Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (ZKM) is an international media art organization founded in 1989. A year before, a working group of scholars and practitioners suggested establishing a centre for art and media in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the local governments eventually agreed. This innovative project to bring media art into an institutional setting was underway within a year of its proposal. The ZKM is among the first major institutions solely devoted to media art and its dissemination, in the company of the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, (opened in 1996) and the InterCommunication Center in Tokyo (opened in 1997). But in typical fashion and for various reasons, the ZKM's founding met with some negative reactions.
"Much of this [criticism] was informed by a spirit of skepticism towards technology; and the fact that the project was unprecedented was in itself an encouragement to this cautious or dismissive attitude. For those with other concerns, anxiety was provoked by awareness that the proposed Center would certainly mount a bold challenge to the conventional categorization of art."
The ZKM launched its activities by hosting Multimediale, a biennial festival of media arts that began in 1989. Before the ZKM even had a permanent building, Jeffrey Shaw, the director and founder of the ZKM Institute for Visual Media, and the organization prepared several exhibitions for the citizens of Karlsruhe, introducing media arts and interactivity into public spaces. In 1992, their first exhibition, Bitte Berühren (Please Touch), was held in the crypt of Karlsruhe's evangelical church. At the same time, artists were being invited to Karlsruhe to create work under the aegis of the ZKM. Studio spaces were created where possible, and at Multimediale 3 in 1993, the first ZKM productions were showcased in an exhibition called NewFoundland.
Meanwhile, construction began on the new centre in 1993 and opened on 18 October 1997. The ZKM, as it is known today, is made up of seven departments-the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Media Museum, the Media Library, the Media Theatre, the Institute for Visual Media, the Institute for Net Developments, and the Institute for Music and Acoustics-that work together to further research and development in media arts. The entire organization occupies a massive, former munitions factory renovated to house ample exhibition spaces, a media lab, offices and a theatre space.
The ZKM's inauguration was celebrated with the exhibition Media-Art-History (1997), which presented works by such artists as Luc Courchesne, Lynn Hershman, Bill Seaman, Ken Feingold, Jill Scott and Masaki Fujihata. Complementing the exhibition was a rich catalogue that discusses media museums, media art history and media artworks(3) and highlights the importance of the centre's existence for these artists. As Hans-Peter Schwarz, the director of the Media Museum, states:
"The ZKM has set itself the task of offering at least somewhat safer ground for these brave artistic comments on an almost overpowering technology. They have repeatedly had to fight for their existence in the past, since they have been unable to find a home either in the traditional institutions where art is kept or sold or in the diaspora of scientific and entertainment societies."
SurroGate (1998), which opened a year after the ZKM's inauguration, dealt with interactivity in its most complex forms and featured the work of artists such as Ken Feingold and the Knowbotic Research Group.
"SurroGate describes new forms of expression and unfamiliar spaces of experience: models of virtual worlds that require co-operation and coordinated interaction from several visitors. The viewers can either interact together on location or be joined via a network. Some exhibits link real and virtual object worlds, other works thematize societal reality and social processes. Especially these works show that today numerous artists are committed to moving beyond the aesthetic context and questioning technology's ambivalent influence and imprecise responsibility."
In 1999, the ZKM presented Video Cult/ures, an exhibition dedicated to investigating and showcasing trends in media art during the 1990s. Net_Condition in 1999-2000, one of the first major exhibitions to look at Net art in a museum context, is among the more recent exhibitions most referenced by Net art theorists, curators, artists and researchers. This exhibition dealt not only with artistic practices on the Internet but also with how to exhibit Net art meaningfully and realistically. The ZKM chose to give each work its own computer, and these Net art works were then shown off-line. Although the problem of exhibiting Net art and the question of whether it should even be exhibited were certainly not solved with one exhibition, the show's chief curator, Peter Weibel, and the ZKM did bring these crucial matters to the forefront and invited others to tackle them. This desire to provoke and challenge existing discourse has helped to question the place of media art in major institutions, and the ZKM continues to lead in exploring the exhibition of such works.
As well, the ZKM boasts one of the world's most important collections of media art, from the 1960s to today. Pieces from the collection are always on display in the ZKM's Museum of Contemporary Art. The ZKM also leads the field in innovative publication projects. Most of the centre's exhibition catalogues are accompanied by CD-ROMs. In addition, the ZKM initiated an innovative series of CD-ROM publications titled Artintact, an attempt to disseminate work that is often difficult to document using traditional means such as photography or video.
The ZKM has consistently maintained an active exhibition schedule. Besides hosting several major shows such as Olafur Eliasson: Surroundings Surrounded (May to August 2001) and CTRL [SPACE] (September 2001 to February 2002), an exhibition delving into the aesthetics and politics of surveillance, the ZKM has organised a new large-scale show, Future Cinema, that has been partly funded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation. This show emphasizes new tendencies in cinematic practice using digital technologies.