwork of the reproductive age and other essays, Gyldendals
Torchbooks, 1975

Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Zajc is a media writer, researcher and film critic. She lives and works in Slovenia, Italy and Africa.

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