For a long time the reactions of Earth to our human actions remained unnoticed, and have now finally – not least due to recent international climate protests – moved into public consciousness. The exhibition project »Critical Zones« invites visitors to engage with the critical situation of the Earth in a novel and diverse way and to explore new modes of coexistence between all forms of life.
Ravi Agarwal (b. 1958) has an interdisciplinary practice as a photographer and artist, environmental campaigner, writer, and curator. His work has been shown widely including at the Biennials of Havana (2019), Yinchuan (2018), Kochi (2016), Sharjah (2013), Indian Highway (2009), and Documenta XI (2002). He has curated Indo-European public art projects (Yamuna-Elbe twin city project, 2011 and Embrace our Rivers, 2018), and was photography curator for the Serendipity Arts Festival (2018/19), New Natures: A Terrible Beauty is Born (Goethe-Institut Mumbai, 2022), and Imagined Documents (Les Recontres d’ Arles, 2022). In addition, Agarwal has also published photography books and artist diaries. He is the founding director of the environmental NGO Toxics Link (www.toxicslink.org) and recipient of the UN-IFCS Award for Chemical Safety, and the Ashoka Fellowship.
Anna Atkins was an English botanist and photographer. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. Some sources claim that she was the first woman to create a photograph. Atkins was born in Tunbridge, Kent, England in 1799. Her mother, Hester Anne Children, "didn't recover from the effects of childbirth" and died in 1800. Anna was close to her father John George Children, a renowned chemist, mineralogist, and zoologist. Anna "received an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time." Her detailed engravings of shells were used to illustrate her father's translation of Lamarck's Genera of Shells.
Alexandra Arènes (b. 1984) and Soheil Hajmirbaba (b. 1968) are cofounders and members of Studio SOC. Alexandra holds a PhD in Architecture from the University of Manchester. She studies the Critical Zones as a new paradigm to understand landscapes and their mapping at the scale of the Earth’s cycles, which can be called a Gaia-graphy. Soheil is an architect and urban planner at Atelier Shaā. He advocates a vernacular production of architecture, from territory to building, inviting to consider architectural materialization as an outcome of field investigations and anthropological travels. Studio SOC focuses on long inquiries emerging from field practices and involving a network of actors from various disciplines. Currently, the three main inquiries Terra Forma, Où atterrir?, and CZO, Critical Zones, lead to the production of various multimedia outputs (books, workshops, installations, cartographies, etc.). SOC’s main objective is to contribute to fostering exchanges between arts, sciences, and architecture.
Heinrich Karl Wilhelm Berghaus (1797 –1884) was a German geographer who founded the Geographische Kunstschule in Potsdam and trained several German geographers and cartographers who were pivotal for their discipline in the late 19th century. He was also an associate of Alexander von Humboldt, publishing some of Humboldt’s maps in his atlases. Berghaus’ production of those atlases was influential, especially the Physikalischer Atlas, published in multiple editions in the 1830s–1840s. Its thematic maps were pioneering, which provided information on flora, fauna, climate, geology, and many more factors.
Julian Charrière is a French-Swiss artist living and working in Berlin. Charrière explores ideas of nature and its transformation over deep geological as well as human historical time. Addressing pressing matters of ecological concern, his work frequently stems from fieldwork in remote locations with acute geophysical identities, such as volcanoes, ice fields, oil palm plantations, and undersea and radioactive sites. An ongoing reflection upon the mythos and politics of exploration in a globalized age is central to his practice. Working across media and conceptual paradigms, Charrière frequently collaborates with composers, scientists, engineers, art historians, and philosophers. His work often provokes, inviting critical reflection upon cultural traditions of perceiving, representing, and engaging with the natural world.
A former student of Olafur Eliasson and a participant in the Institute for Spatial Experiments, Charrière graduated from the Berlin University of the Arts in 2013. His artwork has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas (2021); Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau (2020); MASI Lugano, Lugano (2919); MAMbo, Bologna (2019); Berlinische Galerie, Berlin (2018); Parasol Unit Foundation, London (2015); Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne (2014); Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2014), among others. His work has been featured in the 17th Biennale Architettura, Venice (2021); the 57th Biennale di Venezia (2017); the Taipei Biennial (2018); the Antarctic Biennale (2017); and the 12th Biennale de Lyon (2013). Group exhibitions include Centre Pompidou, Paris (2021); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2021); Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich ( 2020); ZKM - Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe (2020); Sprengel Museum, Hannover (2019); Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus (2019); SCHIRN Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2018); Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London (2018); and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2017), among others. Charrière is one of the four nominees for the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2021 with an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Sonia Mehra Chawla (b. 1977) is a multidisciplinary artist and researcher based in New Delhi. Working at the intersection of art and science, Chawla’s artistic practice explores notions of ecology, sustainability, and conservation through a multispecies lens. Chawla’s recent exhibitions include The Beauty of Early Life (ZKM | Karlsruhe, 2022), New Natures: A Terrible Beauty is Born (CSMVS Museum Mumbai in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Mumbai, 2022), Evolutionary Potential (Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, in collaboration with the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin, 2022), The Rooted Sea (Summerhall, part of Edinburgh Science Festival 2022), Entanglements of Time & Tide (Castle Mills, Edinburgh Printmakers, in collaboration with Marine Scotland, Creative Scotland, and ASCUS, 2021), Driving the Human, (Radialsystem, Berlin, 2021), Essl Collection (Albertina Modern, Vienna, 2020), Fragile Kinships (Embassy of Switzerland, New Delhi, 2019), The Undivided Mind (Khoj International Artists’ Association, Delhi, 2018), The World In The City (ifa-Galerie Stuttgart, 2017), and the Yinchuan Biennale 2016.
Cemelesai Dakivali (Arsai), born in Tavalan Community (Tashe Village), Sandimen Township, Pingtung County, Southern Taiwan. As he followed the local elders from a young age to hunt in the mountains, he has insightful observations on the color dynamic of the primeval forest. In his early career, he studied art with Sakuliu Pavavaljung, who broadened his horizon. In Cemelesai’s drawings, the plants, fungi, and other forms of vegetation are depicted with a great deal of precision and detail with their geometric and repetitive patterns. The artist recalls his memories of what their shape was because some of the species of plants that he used to see and observe as a child seem to have disappeared today. He therefore creates an inventory, which oscillates between the precision of his observation and the fantasy of what his memories allow him to recall. He recently exhibited in Distances Between Usand the Future, an exhibition of Taiwanese indigenous contemporary art (Taiwan, 2021), You and I Don’t Live on the Same Plane, Taipei Biennial (Taiwan, 2020), and Changing Faces: Traditional Totem of Paiwan, Exhibition Series of Activities (New Zealand, 2019).
Rohini Devasher (b. 1978) trained as a painter and printmarker, works in a variety of media including video, prints, and site-specific drawings. Devasher’s films, prints, sounds, and drawings map the antagonism of time and space, walking the fine line between wonder and the uncanny, foregrounding the “strangeness” of encountering, observing, and recording both environment and experience. Her work has been shown internationally at various institutions like the Open Data Institute London (2022), the Rubin Museum New York (2021/22), the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts (2021), the Kaserne Basel (2019), the MACBA Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (2018), the Spencer Museum of Art USA (2016 and 2018), the MAAT Museum of Art and Technology Lisbon (2016), and the ZKM (2016). She was also represented at the 14th Sharjah Biennial Leaving the Echo Chamber (2019), the 7th Moscow Biennale (2017), the 5th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (2014), and the 1st Kochi Biennale (2012).
Martin Dornberg MD, PhD, (b. 1959) is a German philosopher and medical practitioner in the field of psychosomatics and psychotherapy. Dornberg is interested in intercultural exchange on issues of care, migration, de/development and kinship with Gaia. In doing so, he addresses the question of how stories, philosophies, and different kinds of artworks and performances can create meaningful meshworks that help foster comprehensibility and manageability in different worlds. Since 1989 Dornberg is a lecturer in the Philosophy Department and at the Centre of Anthropology and Gender Studies (ZAG) of the Albert-Ludwigs-University, Freiburg im Breisgau. Since 1998 he has been the director of the Centre of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at St. Josefs Hospital, Freiburg, and of the Consultation-Service for Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy of the St. Josefs and the Loretto Hospitals in Freiburg. In collaboration with Daniel Fetzner, Dornberg has created several artistic-philosophical works. He is also a founding member of the research group mbody for artistic research in media, somatics, dance, and philosophy.
Daniel Fetzner (b. 1966) is a media studies scholar and media artist from Baden-Baden, Germany. He understands his artistic explorations as speculative search movements for the terrestrial in the sense of the French philosopher Bruno Latour. In his ongoing research cycle DE\GLOBALIZE, he uses situationist interventions as both a method and a tool for reflections on media. He holds a W3-Professorship at Offenburg University with a focus on arts-based research. He has been invited as a guest artist to the ZKM | Karlsruhe (2007 and 2021) and also to the Indian Institute of Science (2014 and 2018). Fetzner has many years of teaching experience in Egypt, India, and the United States. He was a lecturer in media ethnography at Freiburg University and is head of the Media Ecology Lab. Fetzner is also a founding member of the research group mbody for artistic research in media, somatics, dance, and philosophy.
Forensic Architecture (FA) (founded 2010) is a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, which investigates human rights violations including violence committed by states, police forces, militaries, and corporations. FA works in partnership with institutions across civil society –grassroots activists, legal teams, international NGOs, and media organizations – to carry out investigations with and on behalf of communities and individuals affected by conflict, police brutality, border regimes, and environmental violence.
Pauline Julier (b. 1981) is an artist and filmmaker. In her works Julier explores the links that humans create with their environment through stories, rituals, knowledge, and images. Her films and installations are composed of elements of diverse origins (documentary, theoretical, fictional) to restitute the complexity of our relationship to the world. Her installations and films have been screened at contemporary art centers, institutions and festivals around the world, including the Centre Pompidou (Paris), Loop (Barcelona), Visions du Réel (Nyon), Tokyo Wonder Site (Tokyo), Museum of Modern Art in Tanzania, Geneva Art Center, Palazzo Grassi (Venice), New York, Madrid, Berlin, Zagreb, Cinémathèque de Toronto, and the Pera Museum in Istanbul. Julier had a solo exhibition at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris (CCS) in 2017. She completed a year-long residency in Rome in 2020 at the Instituto Svizzero.
Sonia Levy’s (b. 1982) practice focuses on site-based cinematic inquiries and interdisciplinary collaborations, fostering multiple perspectives to consider new worlds. Her work queries Western expansionist and extractivist logics while tending toward critical forms of engagement with more-than-human worlds. She has exhibited in the UK and internationally, including shows and screenings at Centre Pompidou, Paris; ZKM | Karlsruhe; Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris; Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; ICA, London; BALTIC, Gateshead; Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon; Goldsmiths, University of London; The Showroom, London; Pump House Gallery, London; Art Laboratory Berlin; HDKV, Heidelberg; Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA; Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri, Iceland; and The Húsavík Whale Museum, Iceland. Her work has been published by MIT Press, Thames & Hudson, Antennae Journal, The Learned Pig, Billebaude, Verdure Engraved, and has appeared in NatureCulture and Parallax journals.
Armin Linke (b. 1966) is a photographer and filmmaker who combines a range of contemporary image processing technologies to blur the border between fiction and reality. Linke indagates the formation – the Gestaltung – of the natural, technological, and urban environment in which we live. His oeuvre – photographs and films – function as tools to promote awarenes of the different design strategies. Through working with his own archive, as well as with other media archives, Linke challenges the conventions of photographic practice, whereby the questions of how photography is installed and displayed become increasingly important. Linke was a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA, guest professor at the IUAV Venice, and a professor at the University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe (HfG). He is currently a guest professor at ISIA Urbino, guest artist at Arts CERN, and artist in residence at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Firenze – Max-Planck-Institut. Linke’s works have been exhibited internationally.
James E. Lovelock (1919–2022) trained in chemistry, medicine, and biophysics, and is the author of over 200 scientific papers, distributed almost equally among topics in medicine, biology, instrument and atmospheric science, and geophysiology. He applied for more than 40 patents, mostly for detectors for use in chemical analysis. Lovelock’s first interest was the life sciences, originally as medical research but towards the end of his life more and more in geophysiology, the systems science of the Earth. His second interest –instrument design and development –often interacted with his first interest, to the mutual benefit of both. After a career in academia, at age 45 he became an independent scientist, collaborating with many colleagues on topics of planetary research and environmental issues. His work for the NASA lead to the formulation of the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s.
Lynn Margulis (1938–2011) was an American evolutionary biologist. She is best known for her serial endosymbiosis theory of the origin of eukaryotic cells, which posits that symbiosis is a driving force of the evolution of life. Although Margulis’ theory challenged (and continues to challenge) Neo-Darwinistic views and was rejected by the scientific establishment for a long time, it is now included in common biology textbooks. Born on the south side of Chicago, she was accepted into the University of Chicago at age 14. Margulis taught as a professor at Boston University and University of Massachusetts at Amherst, among others. She was the author of many books, including Origin of Eukaryotic Cells (1970), What Is Life? (1995), and Symbiotic Planet (1998). Together with James Lovelock, Margulis also developed and refined the Gaia hypothesis.
Anuradha Mathur (1960–2022) and Dilip da Cunha (b. 1958) are founders of the design platform Ocean of Wetness which is directed towards imaging and imagining habitation in ubiquitous wetness rather than on a land-water surface. The shift from surface to wetness has profound implications for design in the face of climate change. Their objective is to resituate not just the future but also our understanding of the past and experience of the present. Art is central to the platform. Mathur and da Cunha have won several awards in their careers. They are the authors of Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (2001); Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain (2006); Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary (2009), and coeditors of Design in the Terrain of Water (2014). These books accompanied major public exhibitions that form an intrinsic part of Mathur and da Cunha’s design practice.
Edith Morales (b. 1968) is an artist and activist who reflects on food sovereignty, economic policies of capitalism, and the violence implicit in them. Her work has been included in the Critical Zones exhibition at ZKM | Karlsruhe, Germany; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca MACO; Espacio Lalitho, Oaxaca; Washington & Lee University; Staniar Gallery; Lexington, VA, USA; San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery; San Diego California USA; Museo Internacional del Barroco, México; Manuel Álvarez Bravo Photographic Centre, Oaxaca; Lansing University Michigan, USA; Centro de Las Artes San Agustín, Oaxacan, among others. She is member of the Mexican Sistema Nacional de Creadores 2020.
Uriel Orlow’s (b. 1973) practice is research-based, process-oriented, and often in dialogue with other disciplines. His projects engage with residues of colonialism, spatial manifestations of memory, social and ecological justice, blind spots of representation, and plants as political actors. His multimedia installations focus on specific locations, micro-histories, and forms of haunting. Working across installation, photography, film, drawing, and sound his work brings different image regimes and narrative modes into correspondence. Orlow’s work has been presented at major survey exhibitions including the Berlin Biennale 2022, British Art Show 9, Kathmandu Triennale 2077, 14th Dakar Biennale, and previously at the 54th Venice Biennale, Manifesta 9 & 12 in Genk, and Palermo amongst others. Recent solo exhibitions include Casa da cerca (2022), Kunsthalle Nairs, Switzerland (2021), La Loge, Brussels (2020), State of Concept, Athens (2020), and Kunsthalle Mainz (2019–2020).
Hema Shironi (b. 1991) is a visual artist born in Kandy in central Sri Lanka. Shironi’s practice involves intricate embroidery that examines the notion of identity as she traces and challenges its formation, development, performance, and experience. She acquired a BFA from the Ramanadhan Fine Arts Academy, University of Jaffna, and a Master’s in Art and Design from Beacon House National University in Pakistan. She has participated in several group exhibitions, such as the COLOMBOSCOPE art festival (2019 and 2022) and the COCA-Collective of Contemporary Artists’ House of Kal exhibition (2021). Her first solo exhibition Rented Shadow and Neighbours was held at Saskia Fernando Gallery in Sri Lanka (2021).
Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits are artists and researchers working in intersection of art, science and emerging technologies since the mid-90s. They are key founders of RIXC Center for New Media Culture in Riga, curators of RIXC Gallery, organisers of RIXC Art and Science festival, and chief editors of Acoustic Space, peer-reviewed journal & book series.
Rasa Smite holds PhD; she is Professor in New Media Art programme in Liepaja University and Senior Researcher at Art Research Lab (MPLab.lv). Raitis Smits also holds doctoral degree (2015); he is Associate Professor in the Art Academy of Latvia (2015). In 2017 Raitis Smits was Fulbright researcher in Graduate Center CUNY in New York (hosted by Lev Manovich). Since 2017 Rasa also works as artist-researcher in Ecodata project by University of Applied Sciences and Arts (Switzerland).
Their artworks are shown in Ars Electronica Center, HeK (Switzerland), Van Abbe Museum (The Netherlands), KUMU museum in Tallinn (Estonia), Stockholm Science and Technology Museum (Sweden), RAM Gallery (Oslo), kim? Contemporary Art Center, Arsenals National Arts Museum (Latvia), and many other places. They have received Prix Ars Electronica (1998), National Award of Excellence in Culture (2016).
Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro (b. 1987) is an artist, ecologist, and curator. His work deals with experiencing, excentering, and unlearning. His practice extends durationally and socially, weaving shared becomings with people and places. It takes the shape of gatherings, performances, films, and multimedia installations. In 2018, he coinitiated The School of Mutants, a collaborative art and research platform in Dakar. His work has been exhibited at ZKM | Karlsruhe; Centre Pompidou Metz; 12th Berlin Biennale; 14th Dakar Biennale; RAW Material Company, Dakar; Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam; 12th Taipei Biennial; 7th Oslo Triennale; Le Lieu Unique, Nantes; CIAP Vassiviere; Science Museum, London. He collaborates regularly with the ZKM | Karlsruhe and has also had institutional collaborations with Taipei Fine Arts Museum, NA Project, Institut Kunst at FHNW Basel, and Documenta 13.
About the Project
Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics, was conceived and exhibited at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (2020–2022) based on a concept by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. For the Goethe-Institut South Asia, a travelling adaption of Critical Zones titledCritical Zones. In Search of a Common Ground is co-produced by the ZKM | Karlsruhe, and the Goethe-Institut. It shows a selection of artistic positions and is complemented by further works from Indian and Sri Lankan artists. Mira Hirtz and Daria Mille are the curators of the exhibition at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai.
The South Asia tour of the exhibition will begin in Mumbai on October 28, 2022. Further in association with the respective Goethe-Instituts, Critical Zones. In Search of a Common Ground will be exhibited in Colombo (opening on November 11) and Pune (opening on November 18) in 2022, followed by Kolkata, New Delhi and Bangalore in 2023.
The exhibition and its activation program have been adapted for the local audiences in close dialogue between the curators, art mediators and the Goethe-Institut. The core aim of the project is to investigate and address the Critical Zone at each station by making the conversation as locally relevant as possible, within the larger framework of the exhibition idea, hence each station will include further dialogues and co-creative moments to investigate and analyse what are the issues of importance for each particular location – its Critical Zone and its inhabitants.
For a long time the reactions of Earth to our human actions remained unnoticed, and have now finally – not least due to recent international climate protests – moved into public consciousness. The exhibition project Critical Zones invites visitors to engage with the critical situation of the Earth in a novel and diverse way and to explore new modes of coexistence between all forms of life.
In order to remedy the generally prevailing disorientation and dissension in society, politics, and ecology with regard to the changing state of the planet, the exhibition project sets up an imaginary cartography, considering the Earth as a network of Critical Zones. The term Critical Zone is taken from the geosciences and describes the fragile layer of the Earth, its surface, which is only a few kilometres thin and on which life is created. In addition to emphasizing the vulnerability of this thin layer, the term also sheds light on the numerous controversies that have triggered new political attitudes towards it. Created by a wide variety of life forms over time, living organisms interact in these Critical Zones, but also earth, rock, water, and air. Those life forms had completely transformed the original geology of the Earth, before humanity transformed it yet again over the last centuries.
Over the years, scientists have dedicated their research to the Critical Zone. They have made us aware of the complex composition and extreme fragility of this thin layer of the Earth, in which all life forms, humans included, have to cohabit. Critical Zones explores the urgency of bringing together skills, knowledge, disciplines, and cultures to jointly create a cartography of the multitude of Earths and compose common ground. The exhibition simulates on a small scale the model of a new spatiality of the Earth and the diversity of relations between the life forms inhabiting it. The exhibition creates a landscape that makes the public understand the characteristics of the so-called New Climatic Regime, a term coined by Bruno Latour to describe the global situation affecting all living things. Not being limited to ecological crises, the term also includes questions of politics and cultural history as well as ethical and epistemological changes of perspective. In attempt to compose common ground between different disciplines, humans and non-humans, the exhibition aims to steer a debate towards new Earthly Politics.
This special combination of thought experiment and exhibition was developed by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour in their previous collaborations at ZKM. Their intensive working relationship has spans now more than twenty years. Critical Zones is characterized by an extensive collaboration of artists, designers, scientists, and activists. Art, with all its imaginative, speculative and aesthetic power, takes up the important challenge of developing new forms of representation and options for action in an overall situation that has not yet been clarified.
Mira Hirtz is a performance artist, art mediator, and art theorist basing her work on somatic practices. She explores the value of creativity for human beings and non-human beings in many different formats such as workshops, performances, video pieces, and texts. She worked as an art mediator at documenta14, co-curated the program series “How do we care?” at Badischer Kunstverein 2020 and co-curator of the touring exhibition “Critical Zones”, initiated by the ZKM | Karlsruhe, the Goethe-Institut South Asia, and Bruno Latour.
Daria Mille is currently a curator and research associate at the ZKM | Center Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany. Her research interests focus especially on the topics related to the intersection of art, science and technology (also from a historical perspective), cultural and artistic implications of digitization, artistic positions of the 1960s, and the contemporary art. Most recently she has been a member of the curatorial committee of the “Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics” exhibition.