Critical Zones

Observatories for Earthly Politics

Project description

Growing inequality, migration crises, geopolitical conflicts and the resurgence of populism and nationalism – the world is being shaped by developments that are closely related to the dramatic ecological transformations taking place in our geosystem. According to the philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour, our view of the world as the “Blue Planet” does not adequately address the challenges we face here on earth. Latour proposes an alternative position based on the concept of “critical zones” used in geochemistry, biology and ecology, describing the thin layer of the earth in which living organisms, soil and water mutually impact one another. To describe the fundamental changes affecting the relationship of humans to their living conditions, Latour has coined the term “New Climatic Regime”.

The 4,000-m2 exhibition “Critical Zones” examines the interplay of art history, science and the politics of nature in the Western world since the 16th century and builds a bridge between the age of great modern discoveries and the New Climatic Regime. The exhibition is based on the theory that the current upheavals which are attributable to the climate are in fact comparable to the historical ruptures of the 16th century and the succession of new modern worldviews which have since arisen. With its imaginative, aesthetic power, art plays a central role in this process by developing new representations and potential courses of action for this unresolved situation.

Conceived as an “exhibition of ideas”, the project works with artists, researchers and activists to explore this yet undiscovered “terroir” (Latour). An international network of renowned institutions (e.g. the Institut national des sciences de l’univers, Harvard University, Helmholtz Centre in Potsdam) and experts are also involved in developing the exhibition. The project is based on a two-year workshop at the HfG Karlruhe in which students and researchers are collaborating with Latour to establish the theoretical fundamentals of “critical zones”. New productions and the inclusion of artistic positions from such countries as Iran, Nigeria and China will allow visitors to critically re-evaluate the Western dominated discourse on issues of migration, economy and a territorial-based global domestic policy.

Artistic director: Bruno Latour (FR)
Artists and researchers: Dipesh Chakrabarty (IN), Julian Charrière (CH), Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (LB), Joseph Leo Koerner (US), Agnieszka Kurant (PL), Armin Linke (IT), Bibi Manavi (IR), Emeka Ogboh (NG), Sarah Sze (US), SOC – Société d’Objets Cartographiques (FR), Zhao Liang (CN)


  • 24 July, 2020 to 28 February, 2021: Exhibition

    ZKM | Center for Art and Media Technology, Karlsruhe


ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien

Lorenzstraße 19
76135 Karlsruhe (external link, opens in a new window)