The exhibition “Critical Zones” dedicated to the current state of the Earth had been scheduled for some time at the ZKM, a museum that has always been active at the crossroads of art, technology and society. It has now found itself coinciding with the planetary crisis whose most evident symptom is Coronavirus. This is a really important opportunity to confront the current situation. In fact, it offers and represents a ‘different’ perspective from the traditional one. A new way of looking at our relationship with the world and also a new exhibition model. After all, this was conceived by the anthropologist, sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, director of the Museum and an artist for many years engaged in research also inspired by a deep interest in sociology.
What is this change of perspective? It involves thinking about life within a ‘critical zone’ rather than ‘on the globe’. Adopting the meaning of the term critical zone as found in geoscience: “Earth’s permeable near- surface layer – from the tops of the trees to the bottom of the groundwater. It is a living, breathing, constantly evolving boundary layer where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact.” Bruno Latour lends a philosophical dimension to the concept and, in particular, to our way of relating to the whole:
“We must face up to what is literally a problem of dimension, scale, and lodging: the planet is much too narrow and limited for the globe of globalization; at the same time, it is too big, infinitely too large, too active, too complex, to remain within narrow and limited borders of locality whatsoever.” (Bruno Latour)
Based on this premise, the exhibition questions issues related to what needs to be done to ensure that the Earth continues to be habitable and does so by taking inspiration from the systemic perspective of Alexander von Humboldt, James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, and Lynn Margulis with her research on the symbiotic planet aimed at building new systems of coexistence and politics.
Critical Zone will open on 22 May with a streaming Festival including virtual tours of the exhibition in physical space as well as interviews and interventions. So, not an exhibition conceived as an online event, not an evaporation in the virtual dimension of an exhibition in the physical space. But rather, it is a hybrid and dislocated model designed for multidimensional and multi-channel communication. The exhibition will be constructed over time. Every week new works will be added and new artists and scientists will be presented. All this will be linked with virtual activities and the release of content on the platform.
An exhibition conceived as a reflection on the Planet is also interwoven with reflections and experiments on the great changes that will affect not only art, but also ways of communicating.
The exhibition will become an echo chamber, a resonating space of symbiotic forms of communication – a response to the symbiotic planet. The recognition that life on planet Earth arises and endures through the symbiosis of all life forms also demands new modes of communication between human beings.
Peter Weibel destines this exhibition, and the one that will follow, to a new audience, de-centralized and non local. “The injunction to maintain a distance to others and avoid all close personal contact — social distancing — says Weibel – declares the end of near society and points to telecommunication that uses teletechnology (from the Greek tele-: distant, at a distance, far).”
Spectators will not only watch from a distance but their behaviour will play an active part in the changes made to the exhibition and its response behaviour. The exhibition, therefore, will become an evolving laboratory. Many aspects of this exhibition point to it being an important hint with which to reflect on the future. We will follow it with great interest.
curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, ZKM, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
images: (cover 1) Caspar David Friedrich, «Felsenriff am Meeresstrand», 1824, Oil on canvas, Collection Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe © Photo: bpk, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Wolfgang Pankoke (2) Frédérique Aït-Touati, Alexandra Arènes, Axelle Grérgoire, «The Soil Map», in: «Terra Forma, manuel de cartographies potentielles», 2019, Detail © Frédérique Aït-Touati, Alexandra Arènes, Axelle Grérgoire (3) Uriel Orlow, «Soil Affinities», 2018, Mixed media installation © Uriel Orlow (4-5) Jumana Manna, «Wild Relatives», 2018, Film still © Jumana Manna, © Photo: Marte Vold (6) Sarah Sze, «Flash Point (Timekeeper)», 2018, Mixed media installation, Wood, stainless steel, video projectors, acrylic, archival pigment prints, ceramic and tape © Sarah Sze