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From July 24, the ZKM Art and Media Center in Karlsruhe, Germany will host the exhibition “Critical Zones – Observatories for Earthly politics”, which was previously only available digitally, due to the risks posed by the Covid-19 virus. Among more than 50 works of art on display is also the "Atmospheric Forest" artwork by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, which is still available on the exhibition's virtual platform . “Critical Zones’’ is ever growing both at ZKM as on the digital platform. In the following weeks new art works will be continually launched online.

Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits. “Atmospheric Forest” (2020), VR installation / 360° video,“Critical Zones” Exhibition, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany. Currently available on “Critical Zones” Virtual Exhibition Platform:

The “Atmospheric Forest” (2020), VR installation by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, premiered in the exhibition “Critical Zones”, visualizes the complex relations between a forest, climate change and the atmosphere. It is a result 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.

Raitis Smits and Rasa Smite. RIXC publicity photo.

At the “Critical Zones” exhibition artists explore the question about the state of our Earth, looking toward the horizon of new Earthly politics.Even if it is commonly known that there is an existential threat to our collective conditions of existence, very few people have any idea of how to cope with this new critical situation. The new situation has caused a disorientation and confusion, seemingly being forced to land on a new territory – a new Earth – whose reactions  have been ignored for a long time. 

The hypothesis that is proposed by the curators is that the best way to map this new Earth is to see it as a network of critical zones. Generated over eons of time by various life forms, these critical zones form a surface only a few kilometers thin. Those life forms had completely transformed the original geology of the Earth, before humanity transformed it yet again over the last centuries. 

Over the years, scientists have installed multiple observatories to study these critical zones and have made us aware of the complex composition and extreme fragility of this thin layer inside which all life forms, humans included, have to cohabit. Increasingly, scientists, artists, activists, politicians, and citizens are realizing that society is not centered solely on humanity and that politics is no longer about humans making decisions on their own and for themselves only, but has become an immensely more complex undertaking. New forms of citizenship and new types of attention and care for life forms are required to generate a common ground. 

Until February 28, 2021, at the ZKM Center for Art and Media will take place the exhibition “Critical Zones - Observatories for Earthly Politics” that will explore the diversity of relations between the life forms and will give an opportunity to visitors to familiarize themselves with the new situation. This special combination of thought experiment and exhibition was developed by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour in their previous collaborations at ZKM.


Exhibition curators: Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel with Martin Guinard-Terrin and Bettina Korintenberg.

Further information about the exhibition:
Exhibition digital platform:

“Atmospheric Forest”is based on “Ecodata – Ecomedia – Ecoaesthetics” (2017-2020) research project supported by Swiss National Foundation. The display of the artwork at the exhibition is supported by State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia, the project “Green Revisited” as the part of the program “Creative Europe”.


+371 67228478 (office)

+371 26546776 (Rasa Smite)