Biennial theme 2021|22

"Die Vermessung des Lebendigen"


The starting point of our biennial theme for 2021|22 “Die Vermessung des Lebendigen” is the competitive relationship between the respective disciplines regarding the interpretation of life: how do we want to understand the living today under conditions of increasingly precise measurability?

Over the course of the next two years, this complex question is to be posed in a diversified programme of events at the interface of science, art and literature. The occasion is the 200th birthdays of physicist Hermann von Helmholtz and physician Rudolf Virchow. In the 19th century, their scientific approaches and measuring techniques gave rise to a life science that still shapes our view of today’s world. For example, Helmholtz’s ophthalmoscope from 1851 materializes a physics of the living that allows us to look inside the body and makes the cornea a measurable quantity. In Virchow's medical report “Ueber die Kanalisation in Berlin” (“On the Sewer System in Berlin”) from 1868, a knowledge of life is produced that links epidemics back to social housing conditions, so that, for example, a connection between floor affiliation and death rate can be observed: in order to reduce the latter in the excessively humid basement apartments, Virchow recommends a deep sewer system. At the same time, both scholars show the problematic consequences which can arise from measuring the living. For example, if conclusions want to be drawn from the results of measuriung human skulls.

The biennial theme seeks to make Helmholtz’s and Virchow’s ‘body and city measurements’ the starting point for scientific, artistic and literary approaches which explore, in different event formats, the ways of perceiving and representing the living and its measurability from then until today. How can simplifying debates on the subject of life be avoided when its measurability is constantly increasing? How do you deal with data about life that has been stored in millions? Isn’t artificial intelligence somehow also alive? How can culturally different views of life be preserved in an increasingly globalized world? To what extend do artistic methods contribute to the measurement of the living? Which new literary writing forms can be observed in the digital age with regard to writing about life (bio-graphy)? 

We cordially invite you to a lively discussion that will explore these and other questions in lectures, workshops, performances, exhibitions and readings over the next two years.