Thinking Space

The Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (Centre for Art and Media – ZKM) accompanies the development of art towards digital culture. With the current exhibition "Negative Space", it now wants to transform the viewer's perspective – away from traditional perception as mass, volume and gravity – towards thinking from space. Our interview reveals even more...

The ZKM was founded in 1989 with the mission to continue the classical arts into the digital age. This is why it is occasionally referred to as the "electronic" or "digital Bauhaus" – an expression attributed to the founding director Heinrich Klotz. No wonder, then, that it currently houses the world's largest collection of computer-based art. One of the fundamental tasks of the ZKM is to recognize and follow current developments in art and society and to investigate the effects of mediatization, digitization and globalization on society. Since its inception, the Center has dedicated itself not only to the exploration and sharing of knowledge, but also to the creation of artworks. For this reason it is called a centre and not (only) a museum. The Mission Statement of the Centre reads: "We not only make exhibitions, we also develop and produce - we question the established and develop the new. If we are interested in the past, it is personalities, discoveries and developments that were once overlooked or ignored and which we want to bring to the surface. In the current ranking of the world's largest art database, the ZKM ranks fourth among the best exhibition houses. 

Refik Anadol, Infinity Room (2015), 4-Kanal Video- und Soundinstallation, 12’’, Ausstellungsansicht © ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe. Foto: Michelle Mantel
Refik Anadol, Infinity Room (2015),
4-channel video and sound installation,
12'', exhibition view © ZKM |
Center for Art and Media. Photo: Michelle Mantel

The exhibition Negative Space – Trajectories of Sculpture follows on from the last exhibition of modern sculpture by the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1986. It picks up the thread where the Pompidou left: The history of Western sculpture has always been closely linked to the idea of the body. To this day, sculpture is still primarily mass, volume, and gravity. However, the exhibition wants to change the perspective on modern, contemporary sculpture. It focuses on the relationship between sculpture and space and encourages visitors to think decidedly from the point of view of space. Therefore, all exhibits thematize the sculptural phenomenon in relation to various ideas of space - be it open spaces, surrounding spaces, hollow spaces, interspaces, light and shadow spaces or even virtual data spaces. We want to know more and seek a conversation with the curator Peter Weibel.

Mr. Weibel, your current exhibition on the sculpture and installation of the 20th and 21st centuries is intended to encourage visitors to think decidedly from the perspective of space. In the process, the surrounding and involved space is moved into the centre of attention. But why did you choose the exhibition title Negative Space in contrast to this?

It wasn't the visitors, but the artists of the 20th century who began to think sculpture not from the body – as they had for thousands of years before – but decidedly from the space. I came to the term Negative Space because it was introduced by artists themselves. Modern sculpture differs from classical sculpture in the negation of the three elementary categories on which classical sculpture is built: mass, volume, and gravity.

The classical sculpture as a combination of mass, volume, gravity. With regard to your exhibition, can you add a few words?

The opposite is the theme of the exhibition: Modern sculpture is not mass, volume and gravity, but anti-gravity and levitation, emptiness, air, light. Not so much the stable as the mobile. The central works are hanging, floating works. Works that delimit a virtual volume with contours, sculptures made of lines. Just as modern sculptures depend on the qualities of whole, perforation, permeability, interspaces, interspace forms, the term Negative Space can be specified and extended in relation to sculpture by means of shadows, virtual volume, reflections, spatial illusions and constructions.

What range of artistic means of representation and materials can be seen in the course of your exhibition?

The exhibition offers an overview of the entire range of historical and contemporary sculptural and plastic materials such as aluminium, iron, wood, glass, plexiglass, PVC foils, marble, stone, wool, fabrics, plaster, cardboard, mirrors, ropes, carbon ribbons, magnetic rods, smoke, mist, etc. The exhibition also includes a number of other materials -  media for example,  to be seen from a range of analogues (light, air, stone, ...) to digital (virtual reality and augmented reality applications).

Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt), Tronco No.2, Approx. 975, Stahl und Bronze, ca. 144 x 30 x 35 cm © Fondación Gego. Foto: Marcel Meuri, Zürich
Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt), Tronco No.2, Approx. 975,
stainless steel and bronze, c.144 x 30 x 35 cm
© Fondación Gego. Photo: Marcel Meuri, Zürich

Which senses are addressed? Are acoustic means or even room scents used?

All senses are addressed, including the sense of touch, since some sculptures are participative. It is precisely the materiality that needs to be felt. Sound sculptures offer acoustic sensations. Fragrance is not an explicit medium of the exhibition.

Is there an exhibit that works with the element of water as space?

Yes, liquid sculptures are represented in the exhibition by several showcases of works.

According to the ZKM, it houses the world's largest collection of computer-based art – what can anyone interested in this art genre expect?

Computer-based art is characterized above all by a new form of information storage. The information in an oil painting (color on canvas) cannot be changed by the viewer, at most it can be deleted. The same applies to photography and the chemical storage of information. The information can only be deleted. With tape and videotape and their magnetic storage, the information can already be changed. In the electrical or electronic storage of information in computer-based art, each piece of information is only a variable that can be influenced by the viewer/user. The output of a computer-based work depends on the input of the user. Therefore, computer-based works of art have a life-like behavior. So we can say: In the 20th century we experienced the development from the movement media (steam engine, railway, car, bicycle...) to the image media (cinematograph). In the digital 21st century we are experiencing the arrival of bio-media (Bio-Art).

Which exhibit of the exhibition would you personally describe as a highlight?

I will gladly leave the answer to the visitors.

Negative space. Trajectories of Sculpture

ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe
Lorenzstraße 19
76135 Karlsruhe

6 April 2019 – 11 August 2019 

Author: Claudia Thiel

Claudia Thiel is an art historian and immersed herself for us in the theme of negative space to ask Peter Weibel the most insteresting questions.


Cover picture: Kimchi and Chips, Mimi Son, Elliot Woods, Jungnhoon Pi Line Segments Space, 2013 © ZKM | Center for Art and Media. Photo: Felix Grünschloss

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