Press Release

The exhibition takes us on a journey back through time to the origin of life. How did life first get started? Where can we still find traces of the earliest life forms today? Why is it important to look at the past in order to develop an understanding of why biodiversity is so relevant in today’ world?



International exhibitions

International Archives 1st half of 2022

The Beauty of Early Life. Traces of Early Life

ZKM, Karlsruhe (Germany)

26.03 - 10.07.2022




There are scientific predictions that more than one third of all living species are threatened with extinction because of the effects of human activity. Since the very beginning of life, organisms depend on and influence one another. Living things do not exist in isolation, they live off and with each other. Therefore, we have all long been aware that life itself is threatened on planet Earth.

The exhibition invites us to look at the emergence of life through artistic works from modern times to the present, complemented by scientific exhibits from the early days of life, right now, at this crossroads of a global climate and biodiversity crisis.

The early days of life were in the Precambrian, Cambrian, and subsequent Ordovician geologic time periods; at the end of these there was a mass extinction. The exhibition thus covers the period from about 3.8 billion years ago to 444 million years Before Present (BP). The exhibition is a joint project with the Natural History Museum, Karlsruhe. The fossils on display are evidence of the evolutionary processes described by Charles Darwin in his mid-19th century work Origin of Species, published in 1859. Darwin was fully aware that the geological record of the time was seriously incomplete. The oldest fossils known to Darwin came from creatures that were already highly evolved, and not from the early days of life— “ilemma”for Darwin. Today, however, a good century and a half later, such fossils have been found, and they are presented in the exhibition. Darwin’ dilemma has largely been solved; now it is up to us to preserve the diversity of species that has arisen through evolution! In this exhibition, fossil finds are combined with artworks from classical modernism to contemporary media art. This intersection of art and science for the first time reveals the so far underappreciated beauty and variety of Earth’ earliest life in its entire scope.

Participating artists

Memo Akten, Suzanne Anker, Hans Arp, Brett Baker & Laura Hug, Willi Baumeister, Sonia Mehra Chawla, Paul Rosero Contreras, James Darling & Lesley Forwood, Anna Dumitriu & Alex May, ecoLogicStudio (Claudia Pasquero & Marco Poletto), Max Ernst, Thomas Feuerstein, Ernst Haeckel, Jens Harder, Aleš Hieng, Ida Hiršenfelder, Robertina Šebjanič, Institute for Biological Interfaces 1, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Manfred Kage, Agnieszka Kurant, Sonia Levy, Bernd Lintermann, Derek Hauffen, Martin Lisec, Andy Lomas, Len Lye, Louise Mackenzie, Reiner Maria Matysik, Joan Miró, Jakub Nepraš, OOZE (Eva Pfannes & Sylvain Hartenberg), Dan Rees, Maija Tammi, Yves Tanguy, Xandra van der Eijk, Martin Walde, Carmel Wallace

Curated by: Norbert Lenz, Peter Weibel with Eduard Harms, Hannah Jung, Philipp Ziegler

The exhibition The Beauty of Early Life takes place in the context of the thematic focus It's about Life at ZKM. Other exhibitions in this focus include BioMedia. The Age of Media with Life-like Behaviour (December 18, 2021–August 28, 2022) and Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau. The Artwork as a Living System (May 07–July 31, 2022). It’ about Life is funded by the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg within the framework of the Impulse Program Kunst trotz Abstand.

© James Darling and Lesley Forwood. Visual: Matter Of.

Exhibition 26 March - 10 July 2022. ZKM | Center for Art and Media, Lorenzstr. 19 - 76135 Karlsruhe (Germany). T +49 721 81001200. Hours: Wednesday–Friday 10am–pm, Saturday–Sunday 11am–pm.







The Beauty of Early Life. Traces of Early Life, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany

© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2022. All Rights Reserved