The thought exhibition Critical Zones – Observatories for Earthly Politics by ZKM, curated together with the French philosopher Bruno Latour, invites us to deal with the CRITICAL situation of the Earth in various ways and to explore new modes of coexistence between all forms of life.

The exhibition features various artworks and research projects that show the diversity of relationships of life on Earth, including the newly created immersive artwork Atmospheric Forest (2020) by artists and ACT lecturers – Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits. Atmospheric Forest was featured among the first 12 artworks online in the Critical Zones virtual exhibition, which opened on May 22, 2020.

The online version of Atmospheric Forest as 360-video and single-channel video artwork is now available. Currently, Atmospheric Forest is available and on view as 2-channel screen projection at the ‘physical’ exhibition of Critical Zones at ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, where it will be on view until February 28, 2021.

About Atmospheric Forest

Atmospheric Forest (2020) premiered in the exhibition “Critical Zones,” and is a new immersive installation by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits that visualizes the complex relations between a forest, climate change, and the atmosphere. Atmospheric Forest is an outcome of a three-year artistic research project on Pfynwald, an ancient Alpine coniferous forest, suffering from drought, which Swiss scientists have turned into a ‘living observatory’.

Overall, the trees are not only oxygen generators, they breathe as well. Trees emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds that we can sense as a habitual scent of the forest. Scientists have long known about the link between the fragrant forest and warming climate, but are uncertain about its impact and scale. While some believe that the strong smell of a pine forest indicates that climate change can be limited, others suggest that the volatile emissions could make global warming worse. Predicting the effects of natural volatile emissions is much more complex than thought.

Atmospheric Forest reveals patterns of this complexity by visualizing the scientific data of volatile emissions and resin pressure in pine trees during one growing season. The viewer can navigate through the emitting trees, observe the forest from the bottom up, and follow the path through the tree trunk to get far up above the emitting forest, experiencing the interactions between the terrestrial ecosystems and atmosphere. Uncertainty regarding the effects of volatile emissions remains. However, the visualized patterns show that with climate change we are set for a more fragrant and more “atmospheric forest” in the future.


About the Critical Zones concept + exhibition

For a long time the reactions of Earth to our human actions remained unnoticed, but in recent times with the protest movement Fridays for Future climate crisis has moved into public consciousness. The thought exhibition CRITICAL ZONES invites us to deal with the CRITICAL situation of the Earth in various ways and to explore new modes of coexistence between all forms of life.

Over a period of several months ZKM will host an exhibition conceived as a scale model to simulate the spatial novelty of this new land as well as the diversity of relations between the life forms inhabiting it. It will serve as an OBSERVATORY OF CRITICAL ZONES allowing visitors to familiarize themselves with the new situation. This special combination of thought experiment and exhibition was developed by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour during their previous collaborations at ZKM. “Iconoclash” in 2002, “Making Things Public” in 2005, and “Reset Modernity!” in 2016 constitute the three former thought exhibitions that resulted from their intensive working relationship which now spans twenty years.

Under the guidance of Bruno Latour and in collaboration with Martin Guinard-Terrin (curator), Bettina Korintenberg (curator, ZKM Karlsruhe) and Daniel Irrgang (media scientist, University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe), the participants of the research seminar “Critical Zones” worked both conceptually and with concrete contributions on the preparation of the exhibition of the same name at the ZKM.

The term “Critical Zone” is taken from the geo-sciences and describes the biochemical, fragile layer of the earth, its surface on which life is created. By Bruno Latour, the term is extended to a critical, participatory relationship to our living world, whose threatened state has reached an unprecedented scale in the Earth’s now man-made history. Latour has described this worldwide situation, which affects all living beings on the planet, as a »new climate regime«. It is not limited to ecological crises, but touches on questions of politics and cultural history as well as ethical and epistemological changes of perspective.

Critical Zones is ever growing both in the Atria as on the digital platform, launching new art works online continuously.

The virtual exhibition has been accessible on the digital platform ever since the opening on May 22, 2020, and it will remain open alongside the exhibition in situ.

You are also cordially invited to watch the recorded streams of the opening weekend of the exhibition here:

The Critical Zones exhibition is accessible in the Atria 1+2 at ZKM from July 24, 2020. The exhibition had to remain closed for visitors at ZKM due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the logistic consequences the virus implied.