High & Low
Who is up? What is below? Where is the front?

High-tech materials and DIY homes, the Western Canon and Trash TV, luxury goods and basic needs – the distinction of high and low is one of the basic mechanisms of creating order. Not only spatially. And that's where things get complicated: Who decides what is high and what is low, and according to which criteria? In terms of culture, the idea of ​​a hierarchical difference in value between high and low seems to be a dated concept at least since the advent of the artistic avant-gardes, and killed for good by mass-media-fueled pop culture. The time of great, sharp cultural divides is over, and values are always reversible. Nevertheless, the distinction between high and low persists, even if subconsciously, and their interplay opens up new perspectives beyond art and culture, be it in the field of high-tech and low-tech or in debates about democratization and participation in politics, urban planning and design.

Our aim is not to reactivate a normative distinction between high and low, nor to just celebrate its abolition. Rather, the idea is to make these two terms productive again for current developments in technology, design and culture. How does this separation of top and bottom engage with other binaries used in describing the social and political situation we are in? What is its relation to notions of rich and poor, Western universalism and local particularities, challenges of complexity and the longing for simplicity, elitism and populism?

From the outset, the Bauhaus aimed to transcend the opposition between high, pure art and supposedly low applied craft in the name of a new building of the future that would unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting. At the same time, it combined the plea for a synthesis of art and technology and the move towards industrial mass production with the ambition to design architecture and objects for everyone. What has become of this aim? In 2018, its fifth year, the Digital Bauhaus Summit takes up the old distinction between high and low. Is it really as dead as often claimed? Or do we, on the contrary, experience its return in changed constellations? Which emerging dynamics and hybridizations between high and low can be observed? What would a "new unity of art and technology" look like in today's post-digital society? Should design nowadays increasingly focus on the Bauhaus slogan of “Volksbedarf statt Luxusbedarf”, the "needs of the people instead of luxury needs"? And what role do digital technologies play in this?

High and low are intended to be brought into play here as heuristic search terms – not to follow a given direction, but to cut interesting paths of inquiry through a wide variety of topics. Who is up? What is below? And above all, where is the front?

Friday, June 8
Neufert-Mansion, Weimar-Gelmeroda

Track 1
Auf und nieder, immer wieder: Lifecycles of a Cultural Distinction
Hosted by Philipp Albers, Cornelius Reiber

As a basic cultural operation, the distinction between high and low provides value judgments, which are, however, never stable, but continuously revaluated and thus themselves subject to dynamic ups and downs. The track examines these cycles as well as the complex entanglements of high and low in the cultural field, especially regarding their instrumentalization by politics, the contradictory relationship of aesthetic and material value in design and the vicissitudes of high and low in popular Schlager music.


Annekathrin Kohout (Author and Blogger, Research Assistant, Universität Siegen)
Eckhart Nickel (Author and Journalist, Frankfurt am Main)
Nilz Bokelberg (Podcaster, Author and Moderator, Berlin)

Track 2
Designing High & Low: From Materials to Cities
Hosted by Jule Hass

At the historic Bauhaus, design was interdisciplinary, the use of materials innovative and the aspiration always visionary. Today, architectural and urban planning is again changing profoundly. New planning approaches are becoming a driver for innovation and involve a wide variety of disciplines. New, interactive actors in the value chain of our designed and built environment challenge old role models. These actors include living materials and building systems at the interface of technical and biological metabolism as well as participating neighbourhood residents. Transdisciplinary approaches in planning processes do not think strictly top-down or bottom-up – the track presents examples from the planning perspective, ranging from materials to new urban developments.


Jan Wurm (Architect, Arup Materials Consulting)
Aart van Bezooijen (Industrial Designer, Material Stories) 
Paula Raché (Designer and Art Director, Material Stories)
Marie Neumüllers (Managing Director, Urbanizers)

Walking Conference
Evening Walk from Gelmeroda to Weimar

Walking and talking together, thinking outdoors. Plus reflections concerning animals and that strange species, the Google Reviewer.

Jens Jessen (Journalist, Die ZEIT)
Nilz Bokelberg (Podcaster, Author and Moderator, Berlin)

Evening Program
Nivre Studio, Weimar
Popsalon: “Where I am is where the top is, should I ever be at the bottom, then the bottom is the top”

One stage, one beamer, two hosts and two guests, talking about images and sounds from contemporary pop productions.

Tobi Müller (Journalist and Author, Berlin)
Jens Balzer (Journalist and Author, Berlin)
Katja Kullmann (Author and Journalist, leading editor at taz - die tageszeitung)
Jens Jessen (Journalist, Die ZEIT)

Saturday, June 9
E-Werk Kesselsaal, Weimar

Conference – Morning Session
Scaling Media

Digital media confront us with new dimensions of scaling: from the smallest, as with the production of computer chips approaching the nano domain, to the largest, such as the globally operating digital networks, technological systems and infrastructures, which affect the economy, the environment and social and political life on a planetary scale. How do these constellations reconfigure our perceptions of time and space and the field of social relations? Does the seemingly boundless scalability of digital media in both directions render the notions of high & low obsolete?


Orit Halpern (Associate Professor, Concordia University, Montréal)
John Durham Peters (Professor of English & Film and Media Studies, Yale University)
Stefan Heidenreich (Author, Berlin)

Conference – Afternoon Session
The Low End Theory

Notions of originality and creativity stood firmly at the centre of the semantic field of “high” in the European tradition at least since the 18th century – art as the creation of a genius that creates out of itself. This understanding of artistic production is linked to the rejection of mere “imitation”, which also implies that the concept of copying is now “low”, or even, in the context of a new understanding of authorship and intellectual property, considered forgery or theft. Since modernism, however, many counter-movements have emerged. The phenomenon of Shanzai, the huge market of product piracy in China, offers just one example for this shifting perspective, as does the idea of an artistic practice that works with found everyday objects and deviations and detours, or the praise of a city that was regarded as the epitome of a non-city.


Heng Zhi (Curator, Vitra Design Museum)
Peter Piller (Artist, Hamburg)
Stephan Porombka (Berlin University of the Arts) 
Martin Kiel (Berlin University of the Arts)

Under the patronage of

Deutsche UNESCO Kommission

Supported by


Organized by

Media and event partners