Wolfgang von Kempelen: Mensch-[in der]-Maschine (Opening)
Exhibition view "Wolfgang von Kempelen: Man-[in the]-Machine"
Fri, 22.06.2007, 7 pm CEST
Throughout time, the animated image and the autonomously moving, intelligent machine have been both a source of magnetism and a vision of horror. For over two hundred years, no machine has triggered as much amazement and doubt, both in the circles of amateurs as well as scientists, as the chess-playing automaton built by Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734–1804). The Schachautomat, an amazing work with great significance in technical history as well as an incubator of utopian ideas, with which Kempelen duped the royal house of Karlsruhe in 1785, was also a slap in the face and a parody. The secret of the machine that supposedly possessed artificial intelligence was later discovered to be a human hidden within it. An entire era’s belief in progress was put to the test.

Taking the chess automaton as its point of departure, the joint exhibition by Budapest’s C³ foundation and ZKM | Karlsruhe, expands the image of Kempelen, the scientist, engineer, artist, actor, state official, and private person, by exploring the mechanical inventions of his epoch.

The exhibition at ZKM focuses on current artistic productions dealing with the metaphor laid out by Kempelen’s machine. The theme of the human machine can be found in the works of numerous contemporary artists. From the mechanical automaton to robots and modern computers, the exhibition shows the variants of the chess automaton from the eighteenth century to the present day. In their works, the twenty participating artists probe the theoretical implications and continued effects of Kempelen’s automaton in a contemporary context. In this way, they offer a contribution to the understanding of our world and the questions relevant to us.

One of the most important points here is certainly whether the presentation of an intelligent machine is not a contradiction in itself. The ideas of "artificial intelligence" that replace the human with the machine set this questioning process in motion. If there is in fact a human in every machine, as with Kempelen’s chess automaton, then humans can also be destroyed by the superiority of the machinery that they have set in motion.
Organization / Institution
Budapester C³ Stiftung
Kulturstiftung des Bundes