Renaissance 3.0: A Base Camp for New Alliances of Art and Science in the 21st Century
The exhibition, Renaissance 3.0: A Base Camp for New Alliances of Art and Science in the 21st Century, at the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) unfolds around the idea that we are currently entering the era of a third renaissance in which art, science, and technology will merge again to foster innovation and new ways of knowing. Curated by the late Peter Weibel and ZKM curator Anett Holzheid, the exhibition is the last cadence of a long and extraordinarily productive era that was shaped and guided by Weibel in his position as Chairman and CEO of ZKM from 1999 until his unexpected death on March 1, 2023 shortly before retiring from this position. The title of the exhibition Renaissance 3.0 refers to previous ZKM exhibitions that were labeled with the term Renaissance 2.0 such as the GLOBALE exhibitions Infosphere and ExoEvolution in 2015. The current exhibition provides a follow-up in that sense, but it features numerous newly commissioned works as well as artworks that were created in the last two to five years. In addition, the curatorial concept provides for including highlights from previous exhibitions and archival material. Alongside historical artifacts and engravings, the curatorial team presents a large number of approaches used in contemporary collaborations between artists and scientists, contemporary sci-art coalitions, as well as artistic laboratory situations, which are producing shared and multidisciplinary ways of knowing—from biochemistry to genetic engineering, and from information design to neuroscience and unconventional computing.
The exhibition encompasses several historical periods as well as an impressive number of subject areas, beginning with the first renaissance—the Islamic Golden Age—in which cities such as Baghdad, Cairo, and Córdoba became major intellectual centers of learning and education in art, architecture, science, philosophy, and medicine: texts from classical Greek antiquity were sought out, translated into Arabic and Persian and elaborated, in which form they then found their way into Europe. The first renaissance was followed by a second renaissance—a European cultural movement covering the 15th and 16th centuries, when scholars were rediscovering the knowledge of classical antiquity in philosophy, literature, and art. This influenced many areas of intellectual life—art, architecture, philosophy, literature, music, science, technology, politics, and religion. Art, science, and technology flourished, financed by independent city republics such as Florence and Venice that had grown tremendously rich by applying the principles of capitalism and setting in motion a vast and unprecedented commercial revolution in which money and art went hand in hand. The curators present examples of scientific and artistic achievements of the Islamic Golden Age: a digital version of Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari’s treatise “Compendium on the Theory and Practice of the Mechanical Arts” (1206 CE), held in the Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul, and a digital version of a 1209 CE manuscript, “The Book of Ingenious Devices” by the Banú (Ahmad, Muhammad, and Hasan, the three sons of) Músà bin Shákir, published in Baghdad in 850 CE, to illustrate how technology was understood in medieval imaginaries, especially objects like apparatuses and automata. These historical manuscripts are juxtaposed with a 2015 archaeological reconstruction of the Zurna music finger recorder and the Zurna player with a modern approach by artist Liang Zhipeng, which is based on the surviving film copy of a destroyed manuscript, titled “Automatic hydraulic organ of the Banū Mūsā ibn Shākir” (2015).
How art and science flourished during the European Renaissance is shown in 17th century engravings, which include Sébastien Leclerc’s “L'Académie des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts” (1698), where in an imaginary architectonic setting dominated by classical columns small groups of men hold discussions surrounded by apparatuses, globes, and drawings, sketches of the moon by Galileo Galilei, and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Trattato della Pittura”—“A Treatise on Painting”, which the exhibition displays in the form of the first German translation of da Vinci’s “Trattato” by painter and art critic Heinrich Ludwig, published in Vienna in 1882. In the curators’ perspective, we are standing on the brink of a third renaissance, because knowledge is available and accessible at a scale never before known in human history, powered in recent decades by extensive digitization as the driving force of technological and cultural evolution. This includes the observation that art and technology-driven science today regularly use the same tools, methods, protocols, and programs in the sense of a common “pool of tools.” 19th and 20th century advances in technology have not only impacted science to a large extend, but also made new tools available for artists, which is also true for our own time.
Inherently interdisciplinary, Renaissance 3.0 demonstrates that the field where art, science, and technology meet has vastly expanded in recent years, and today is increasingly concerned with environmental issues. The exhibition makes it clear that creative collaborations between artists, scientists, and hybrid practitioners have great potential to foster innovation and to promote much needed transformation processes, not only because of the common use of a “pool of tools,” but because they offer ways to handle less extreme forms of specialization and therefore allow cross-fertilization of ideas. Linking science and society through art offers a deeper understanding of how to encourage dialogue, collaboration, and interdisciplinary ways of knowing in order to foster transformative literacy. Using ways of artistic exploration as a new medium to transfer scientific knowledge across specializations, which is still produced in most cases in hyperspecialized academic silos behind closed doors and behind pay walls, is offering new ways of connecting people with scientific inquiry and with complex issues such as climate science or research on global challenges that are affecting our civilization on a planetary scale, including energy transition, food security, and pandemics.
Understanding current and future intersections between advances in modern technology and our societies through an artistic lens as well as making knowledge widely accessible through digitization, is the legacy of this last exhibition by Peter Weibel, deeply grounded in his fundamental belief that reality is not something that is given, and what we refer to as reality is an outcome of mediations and possibilities of becoming: therefore, many worlds are possible. From his perspective, art should be understood as having the potential to produce worldviews, rather than seen merely as an object for aesthetic evaluations.
Overwhelming scientific evidence points to the fact that the next decades will be crucial for how our civilization, and most importantly, the elites in power, who are often in league with the elites who control the global fossil energy regimes, respond to the fact that natural systems and social and technological systems are linked by coevolutionary dynamics and that human activity has left our planet struggling to sustain life. Ecosystems can tolerate a certain level of impact from human use with some negative effects—an attribute known as resilience—but beyond a certain tipping point, sudden, radical, and often irreversible disruption occurs. Systemic change will be unavoidable in terms of finding alternative models for human development, models that confer an advantage on those who are best adapted to live in balance with the world around them and capable of emancipating themselves from the current destructive and deeply unjust anthropocentric models of development. As Renaissance 3.0 shows us, 21st century art can play a crucial role in identifying future scenarios for positive social dynamics.
The full list of artists with works in the exhibition: Louis Bec, Otto Beckmann, Oskar Beckmann, Michael Bielicky, Kamila B. Richter, Hubert Blanz, Jonathan Borofsky, Tega Brain, James Bridle, Daniel Canogar, Lutz Dammbeck, Agnes Denes, Götz Dipper, Anna Dumitriu & Alex May, Thomas Feuerstein, Holger Förterer, Julie Freeman, Christoph Girardet, Barbara Hammer, Ivan Henriques, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Jan van IJken & Jana van Winderen, Interspecifics, Manfred P. Kage, Jens Kull, Armin Linke, Bernd Lintermann, Christian Lölkes, Christian Losert & Daniel Dalfovo, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Ana Mendieta, Dorcas Müller, Pasi Orrensalo, Paul Panhuysen, Constanza Piña Pardo, Helen Pynor, robotlab, Tomás Saraceno, Sivu, Nina Sobel, Saša Spačal, ::vtol::, Peter Weibel, Michel Winterberg, and Liang Zhipeng.