return to nº43

by Véronique Brom

It is difficult to explain what the ZKM is really about, because it is part of a rather complex venture. To start with, the curator of the Communications Media Museum, Gerhard Blechinger, gives us an idea by putting forward a kind of counter-definition : the ZKM is not a new technologies and art museum. On the other hand, it is a museum that aims at exploring the possibilities of those new media of expression which arouse debate, and at times controversy, and which lead people to "argue", i.e. to think and reason. In his opinion, the absence of technologies creates a principle of fiction, intimate and personal, which is born of feelings within the self. Consequently, a museum such as the ZKM appears as an extension of man's interior universe, or rather as a vehicle for uniting that universe with all its potential forms of expression. So that is the spirit in which the ZKM is meant to function : it is a thought-impelling machine, but with a fundamental predisposition to harmonize thoughts and actual productions.
With a view to illustrating his comments, the curator decides to show us one of the showpieces he considers as an essential element of the museum's collection, "Camera silens", a work designed in 1994 by Olai Arndt and Rob Moonen, who used a neurophysiological experience as a basis for creation. It is a cushioned room, with heavily padded walls, which provokes a feeling of respiratory, visual and therefore psychological saturation. We feel asphyxiated because we are overcome by an intensely oppressive sensation and, in order to create such an atmosphere, the artists have had no need to make use of the so-called new technologies. In that sense, their work is a perfect illustration of the view just expressed by Gerhard Blechinger : the Communications Media Museum is not merely centred on technology, it is also concerned with direct, basic experimentation. Experience can be induced and lived through without having to use a machine or a computer, simply by immersing oneself in a certain universe, naturally letting philosophical concepts mingle with playful, immediate experiences. (...)

by Gerhard Blechiger,
curator of the Communications Media Museum.

The concept underlying the inner structure of the ZKM is the combination of a museum - and therefore of the principles that rule museums - and a creation and research institute. In a word, it is an advanced concept of what a museum should be.
Such a combination can be summarized in two key words : presentation and production. This makes a rather special place of the ZKM. We have lately noted how centres similar to ours are being set up all over Europe, which is all right, as long as we continue to be the point of reference !
One of the strong points of the ZKM lies in its capacity to harmonize its public and private partners' interests. We are a public centre insofar as the ZKM is a museum and we have therefore the obligation to inform people about matters which belong to our particular sphere of activity : art and modern communications. But we are also have links with the economic world through research programmes for which we are granted specific budgets and, of course, we generate equally specific interests thanks to these research programmes. (...)

by Enric Franch

(...) Time seems to have corroborated his assessment of the situation and, today, we have to acknowledge that our culture and our perception of reality are actually highly mediatized as a result of the influence exerted by the new electronic and computerized processes that play a part in the creation, production and reproduction of images and information. (...)
In our opinion, the ZKM ought to be understood within such a frame of reference. We would like to underline two particular aspects of the ZKM. First of all, the fact that it aims at harmonizing thought and production and at establishing a real debate between art and technology, although holding on to the conviction that the logic of the former will eventually prevail over that of the latter.
(...) In a German environment, nevertheless, there is nothing odd about such a proposal because it is quite in keeping with the tradition of a long-standing movement, orientated towards the remodelling of architecture and applied arts, which started in the late nineteenth century, gathered momentum in the early twentieth century and still has supporters today. (...) The second aspect we consider worthy of special mention is the museum's attempt at re-defining the contemporary artistic object not only in terms of enjoyment, critique and experimentation, but also with regard to the role the museum plays in relation to the artistic products.
(...) El Lissitzky's proposal appears as the culmination of the potential for synthesis to be found in art's historic sequence, the concrete representation of theory, as well as the introduction of a new concept of modern space. With this gallery, Dorner proves that a museum cannot be a mausoleum. On the one hand, he shows us how, depending on the hand that makes the materials come to life, it will be possible to educate visitors and somehow prepare them to live within modern society and, in the process, he also succeeds in fulfilling his aspirations to reintegrate artistic practice into everyday life. On the other hand, through the Russian artist's works, he demostrates that, with the overthrowing of the "natural" object barrier, the dissolution of perspective and the incorporation of a novel concept of space, new art becomes a sort of "design" understood as a continuous process of transformation. (...)