“As a nanoscientist and artist, Wolfgang M. Heckl is a creative border crosser in the field of Science&Art, who attributes his way of painting to molecular self-organisation processes and has thus established a new style that he calls molecularism. Science begins where natural perception ends.

Heckl has understood how to transport the world of forms that apparative perception opens up to us into the horizon of natural perception through painting. His molecular compositions create a new dialectic beyond abstraction and figuration.”

Prof. Dr h.c. mult. Peter Weibel
former Chairman and CEO ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe


Prof. Dr h.c. mult. Peter Weibel
On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition Wolfgang M. Heckl: Molekülismus,
Mistelbach Castle near Vienna, 24 August 2018

Prof Heckl turned 60 years old this year. Congratulations to him.
(Prof Heckl: not quite yet, there are still 14 days to go, that’s why I still look so young).
After studying biophysics in the field of nanoscience, i.e. the science of the smallest particles that exist in the cosmos, he specialised in microscopes, so-called scanning tunnelling microscopes, and since 2004, as holder of the Oskar von Miller Chair of Science Communication at the Technical University of Munich, he has also been director of the most successful museum in Germany, the Deutsches Museum in Munich, with one and a half million visitors a year.

After completing his studies in Munich, Mr Heckl worked with the IBM research group under Prof Gerd Binnig, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of the scanning tunnelling microscope. Heckl has received many awards, including the Philip Morris Prize.
He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the smallest hole in the world. We’ll come back to that later.
He has also received many other awards, including being honoured with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Heckl’s work is relatively provocative!
What makes his work provocative?
The provocative thing about his work is that it first of all raises questions about the concept of aesthetics.
Well, how do science and art come about in the first place?
It has to be said: the word aesthetics comes from the Greek word aísthēsis, which means nothing other than perception. It is a doctrine of perception and not yet a doctrine of art! It was only later, around 1800, i.e. around 200 years ago, that the theory of perception suddenly became an aesthetic theory:
Namely, the theory of beauty!
This was followed by the founding of the famous so-called academies of fine arts, the fine arts or, in Paris, the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

But since Picasso in the last century, we have known to some extent that we live in the realm of the not-so-beautiful arts. People stopped talking about the academies of fine arts because they rightly said that they no longer taught anything beautiful. Then they also changed the name of the academies, e.g. to Hochschule für Akademie und Gestaltung. From the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau to Ulm, in the twentieth century people only spoke of the Hochschule für Gestaltung.

When I founded the first media class in the whole of Europe at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in 1984, people asked: What is it that you actually do with media? I said that it wasn’t media art or art. They said: “We have visual media now, but that’s not enough. You have to call it “visual media design”.
In other words, the concept of design has become important today, not just beauty!
And then something else has happened:
The Greeks differentiated between a form of knowledge called episteme – the language-based sciences of maths, geometry, grammar and rhetoric – and the craftsmanship for the slaves, i.e. architecture, painting, sculpture, agriculture – that was technology.
The Romans then created the concept of the Artes Liberales, the liberal arts.
This did not mean that art was free, but that it was an art for free citizens that slaves were not allowed to make.
Artes Liberales did not mean what we understand as art today, but the opposite: science, geometry, maths, rhetoric, grammar.
It was only around 1800 that the Artes Liberales became a doctrine of the arts.
So only 200 years ago!
Before that, the arts were something inferior, something technical, something artisanal.

But there was one person who rebelled against this, and that was Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) around 1500.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote a famous book that was only allowed to be published 150 years later by his descendants because it was too radical.He said that he could not bear to be reduced to the level of a craftsman.
That’s why he said the famous sentence:

“Painting is a science” – literally – “La pittura è una scienza”.

So you see, painting, art and science have actually been close before. Painting is a science, namely [according to Leonardo] the science that depicts the world of visible objects with the painter’s means of line, point, surface and apparent volume, i.e. the visible forms of the world of objects: what I see, I depict with these means: Point, line, surface. Leonardo did not speak of “colour”.
And then Leonardo said: “The only one who can do this, a cosa mentale, a mental work, is the painter!
The sculptor still works by hand, he is a technician, he gets dirty. The architect gets dirty. Even the musician – he plays an instrument with his hands – gets dirty. Sculptors, architects and musicians should remain at the bottom of the hierarchy. But I, the painter, rise from technique to episteme, in other words to science. That was the claim! [1]
And this gave rise to the Renaissance with its magnificent works from Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) to Diego Velázquez (1599-1660).
The Renaissance was a scientisation of art. And that’s exactly what it was.
Basically, we have had a close relationship between science and art for centuries!
This was then broken by modernism around 1900.
It was then that Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) wrote his famous book Point and Line to Surface (1926).

Kandinsky repeats Leonardo’s first sentence. He deletes the second part: he no longer speaks of point, line and surface to represent the visible world.
Kandinsky says: “No, the representation of the means of representation is enough for me. The line is line, the point is point and the surface is surface. The whole thing is a self-representation of the means of representation; the means of representation no longer serve to represent the world.
And then comes the next problem:

Paul Klee (1879-1940) already said that as artists we have to make the invisible visible. He was thinking of the soul, of the spiritual, of the expression of what is not visible, of the psychological[2].
This point, this tension between the visible and the invisible, was now in the room. And now things start to get exciting:
In fact and quite obviously, painters have limited themselves to understanding the visible as only that or the horizon that our natural eyes see. The painter, whether at home, in the studio or outdoors, always paints what his eyes see. He therefore only sees the forms that he sees with his natural organs.
But the scientist, as you know, has been working with something else since the 17th century: the introduction of the microscope.
You could say that science begins where perception, or more precisely natural perception, ends. Painters remain within natural perception.
Painting reproduces what we have already seen. It is much more interesting to paint what Pisa called res invisibiles, “the invisible things”.
And I can only see these “invisible things” with apparatuses.

Robert Hook (1635-1702/03) and Antoni van Leeuwenhook (1632-1723) discovered that you can see something with a microscope – and this is the beginning of science, of modern times – that you cannot see with the eye. This was the triumph of science.
For his first book, von Hook looked at corks from wine bottles under the microscope and saw that their holes looked like cells, and not like the cells of monks in monasteries and in architecture: that’s why we have cell biology today!
For a long time, the cell was considered the smallest element of life. That is why Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) said around 1900 (1855) omnis cellula e cellula, all life consists of cells, all life arises from cells through cell division. That was the state of affairs in the 19th century.

Hook’s book about the smallest things that Hook could see was called Micrographia (1655): This means “graphics of the smallest things”.
So Hook was actually an artist. Today we have many graphic sheets, all kinds of graphics, but science also made graphics. Scientists recorded what they saw with the apparatus.
What Heckl does today is, in a way, in the knowledge that the cell is not the smallest thing, but the smallest parts are molecules, atoms and so on. We can therefore say that his main work, which he has yet to write, is called Nanographia.
In other words, Heckl continues the work of science and the study of the smallest things – which is why he also photographed the smallest hole in the world and the smallest particle missing there, the nanoparticle, using the scanning microscopes mentioned above.
In a way, Heckl is continuing the demands of today’s natural sciences.
And then he does something very interesting:
Leonardo already knew that what he sees is not enough. He looked at an arm and said that the shape of the arm I see is determined by a world behind it. So I have to dissect it.

Only when I know what is hidden under the skin, i.e. see what is beyond my vision (I see the surface of the skin, I need to know more, I need to find out what is hidden behind it with the scalpel), only then can I draw or paint a man or a woman properly.
So Leonardo went beneath the surface with the scalpel.
The scientist today and Heckl have a gentle scalpel.
Heckl uses optical microscopes. He doesn’t have to cut open the skin.
There’s an artist near here in a museum called Nitsch[3], he’s a bit more infantile and regressive, he still cuts the skin open with the old scalpel. The modern thing is to cut open the skin with the invisible scalpel of microscopy. That is progressive. The other is a bit like before Leonardo. It’s craftsmanship. We don’t need to talk about the rest. When it comes to technology, he’s waiting. We could already be working with gentle scalpels today.
And then came Heckl’s painting of molecules in addition to this kind of nanography.

Heckl himself calls this molecularism in a manifesto.
In other words, he starts with a large part of humanity’s wealth of experience in the Renaissance and is therefore – one could say – a painter of a coming time that is really coming. We call this time Renaissance 2.0.
We have a renaissance behind us, but we also have a renaissance ahead of us: because many, many artists today – photographers, video artists, computer artists – no longer work with a brush, but with machines!
In other words, modern artists mainly work with machines, from photography to video cameras and film cameras.
The apparatuses of science and the apparatuses of artists are similar.
Prof Heckl is an important proponent of this Renaissance 2.0 movement!
It is a provocation of old aesthetics, but a promise to new aesthetics when he shows us the path we will take together as artists.
He combines the best achievements of the Renaissance with the best achievements of modernism:
You will see it in the exhibition:
You have to put it this way and you can see it clearly: people used to talk about local colour. When they painted a horse, the horse was brown.

As a painter, I said that the colour is more important to me than the object: the horse doesn’t have to be brown, it can also be blue. That’s why there are blue horses. In other words, the colour, which was previously tied to the object, was detached from the object and became an absolute colour. So you could paint the sky pink and the river green:
The colour was free!
And Heckl also makes these modernist achievements.
He uses a completely free colour, the absolute colour!

It is all the more important that he can show us a new form of painting here:
In the exhibition you have a beautiful painting that looks like a landscape.
But it actually deals with the origin of life.
The origin of life goes back to the self-organisation processes of molecules. In other words, in certain paintings Heckl sees how this works like an apparatus, how molecules organise themselves into certain shapes and forms, i.e. the old problem:
How can I depict the visible form of objects, but I can only see the visible through the machine, no longer through the naked eye.
And then the design process begins by saying:
I have now seen that, the arrangement of the molecules and other details, and now as a painter I myself design what has taken shape in self-organisation.
In a way, as a painter he continues the life processes! He sees himself as synkinesis.
He is part of nature, which represents itself. That is new!
Not with the point of view: “Aha, there’s a tree, I’m outside.” But as a physicist: “I am part of the system that I see. I am part of the system that I observe. I can’t take myself out of it!”

This is a completely new form of biology that we urgently need. As long as we regard nature as an outsider, as our enemy, we will not protect it.
We need to know: We are a part of nature, and nature is a part of us!
And you can see this view very clearly in his painting.
Colour particles are also made up of molecules and atoms.

By enlarging them millions of times with his apparatus, he in turn makes something visible that is invisible to us.
And once he has enlarged something and thus captured it, he then creates it freely again.
Heckl goes through a multiple process of creation, he allows a part of the painterly process to create itself – the molecules have the chance to create themselves.
This creates a new artistic form, also in the scientific field, which is important for the future!

Dadurch entsteht eine neue künstlerische Form, auch im wissenschaftlichen Bereich, die wichtig ist für die Zukunft!

[1]Trattato della Pittura (da Vinci)/Parte prima/1. Se la pittura è scienza o no, S.: Scienza è detto quel discorso mentale il quale ha origine da’ suoi ultimi principî, de’ quali in natura null’altra cosa si può trovare che sia parte di essa scienza, come nella quantità continua, cioè la scienza di geometria, la quale, cominciando dalla superficie de’ corpi, si trova avere origine nella linea, termine di essa superficie; ed in questo non restiamo satisfatti, perché noi conosciamo la linea aver termine nel punto, ed il punto esser quello del quale null’altra cosa può esser minore. Adunque il punto è il primo principio della geometria; e niuna altra cosa può essere né in natura, né in mente umana, che possa dare principio al punto. Perché se tu dirai nel contatto fatto sopra una superficie da un’ultima acuità della punta dello stile, quello essere creazione del punto, questo non è vero; ma diremo questo tale contatto essere una superficie che circonda il suo mezzo, ed in esso mezzo è la residenza del punto, e tal punto non è della materia di essa superficie, né lui, né tutti i punti dell’universo sono in potenza ancorché sieno uniti, né, dato che si potessero unire, comporrebbero parte alcuna d’una superficie. E dato che tu t’immaginassi un tutto essere composto da mille punti, qui dividendo alcuna parte da essa quantità di mille, si può dire molto bene che tal parte sia eguale al suo tutto. E questo si prova con lo zero ovver nulla, cioè la decima figura dell’aritmetica, per la quale si figura un O per esso nullo; il quale, posto dopo la unità, le farà dire dieci, e se ne porrai due dopo tale unità, dirà cento, e cosí infinitamente crescerà sempre dieci volte il numero dov’esso si aggiunge; e lui in sé non vale altro che nulla, e tutti i nulli dell’universo sono eguali ad un sol nulla in quanto alla loro sostanza e valore. Nessuna umana investigazione si può dimandare vera scienza, se essa non passa per le matematiche dimostrazioni; e se tu dirai che le scienze, che principiano e finiscono nella mente, abbiano verità, questo non si concede, ma si nega per molte ragioni; e prima, che in tali discorsi mentali non accade esperienza, senza la quale nulla dà di sé certezza;                                https://it.wikisource.org/wiki/Trattato_della_Pittura_(da_Vinci)/Parte_prima/1._Se_la_pittura_%C3%A8_scienza_o_no, Zugriff 16.04.2019

[2] Siehe Klee, Paul, Schöperische Konfession, Berlin 1029, S. 28f, Kunst gibt nicht das Sichtbare wieder, sondern Kunst macht sichtbar. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Schoepferische_Konfession_-_Paul_Klee.pdf, Zugriff 16.04.2019

[3] Hermann Nitsch (geb. 1938 in Wien), Vertreter des Wiener Aktionismus