Press coverage In the beginning was the code

Patrick Borgeat Notation. Prozess. Musik., 2017 Video presentation and interactive station
Patrick Borgeat Notation. Prozess. Musik., 2017 Video presentation and interactive station | © Anil Rane

The huge show "Open Codes" at the Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe is dedicated to the signs that not only the digital world is made of.

The signs, called codes, are the most powerful use of text in the history of mankind, directly after the Holy Scriptures of various religions. Holy scriptures give instructions to believers, codes instruct machines. Not some machines - almost all machines in the meantime. Codes are source texts from which artificial worlds emerge, they create images, films, sounds, music, they control robots, determine transport and communication, analyze our data, recognize us humans and make our houses "smart". Recently codes even teach themselves, they call this "Deep Learning". In October, the artificial intelligence Alpha Go Zero taught itself Japanese Go within three days from the set of rules and countless matches against itself - so well that it defeated the previous version Alpha Go, which defeated the best human player last year, in a hundred games 100-0.

Yes, the codes driving into the chips empower matter to become intelligent, they enliven things with information. Thus, an enormous threshold has been crossed. The world belongs to this typeface. Sorry, people!

At the same time, we don't know exactly what they are. They are not the individual lines in which they are stored. The code itself remains ominous, remains immaterially hidden behind the processes it initiates, regulates and controls. So what is code? A project in Karlsruhe, which can hardly be called an "exhibition" anymore, is dedicated to this maximum question. In the ZKM, the "Centre for Art and Media" there, a multiple institution called "Knowledge Platform" was created in the form of "Open Codes", which is simultaneously an exhibition, laboratory, workspace, lecture hall, snack bar, symposium, training facility, lounge and conference room. You can also play table tennis and kick there. A huge project and the attempt to finally make the codes that determine everything tangible with the help of art and science.

Alphabets and number systems are among the oldest codes of all. They are used for communication, but also for storing information. Writing creates culture. Always has been. But the Karlsruhe long-term installation, which can be visited free of charge until August next year, is dedicated precisely to the historically and culturally variable, conceptual assignment of codes.

Works of art and scientific work based on both analogue and digital codes will be presented. The platform also gives room to produce codes yourself. Programmers and researchers should be able to exchange information here. For the gatherings of hackers the beautiful term: "Algorave" (algorithm + rave) was found.

Researchers can now transfer the information of a film about bacteria

From Morse code via genetic code to barcode and binary code in Karlsruhe - and back again immediately. Because the characters of the code always need a medium in which they are formulated, but it does not always have to be the same. Speech can be converted to Morse code, which can be transmitted as sound or light signals. In "Open Codes" the work "Rhythm of Shapes" by Chikashi Miyama can be seen and heard, in which digital photographs are used as scores and "sounded out". In order to demonstrate the shapelessness of the code, which can only be perceived at the moment it is updated, the "Narcissistic Machine" by Michael Bielicky and Kamila B. Richter directs the viewer's gaze back. Its digital image is algorithmically multiplied until it dissolves in a color abstraction like in nothing. Narcissus in the code mouth.

Recently, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston have been able to incorporate digital information from both a black-and-white photo and a historical film sequence into the genetic code of bacteria and transfer it across generations of micro-animals. Is the infinitely and losslessly copyable computer code now the same as the genetic code: it is copied from carrier to carrier, survives them all and is therefore - immortal?

Of course, all this is not an easy thought. The more than 200 objects and installations from art and science on display in Karlsruhe do not provide quick answers; they do not want to be studied, not merely looked at.

Of course, all this is not an easy thought. The more than 200 objects and installations from art and science on display in Karlsruhe do not provide quick answers; they do not want to be studied, not merely looked at.

It therefore only looks like a kitsch thunderstorm when Cerith Wyn Evans' decadent crown chandelier made of colorful Murano glass morst through a chapter from a standard work on astrophotography. This is - surely - snobby disco. On the one hand. But it is also a quasi-symbiotic work of code, computer, book text and the light of the chandelier. And that is why the work corresponds to many ambiguous, transcendental works that attract ZKM director Peter Weibel like hackers attract the Bitcoins (this digital currency is also being worked on in a corner here). Director Weibel is a mathematical aesthete, a man who thinks (and talks) faster than the source text is read by the machine, which coincides with the theorems of Western philosophy, contemporary as well as classical mosaics of thoughts that are always dazzling. Who, in other words, himself appears to be illuminated by explosion code. "God is the first programmer. He created the code," says Weibel during the scurry through the digital area and then: "Man is only an annoying peripheral device. He just says that.

Strolling through the Karlsruhe arrangement with Weibel is a par force march through mathematics, algorithm and, for example, the "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" by Isaac Newton from 1686. But even without Weibel, one experiences a thunderstorm of associations that illuminates all cognitive spheres between René

Magritte's picture "La trahison des images" ("ceci n'est pas une pipe") from 1929 and the current 3-D print. Here one then encounters the truly fundamental change in the semiologies of old and new codes, between painting and computer-controlled printing: in the analog world there was no possibility of turning a sign into something called, a real pipe was simply not a painted pipe, as Magritte explained. Digitalization, on the other hand, can transform data into real things with 3D printing. Thus, in Morehshin Allahyari's work one can admire again the first coded, then three- dimensionally printed reconstructions of art artefacts from the ancient city of Hatra, which the IS 2015 had destroyed. With this - ink and drumroll! the sign has become its identifier. Code turned into thing. That should give enough food for thought for semiotics seminars.

Here's even the wallpaper code for the room you're sitting in.

Bernd Lintermann's work "You:R:Code", which welcomes visitors like a "Rite de Passage" right at the entrance, proves that we, too, are now absorbed in various codes. Lintermann shows the entrant in the step transformation to his digital shadow: From the mirror image in which it still recognizes itself, it is more and more transformed into a pure data body with each image station. One experiences oneself as a genetic code, then in the form of a bar code in which hardly more than one bar aura remains. That we are "code", as the title of this work says, means not only our genetic constitution, but also our status as a data set in the various digital manners. For the operators of large networks, for example, who identify us on the basis of our electronic traces and no longer need an "image" of us.

"In simulations, the sign is indistinguishable from reality." No, that's not a sentence by Peter Weibel this time, he comes from the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who would certainly have liked the scenery. The quote is woven into a tapestry measuring three by four and a half meters, which depicts a scene from a computer game, a shooter. The sign becomes reality, not only in simulations, the show teaches.

No, their arrangements do not form into a contemplative educational excursion to digital media. They don't want that. They form a tour d'horizon to codes in their various forms. But this is precisely how "Open Codes" wants to free us from the idea that the intangible nature of code also means its incomprehensibility. The world is no longer only occupied by the resistance of things. It's coded. Just how incredibly diverse these codes turn out is demonstrated by the extensive web presence: open- codes.

At some point you sit in a harmless sitting area, look at their confused wall decoration full of letters, numbers and signs and think: Thank God, there is finally only art here! But then you realize that this wall decoration is the source code for the room you are in, a work by Karin Sander. Of course, architectural designs are nowadays also created with computer programs, the rooms are simulated before they are actually built. If this "wallpaper" code were to be fed back into a computer, it would simulate the identical space, even the colour of the seat cushions would be the same. Have mercy on us, code! But where are you, who swallowed us?

Open Codes. Living in digital worlds. ZKM, Karlsruhe. Until January 6th 2019. Admission free