The Azimuth Project
Experiments in art


This is a place where Grit Ruhland and John Baez can talk about art and global warming.

how to deal and speak about climate change?

Grit: My opinion is: I am not interested (now), to build a weird artistic algae-computer (or any other bioenergy driven device) neither a flag-installation producing energy through wind or other gadgets, thinkable. These are examples, that won a grant this year. I would be interested in a project, that has more conceptual and actual relevance (in my point of view). Maybe I am too sceptic about these hypes on new energies, that suggest to allow business-as-usual, but will magically solve all our troubles. Only, that we don’t have to use fossil energy anymore.


I think you’re right: the real solutions will be more painful, and also very complicated… and they will also, I believe, come rather late, after we’ve suffered quite a lot. I wish you could do some art that would make these points, or something like these points….

Grit: Oops, that sounds even less appealing than my point! To announce something as painful and complicated produces maybe more ignorance, from how I observed people.


I guess so.

Grit: I learned from ‘psychology today’ that if you have something complicated to say (e.g. to students) its better to not announce it like this, because you ‘prime’ them - that they won’t understand it.


That’s true. The fact is, I don’t know any easy, appealing solution to the climate change problem. A lot of people tend to underestimate it, even people who claim to be concerned about it. Here’s a good article:

I’ll summarize, since I seem to be throwing lots of articles at you. It says climate scientists have often avoided speaking about what they were learning about how disruptive and frightening the changes of manmade global warming will be, because they didn’t want fear to paralyze the public. But now they’re starting to speak more openly about it. And it suggests that we need to hug the monster - an interesting phrase, meaning to think about our fear, focus on it, and then transform it into action.

finding the topic

Grit: Since you are working on the topic of climate change - I think it is a relevant point of ‘energy’, isn’t it?


Yes, climate change is all about energy, how we get it, how we use it, why we always want more….

what role can art play?


I wish you could do some art that would make these points, or something like these points….

Grit: Hm, tricky point. I would like to start rather with an open question, not to ‘prove’ some assumption. But maybe that’s not what you meant?


Whoops, you’re right, I guess art should mainly not be propaganda, or try to convince someone of some fact. I don’t know what would be good art related to energy or global warming. I guess I was just talking about my own attitudes towards it.

Grit: Why do some art/science projects look so similar, no matter, what they deal with:

bacteria-power-plant: IMG_4525.jpg

A project about weightlessness: wolken-kern-scanner_20100129_1431071764.jpg

Opera with micro-organisms: pic-5.jpg

Heart-transplantation-Reanimation-Project: 02_The Body is a Big Place_Installation_2.jpg

Maybe science provides just another source of a story? Is the dimension of art-projects still restricted to the layer of representation and symbol - uncoupled from the "real world"? Then, is this representational level developed into a theatre-stage-setting - with "nature" or "natural laws" as actors? Possibly, because of the various mediums and dimensions images (pictures) turned into plays, called "project" - representing utopic, surrealistic scientific content. It seems to be the common "natural way" of presentation.

These conderations remind me on the Situationist Guy Debord and his famous book "La société du spectacle" (1967):

“Debord traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: ‘All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.’ Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as ‘the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.’ This condition, according to Debord, is the ‘historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.’

From theses 60: ‘The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived.’

Now, what I meant with this interjection, is that art is always in danger to be used to decorate, esthetize and illustrate - as a nice cover:

“The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle [Schau] consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.”

— Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

That explains maybe my discomfort, when I see these kind of "illuminated stages". That is the reason, why I produce rather rough installations - not only because I want esthetically escape from the suspicion of spectacle, but because epistemes are not visual by themselves and there is no other specific reason for staging, than the spectacle. I am always looking for a way around showing representations (Abbilder) - I look for actual (?) products (echte Ergebnisse) within this process, which are rather witnesses of a process. And I don’t know, if this is "right".

I like and hate images at the same time. A very ambivalent relationship then, since I am trained as visual artist (‘sculptor’ - which isn’t purely visual - after that sculptural- and spacial concepts). I mistrust my own drawings. On the other hand I like them and need them. Often times, to draw opens unseen ways - similar, to that you need to say something, to understand what you think. When you have said it, you can think about what it means and continue in a different direction.

Also, somehow I like exhibitions (to visit AND to make them) and then suddenly I feel trapped again in the world of representation. Thats why I do these public art- and collaborative projects. Because otherwise I would feel like living in a artifical no-space. Dissolving in a complete white, representational and weightless space - mirroring myself infinetly. Being bored, because art is a lot about blowing up borders and questioning common assumptions.

how to collaborate

Grit: What I imagine, is in case of collaboration with you: Being there and offer my skills e.g. to you, wherever you are. That you don’t have to ‘help’ me with my project. I would prefer ‘helping’ e.g. you (that the big amount of time is on my side). Or even develop something together. Does this makes sense?

About similarities and difference in Art and Science

I found a text at a gallery-website in Den Haag, that has a cooperation with an ArtScience Department in artschool. This text seems quite interesting:

“In his book ArtScience (2008) David Edwards cites many examples from the worlds of science, art, civil society and industry that show how transposing ideas or strategies from one field to the other often results in radical innovation. ArtScience for him is an intermediate area of creativity where art nor science are clearly defined: stimulating this zone he considers to be one of the key strategies to foster innovation. The core idea that makes such collaborations and intermediate zones interesting is that art and science are both considered as types of research, and that they are thought to be complementary in many ways. Where science maintains an aura of objectivity and detachedness, in art subjectivity and critical engagement tend to be favoured. Where in science peer-review is the norm, artists are expected to be iconoclastic and original. Where science is expressed in formulas and text, art often exists through non-verbal experience. Ultimately, however, art and science share the aim to enlarge the scope of our ideas about the world. By inventing new media and new artistic languages, art can create new worlds of experience. By widening our imagination it also creates new kinds of thinking, as we can not think about the things we can not imagine.

*I just found out today, that two students of this departement are here with me in Salzamt. Ehsan, one of them, told me, that they opened a second part within this departement called "Artistic Research" because some artists got tired of all the Media Art coming out of this ArtScience progamm. He grined, when I told him about my estonishment, that so many projects look the same - he does "Artistic Research" - the re-foundation of ArtScience. As you can see, it seems to be not easy.

As for my profession I would agree on the points made in this article. Also ambivalence is a quality-criteria in art, I assume. It is impossible, to define art. If someone defines it, someone else is coming and does something, that proofs, that this wasn’t a limit (or border) of art. Efforts to explain what art is, usually end up in being ridiculous. I translated this conversation for you - with the well established artist Wolfang Tillmans (the one that I sent you the photo last time):

FAZ: How would you define art?

Wolfgang Tillmans: My definition is: Art is useless. I believe, that art is a research lacking of direction, while applied art has a use and a direction, always including a result. My reason of making art is, because a I can’t express it in words already.“

Especially the last sentence (image vs. text) is a typical habitus of the (west) german art scene - there is not one habitus, but a lot of small "kingdoms". This doctrine (did you noticed he really startet with "ich glaube" - I believe) maybe a reason for the conflict and mistrust that is cultivated in the some parts of the art-scene against science. Explaination and comprehensible logic is seen as a very delicat, unwanted phenomenon. At worst in the work itself! Because as Tillmans said, when you can express it in words, you shouldn’t turn it into art. (Some artists look down at art-teachers and designers. It would be more honourable for them, to earn money by serving as waiter than to change sides to applied arts or teaching. That is what I call "existentialistic")

What I like in his statement is the first sentence. And it has to be taken really literally. If you make art conditioned to use, it is propaganda or design - not art. Art in itself is neutral. The natural uselessness of art that is already a point of confrontation to efficiency and to economy and therefore actually to the artmarket (where conceptual positions are very rarely sold. Tillmans, Beuys, Sehgal and a couple of others are exceptions, about 80% of the sells are paintings - second best are photos.) So art, isn’t made for investment, nor for education (Erziehung), nor for pleasure, nor to gain public attention but for cognition as type of research.

The topic of the absence of use within the arts was one reason for the nothing-project. Also Cage’s work, is a lot about unintentional action. He is the master of playing with expectation, logic and sense - I quote from a interview

“When I hear, what we call music, it seems to me, that someone is talking - about his feelings or about his ideas of realtionships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic here on 6th avenue, for instance - I don’t have the feeling, that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound. (…)

When I talk about music, it finally comes to peoples mind, that I am talking about sound, that doesn’t mean anything. That is not inner, but is just outer. And when they say, these people, who finally understand that, say: ‘You mean its just sounds?’ Thinking that for something just being a sound is being useless. Where as I love sounds, just as they are. And I have no need for them, to be anything more, then what they are.“

So obviously, it was his way of dealing with the problem of encoded representation ("someone is talking about his feelings") - to provide stage for things (entities) that are "just acting"

Now - to draw the picture of diversity, I will talk about judging art. The place with a clear rating is the university, apart from this institution, there is not much substantial feedback at all (as mentioned in the art/science article). It all remains in a very blury shape of getting invited (project/gallery/show), getting grants (and/or sell) and exhibit. (More about exchange later) It seems, that this - strangly enough - doesn’t belong to the artistic process anymore, as soon as one leaves the artschool.

Where I studied, most professors had different opinions, about what art is - therefore one had to join a professor and study in this class together with 20-30 other students for some years, by doing individual works and attending meetings to talk about them. But there was one point all these artist-professors agreed: that it is actually impossible, to judge art objectively. Which led to the strange situation, that they would refuse marks, where ever they could. And for those occasions, where they must give grades (for the degrees) they had a funny system: Generally, everyone gets the best note: "1", because one can’t judge art! But this best note "1" was officially divided into 1,0; 1,3; 1,5; 1,7; they used these subnotes to express the actual, internal judgements on the works. Except sometimes, they didn’t like the style, approach or sujet at all - so then, they gave a "2" - a shame for those, who got it. Works they found really extraordinary weak and old-fashined sometimes got a "3" - "passed" (bestanden) but that was a big insult, and would only happen to few outsiders, modelling 19th century-portraits along classical music drinking herb tea (in sculptors case). Students, that were lazy or highly disorganised, did not a professor, since you must be accepted by someone to study. And professors wanted to have good and sucessful students only, since they are a representation for them - especially to other colleagues. (also it wasn’t clear, what makes someone a good artist - the ability of staying at parties very long, drinking beer and smoking a lot, while telling strange stories and knowing a lot of people certainly provided a good base to this judge - even if no-one would admit that) Non-art-professors (such as architects, philosophers, art-historians) scraped their hair upon this marking practise. But the artists were in a strong majority and very convinced, that it is the ONLY way to deal with notes.

When I have to give marks to my students I do a mixed version. Usually I try to keep this everyone-mark-one-policy. While my boss in the architecture-departement once suggested, that anyone can only get "2" at maximum, since we (professor and assistent) are the best and only our works, would be worth mark "1". It was meant to be funny (we didn’t do that). Since I am teaching art-pedagogy-students now, I discuss this topic with them. They also bring in the newest models of alternative practises - such as a combination of my judgement and their own. I still hate giving them marks. I take a lot of effort to speak with them about their work as much as I can, which provides already from my point of view the best feedback for them. So far for ambivalence within art!

Math was always the opposite example, given to us - that you can judge and mark without trouble. Is that true? Or is it a stereotype? From what I heard, a theory is not necassarily true, but just a hypthesis, that is not proofen wrong.

working methods

Grit: 1.) So, for my (artistic) point of view, reflection and discussion is part of a work itself. Within all things happening, at some point it is easy to forget good points that had been made. If one documents it, it is saved from oblivion and there is a bigger chance to maybe prepare a prospective next step - which can happen, but mustn’t. I can’t predict, that we will find a productive point/result/product/artifact. But we enhance the possibility with a discussion, that something may happen - and if it is "only" to learn a bit more about another field, working method and way of thinking. As visual artist I (and not only me) often feel pressure, to produce something mostly visible. The art-world is divided about that point! Conceptuals always stress the importance of the process, but it isn’t easy to convince people with that. How do you feel about that?

2.)We are already in the process … So even the difficulties of starting belong to this process. I don’t take them personal at all. If there wouldn’t be struggles, I would become suspicious ;-) - it would be against most of my experience. You seem already to understand more, than most non-professionals in art. Even with collaborations between architects and artists it is considered as interdisciplinary work. The point can’t be to force artists into science nor the other way round.

3.) The medium … Also our written discussion could be a good way of exchange. It isn’t depend on the same time and I can read slowly what you wrote, think about it and look up some words, that I don’t know. In written communication I am more precise, since I try to shape statements better.

4.) complete openness … my working method … Starting point: being in the dark - from that walking around, thinking and discussing: collect and fill myself with images, stories, sounds and other knowledge - next picking up random (not really, but it’s not necessary to explain or categorise) thoughts, images, ideas e.g. and start building, drawing, writing or singing about it - through this "real" work, you relate back to reality, somehow. Last step - publish these "results" enable exchange and discussion and collaboration (at best). In our case we could select interesting findings or statements after a while.

5.) collaboration … how do you usually work?


As for 5), to be really honest I usually like to work with grad students, where I can boss them around! I view that as an ‘apprenticeship’ where I teach them how to be a mathematician. I’ve also had plenty of collaborations with equals, though. There we usually get an idea by talking about things, then work out the details either together or separately (or usually both), and then write up a paper together.

I haven’t collaborated on art much, though I’m trying to do some music with the help of Greg Egan - there he’s writing some software and I’m using it to make music.

Grit: I would be interested to hear it …

I feel quite completely confused about how we might collaborate. But that’s okay.

Grit: Maybe talking first? One step after the other?



By the way, there’s a lot of interesting questions about ‘networks’ related to energy and global warming and other ecological issues… networks are quite interesting and even fun to look at.

Grit: What means ‘network’? Has it something to do with self-organisation?


It has something to do with that. A network is just a bunch of things connected to other things. The things and connections can be of many different types. Here are 4 examples:

chemical reaction network




Grit: I learned now, that these you sent me are graphs (?), but I still have troubles to understand them. (The german wikipedia-site says, that U-Bahn-maps and family trees are graphs, too - now, I don’t really know, what is the essence (Wesen) of graphs) As all notations, they seem logic to those, who are familiar with their interpretation, which I am (mostly) not.

Let’s take the first image: It looks formalized, since all black outlines have the same stroke weight and there are only two (actually four) colours. Shapes are very reduced and geometric. The types (and some arrows) are not exactly positioned - I assume the author (you?) used an office program. The spaces between the types vary more then usual, maybe because of the font. I can tell, that the image is about a chemical reaction, because I know the abbreviations. And there are circles - that I can see as symbols for atoms or molecules. The arrows make me think of that the atoms are moving towards each other (but why do they then end up in a turquoise square? before they "develop" into the next molecule?) I regard this square as black box, where you don’t know, what is happening. Oh, and I expect the reading direction is from left to right. Maybe it is a closed system, were the CO2, that is produced in the last step - is already involved three steps before?

Figure A.2 looked first like an electronic circuit to me … because of the ground-symbols.

Okay, I am not really stupid and can read the subtitles and as I said, I recognise mostly combination of letters as representation for molecules, because I was interested in school in bio-chemistry. The rest of the symbols is not familiar to me. Are they icons (after Peirce: "An icon is a sign that denotes its object by virtue of a quality which is shared by them but which the icon has irrespectively of the object. The icon (for instance, a portrait or a diagram) resembles or imitates its object") or symbols? If they are icons, I have a chance - if they are symbols - I am lost! (unless I become a scientist) I don’t want be a fault-finder, I just really look for a way how to look at these images. And what you want to tell with them - becuase there are many ways of interpretation. And somehow I struggle to ask for an explaination (the evil word again). Although I want to know what you are doing and understand how you work. So maybe I take the explaination on that purpose.

Part of the challenge is organizing the chaotic diversity of different networks into a nice science. Mathematically you can get started by treating a network as a graph, but that’s just the very beginning.

Grit: What comes after the beginning?

It’s easy for me to imagine making networks into visual art of some sort… these pictures are already a bit pretty, and they can become even nicer. But I have no big desire to make them into art - I’m already working on networks, and that’s already an esthetic pursuit, to some extent.

Grit: I would be interested what comes easily into your mind, when you think about turning them into art!

When you mentioned that, I was a bit confused - because that wouldn’t be that easy to me. I thought on what they remind me, there came some examples in my mind;

Atelier van Lieshout, Slave City (2008) This project is highly sarcastic and dystopian, from my point of view it uses these fake-techno-science aestethetic to enhance the tension.


Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost montage_E.jpg

Press text: “With different interventions Denicolai & Provoost examine continuously the question of the esthetics of a deduced product. The art of Denicolai & Provoost may be lacking in clearness and logic but in exchange the artists offer very intimate insights into their world of experience and are questioning the routine of watching art.”

Galerie West

And Jorinde Voigt - she is about to become a new art-star. Maybe that is closer, to what you imagined?

WV-2012-1681.jpg her website

I would be interested, what you see in these drawings. I can understand them in a very pure aestethetic way, but apart from that - I couldn’t say, what they are about. Can you? (without background information)

And the last one in the row - Gerhard Richter (the most expensive artist since 2004 with exception of 2009) - the Guardian reportet about him as: Picasso of the 21st century

He paints from templates - private fotos, press photos and - grafics and newspaper articles. In this case, I show you one of his pieces from 2002/4 “Strontium”: tumblr_m966mzm0Xm1rc4q2go1_500.jpg


wikipedia: “In some paintings blurs and smudges are severe enough to disrupt the image; it becomes hard to understand or believe. The subject is nullified. In these paintings, images and symbols (such as landscapes, portraits, and news photos) are rendered fragile illusions, fleeting conceptions in our constant reshaping of the world.”

So apart from Jorinde Voigt, whose drawings in my eyes are mainly gesticulatory (no value-judgement!) and scientific metaphoric - the other artists show a critical distance to the subject of view (Gegenstand der Betrachtung). It seems to me, that they do not want to show something, but to question the cognition of the image itself (Richter), use the trust to provoke (Lieshout) or stimulate the memory on objective images (Denicolai Provoost).

Although scientfic images are interesting for the artworld, too. Yesterday, I got an information about this show:

13988.jpg more here

Quote John: "I’m already working on networks, and that’s already an esthetic pursuit, to some extent."

Do you your work is an aestetic pursuit or the networks themselves? I would like both versions ;-)!

Kenah Cusanit “Notizen” (poetry)

“(…) Ich lese dort:

  • wovon in englischer Übersetzung Rutger Kopland überzeugt ist: ‘that scientific research is fundamentally no different to the process of writing a poem.’(…)“

I had this idea

Grit: On the purpose of finding a language together, I was thinking to write you about my understanding of image, space, esthetic, nice, energy, … words you somehow mentioned. Then I thought, that it might sound, that all artists in general think about these topics like me. Which would be not true. Then I wondered, what would be true and I tought about all the interesting talks that I had here in the last weeks. By that I realised, that being here together with many other international artists is a privilege and I really enjoy, that every day, I will meet someone in the kitchen, discussing all kinds of things. Here, I can easily ask different artists about their opinion. And I regretted, that I didn’t write you before, since you are busy now and will have to leave in less then two weeks. But then I decided to start small (anonymus) interviews in the remaining days - about various terms, that I am interested in - and you mentioned. I already delivered some of the questions on paper ("What is NICE to you?", "What means IMAGE to you? …) - Everyone got another term and all found it extraordinary difficult. I am a bit proud of that, because I thought carefully whom I ask for which word. I’ll post images, when (if) I will get back the papers.

category: experiments