ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe
October 15, 2022–April 16, 2023
Walter Giers was a pioneer of electronic art and one of the most important exponents of media art in Germany, who produced light and sound works in the tradition of kinetic art and Op Art from the late 1960s onwards. With an interest in tinkering with radios, he embarked on making nonfunctional objects out of electronic components in 1969, which he initially referred to as “Schalt-Elemente-Objekte” [switch element objects], “electronikals,” and “elektronische Spielobjekte” [electronic playthings]. From 1974, he used the term »electronic art« to describe his works.
The openly visible electronic components such as loudspeakers, buttons, capacitors, resistors, relays, and batteries, are used by Giers both technically to generate and control lights and sounds and aesthetically as a formal element of composition. In his early works, the audience becomes a part of his objects through the interactively operating buttons and switches. From the mid-1970s, these act aleatorically autonomously through the use of random generators and take on a life of their own as self-varying systems. Via optical or acoustic reactions they enter into a dialogue with the audience – sometimes quite humorously and full of enigmatic irony. Combining invariably clear outer structures with lyrical or mediative qualities, the artist deliberately used the technically generated effects of his works to arouse emotions and associations in the viewers and to sensitize the audience to the recurring themes of his work: The relationship between human and machine, our bond with nature, the role of the media in society, and the treatment of religions and minorities.
The exhibition Walter Giers: Electronic Art presents for the first time a comprehensive overview of all the phases in the oeuvre of the artist, which features more than 120 works from Walter Giers’ estate, the collection of the ZKM, and private lenders and institutions. On the threshold of a new age in which computerized systems largely control all areas of life, Giers’ analogue works encourage us to look behind the opaque surfaces of today’s electronic and digital information and communication technologies. This retrospective is part of a series of exhibitions at the ZKM that pays tribute to a pioneering generation of media artists who are still only little known to the public.
In preparation for this exhibition and based on ZKM’s expertise in the preservation of historical works of media art, over the last few years there has been extensive conservation work on the artist’s estate at the ZKM, which has been supported by the Innovation Fund for Art of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Art Baden-Württemberg. Since 2020, the archive of the artist is held at the ZKM, and will gradually be made accessible for art historical research. On the occasion of the exhibition, a publication on the work of the artist, who was closely associated with the ZKM during his lifetime, will be published in 2023.
Walter Giers was born in Mannweiler, Germany in 1939. From 1955 he was a jazz musician. In 1963 he completed his studies at the State school for technical arts and crafts (today HfG) in Schwäbisch Gmünd, initially working as an industrial designer. He exhibited his first work as an artist in 1969. In 1992–1993 he taught at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. Solo exhibitions include Galerie Reckermann, Cologne (1969 and 1974), Galerie Denise René Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf (1970 and 1973), Galerie Edith Wahlandt, Schwäbisch Gmünd and Stuttgart (several times since 1971) and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1983). Until his passing in 2016, he lived and worked in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.
Curator: Philipp Ziegler
Curatorial assistant: Hanna Jurisch
Scenography: Matthias Gommel
Conservation: Marlies Peller, Christian Nainggolan, Martin Häberle
Special thanks to: Petra and Victor Giers