Navigating the Sky

Navigating the Sky

Navigating the Sky

A short meditation in two parts about how ideas and knowledge shape and order what we find in the sky. It was commissioned for the traveling exhibition Atmospheres: Art, Science, and Space Research, within the Austrian state exhibition Diversity of Life: Showing Styria 2023; it will be on view from March 23 – April 4 at the Mobile Pavillion at the Heldenplatz, Vienna, and from April 29 – May 11 at the Tierwelt Herberstein in Austria.


The first part is based on a narration by Polynesian navigator Nainoa Thompson who describes how stars, clouds, waves, and living beings form an interconnected system of orientation that can be read, felt, heard, and smelled. This celestial knowledge is not a product of the human mind alone but shared with animals such as the seabird Manu-o-Kū, which indicates the proximity of land. Thompson’s Hawaiian voyaging canoe played a central role in the revival of traditional Polynesian non-instrumental navigation techniques in the 1970s. The close entanglement of celestial knowledge and cultural ideas is also reflected in the visuals generated by an artificial neural network that has been trained on millions of images representing contemporary visual culture.


The second part traces how scientific knowledge is shaped by instruments and human culture. SIMBAD, alluding to another mythical seafarer, is the name of an astronomical database maintained by the Université de Strasbourg. It maps every celestial object described in scientific literature to its corresponding place in the sky. Looking at the composite image of all astronomical references, one is struck by distinct geometrical patterns – rectangles, circles, and other complex shapes appear in the map of all known stars and galaxies, revealing the imprints of instruments, publication formats, and changing cultural interests. Sounds and visuals are generated from 28 million bibliographic references extracted from the database.

by Azra Akšamija & Dietmar Offenhuber

Technical Notes:

Manu-o-Kū was created using Stable Diffusion 1.5 and the deforum animation script – upscaling to 7200×1200 with Topaz Gigapixel.

The SIMBAD data set used in the visualization consists of 22 million records downloaded via SIMBAD’s TAP query language. The visualization was created in R using the rgl package, the sonification was created using inverse-fourier transformation of the visualization.


Research and project development assistance: Merve Akdoğan, Jehanzeb Shoaib; AI animation: Merve Akdoğan; Data visualisation and sonification: Dietmar Offenhuber Stimme / Voices: Franz Wenzl (Deutsch) und / and Nainoa Thompson, Polynesian Voyaging Society; SIMBAD Astronomical Database, Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg. Thanks to: Hōkūleʻa Polynesian Voyaging Society; Thomas Boch, Université de Strasbourg, Prof. Alyssa Goodman, Peter Williams, Alberto Pepe – Harvard University

New Elements Exhibition

New Elements Exhibition

New Elements Exhibition

with Laboratoria Arts & Science Foundation
New Tretyakov Gallery Moscow
Curated by Daria Parkhomenko & Dietmar Offenhuber
In partnership with Kaspersky

The exhibition NEW ELEMENTS explores an unusual perspective on data and computation, centering on the physicality of information and its implications for how we make sense of the world. 12 works by artists from different countries show how to close the gap between data and the world.

Artists: Memo Akten (Turkey – UK), Ralf Baecker (Germany), Erich Berger (Finland), Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov (Russia), Thomas Feuerstein (Austria), Forensic Architecture (UK), Ryoichi Kurokawa (Japan), Tuula Narhinen (Finland), Anna Ridler (UK), Tomas Saraceno (Argentina), Theresa Schubert (Germany), Aki Inomata (Japan)

Curatorial text





BERLIN_LOKAL_ZEIT is a participatory project that aims to capture and jointly reflect on experiences of everyday life in the city during the pandemic. Which phenomena appear, how do they change and how do our attitudes towards them change over time?

30 participants documented and processed the many small changes that have taken place since the beginning of the pandemic in images, text, and audiorecordings. Using CLB Berlin Moritzplatz as a hub, artistic works and performances explore the experiential space of the city.

With: Kim Albrecht | Sam Auinger | Ingrid Beirer | Peter Cusack | Eliot Felde | Maren Hartmann | Martina Huber | Almut Hüfler | Susanne Jaschko | Max Joy | katrinem | Udo Noll | Dietmar Offenhuber | Nika Radić | Ursula Rogg | Sven Sappelt | Holger Schulze | Paul Scraton | Georg Spehr | Zoe Spehr | Hannes Strobl | Linh Hoang Thuy

Link to the Project website

Foto by Nika Radić

Staubmarke (dustmark)

Staubmarke (dustmark)

Staubmarke (dustmark)

Staubmarke is a public space installation for the Drehmoment Festival in Stuttgart – a city affected by airborne particulate matter pollution.  Controversies between public health advocates, the city, and the local industry often manifest in disputes about proper methods of measurement and the veracity of citizen-collected data.

The project visualizes air pollution by calling attention to the patina on the city’s surfaces. The dustmarks are executed as reverse graffitis, making the accumulated pollution visible by partially removing it. By calling attention to dust as a material rather than an abstract value, the project contextualizes the sensor measurements with their physical basis.

Over the following months, the dustmarks will fade, as new dust will accumulate in the cleared areas of sign. Ultimately, the project is about the limits of objectivity – just as the dustmarks are no accurate representation of pollution exposure, the quantitative metrics are subject to political debates and at the same time only able to capture a limited aspect of the complex phenomenon of particulate matter.

Project website:

In collaboration with, thanks to Lara Roth, Jan Lutz, Michael Saup, Pierre-Jean Gueno, Annekatrin Baumann/HLRS, Fa. Diezel

Cryptographic Heritage 

Cryptographic Heritage 

Cryptographic Heritage 

The number on the lower edge is the public bitcoin address, which is connected to an unique, publicly accessible, but immutable entry in the Bitcoin blockchain. Design: Azra Aksamija

The following text is paraphrased from a recent medium article on the subject:

The cryptographic heritage project, led by Dietmar Offenhuber, explores best practices how to use Bitcoin and blockchain technology to store evidence of cultural heritage under threat in ethnic and nationalistic conflicts.

To give an example — in nationalistic conflicts, cultural heritage such as libraries, religious buildings, or historic monuments are the first things targeted for destruction. This is because they bear testimony of a multicultural past, as Aksamija has demonstrated in her analysis of the Balkan wars of the 90s. These efforts included denial that a particular community has been living in an area before ethnic cleansing — to the extent that buildings are erased not only from the city, but also from old postcards and archival material. Needless to say, this also has implications for ownership of land and houses of the displaced.

UNESCO and other entities tried to address this by capturing immaterial cultural heritage through databases and websites. The problem is that these websites are just as vulnerable as the practices and buildings they are supposed to document.

Here is where Bitcoin comes into the picture. All Bitcoin transactions are documented in a decentralized database called the blockchain, which exits in thousands of copies across the world. The blockchain can be publicly read, but its contents cannot not deleted or manipulated – as ensured by strong cryptography. The blockchain can be appended by everyone through making a transaction.

Every transaction can hold a small amount of additional information, 80 bytes to be precise. Together with the cryptographic proof that the transaction has been authorized by a specific address at a specific time, this additional message constitutes evidence.

This can be taken advantage of in many ways: Residents could publicly declare “this is my house” and provide evidence that nobody can hide or delete after displacement and ethnic cleansing. They could also use the blockchain to prove that a particular document (e.g. a property title) existed in a specific form at a specific time, and to produce evidence whether this document has been manipulated in the meantime.

Furthermore, the author of the transaction can also prove his identity, by cryptographically signing a messages associated with the transaction. In this regard, Bitcoin offers accessible and versatile cryptographic tools  beyond financial transactions.

The process of encoding cultural information into monetary transactions may seem foreign, but has a clear equivalent in the world of physical money, for example when a contract is made official by the symbolic transaction of one dollar.

The idea of cryptographic heritage is at the moment tested in Azra Aksamija’s Memory Matrix project, which recreates destroyed heritage on MIT campus in a participatory project. Individual plexiglass jewelry, arranged as pixels to form the destroyed arch of Palmyra, are inscribed with the cultural memory of individual participants, and are also encoded with a message in the blockchain that only the original author has control over.The owner of a pixel can prove ownership of the jewelry through the associated private key, can use the key to sign and authenticate messages. Also the public can use the public key to encrypt messages that only the owner can decode. Victims of ethnic cleansing often keep the keys to the front door of their former home from which they were expelled as a memento. See the recent documentary project by photographer Bradley Secker. With cryptographic heritage, the key is no longer a symbolic item, it can store value, prove ownership, transmit messages, and leave a mark and testimony in the world.

Azra Aksamija’s Memory Matrix project installed at the MIT Medialab building.