Living in Digital Worlds – Open Codes @ZKM Karlsruhe

Screenshot from the Open Codes exhibition website. (c) ZKM / Screenshot, Marc-Oliver Pahl

On March 23, 2018 Marc-Oliver Pahl [1], Olivia Mackowiak [2, 3] and Gerhard Schimpf [4] from Being Human with Algorithms visited the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (ZKM) in Karlsruhe [5]. The ZKM is a place for experimental contemporary art installations. Check their website for more information [5]. We had the great pleasure to meet with Peter Weibel, director of the ZKM, and Bernd Lintermann, one of the leading artists, there.

At ZKM the exhibition “Living in Digital Worlds – Open Codes” [6] is shown from Oct 20, 2017 to Jan 06, 2019. If you have the chance to be in the area, do not miss it! The exhibition  shows an artistic discussion of the digital transformation and its effects. In various installations you can not only see aspects and effects of the digital change but experiment with it firsthand.

After a fantastic interview about the effects of the digital transformation that you can find here, Bernd Lintermann guided us through several of the art pieces in the wonderful exhibition. Below you can find a video with some impressions.

We started our tour with the installation “You:R:Code”. This work shows the transformation of the I from the physical reality through a mirror to a binary representation with a dot matrix that can only show 0 and 1. A great thing about this piece is that it illustrates different digital perspectives on the I. “You:R:Code” shows for me different views of algorithms on humans.

The next piece is called “Alphabet Space”. By moving a physical three dimensional object, texts can be written. To do so an alphabet is shown that is a 2d projection of the 3d shape, e.g. the shadow of it. By turning the object, visitors can try to map the positions of the 3d object to a text. This turned out to be very challenging. Especially as the virtual representation does not match the physical object’s positioning in space. This shows the differences in reference systems of the physical and the digital world. A twist for humans as the digital world can have arbitrary physics as players of computer games know. “Alphabet Space” shows for me that man made semantics must not conform with semantics used by computers. In fact experiments such as making computers talk to each other showed that the machines created semantics that were not human understandable anymore but probably more expressive. This experiment was then stopped by the way.

Our next stop was the installation “Three Phases of digitalization”. This piece shows how our world becomes more and more digital. It also illustrates the duality between the physical world and the digital one. By placing physical books on a table, one can see their virtual representation on a glass window. Interestingly the physical books do not contain their actual texts. They only have markers that are translated into the digitized texts in the computer and shown on the screen. What we see on the screen is thereby an augmented view on the reality. For me this piece illustrates again that the physical and the digital reality can be connected and are yet different at the same time.

The difference between the digital and the physical world is illustrated a second time as the projection on the wall is not visible through human eyes as its light is not filtered. Only by looking through the polar filter on the glass, people can see the information that is otherwise lost in light.

Finally we tried a virtual reality installation by Bernd Lintermann that I did not find online. By using virtual glasses, one enters the digital space. The installation plays nicely with the differences between the worlds. Though still being in the physical reality of the ZKM room, one sees the impressions of the different virtual world. Lintermann illustrates the challenges by pushing the user to walk through virtual walls to enter new dimensions. This is quite difficult as one literally walks against a wall but feels no pain… We as visitors become part of the digital world, created by algorithms to stimulate our senses.

For more details on the art shown there refer to [7].

Enjoy the video of impressions [8]:

There is also a German experience report: Ein deutscher Erfahrungsbericht findet sich hier auf


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Dr. Marc-Oliver Pahl is a researcher and teacher at Technical University of Munich. In his spare time he is also a photographer, designer, musician, and enthusiastic sportsman. Marc-Oliver leads the IoT Smart Space team at the Chair of Network Architectures and Services at Technical University of Munich. His research interests are in autonomous management of distributed heterogeneous devices including support functionality for managing IoT smart spaces, semantic abstractions, name-based management via P2P systems, edge-based IoT management, data analytics support, e.g. via machine learning or blockchain, use case implementations and testbeds. As second research topic he is doing teaching research focusing on developing new teaching methodologies, eLearning, and learning analytics. For his teaching related activities he received the prestigious Ernst Otto Fischer Award in 2013. Marc-Oliver is a professional member of ACM, IEEE, German Society for Informatics (GI), Deutscher Hochschullehrerverband (DHV), German Chapter of the ACM, and Faculty Sponsor of the ACM Student Chapter in Munich.

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