– in the past, present, and future

The special exhibition “Gestures – in the past, present, and future” will run from 17 November 2017 to 4 March 2018 at the Saxon Museum of Industry. It looks at the connections between gestures as a means of human communication, current changes in industrial production, and gesture interfaces that will shape our interaction with machines in the future.

Join us for an exhibition that combines thought-provoking ideas with interactive exhibits and artistic installations!

  • Learn about gesture research in linguistics and anthropology. Interactive exhibits specially developed for this exhibition allow you to experiment and play with gestures, and to understand their various functions in human communication.
  • Learn about the cultural history of tools and machines, and the changing role of the human hand in production.
  • Experience how gesture control works today, and what it will mean in the future for our interaction with machines, both at work and at home.
  • Idea, scientific concept, project leadership: Prof. Dr. Ellen Fricke and the MANUACT team of the Chemnitz University of Technology (Dr. Jana Bressem, Project co-ordination, Dr. des. Matthias Meiler, Johannes Müller-Viezens, Daniel Schöller, Dr. Martin Siefkes)
  • Development and dramaturgy of the exhibition, curation of artworks, research partner: Christopher Lindinger und Marianne Eisl, Ars Electronica Futurelab (Linz)
  • Scientiifc consulting, curation, museum education and supporting program: Dr. Oliver Brehm, Anett Polig and the team of the Chemnitz Museum of Industry
  • Exhibition design: Helmstedt | Schnirch | Rom

Take a look inside

  • How do we communicate with hand movements? What do gestures tell us about our language, culture, and technology? And how are they related to the tools and machines we use?

Gestures: How hands talk, act, and work

The exhibition “Gestures – in past, present, and future” combines scientific, artistic, and technological perspectives on the human hand (Museum of Industry Chemnitz, 17 November 2017 – 4 March 2018)

“We are now at a point in history where the workplace, as we have traditionally known it, is rapidly transitioning. These technological and social developments have also fundamentally changed how we interact with objects”, says Ellen Fricke, professor of linguistics and semiotics at Chemnitz University of Technology. The role of the hand has always been essential for human cultures. Today, due to technological developments such as gesture control and automatization, new ways to manually interact with our surroundings are emerging. The exhibition focuses upon these developments at the intersection between gestures, technology, and the workplace.

Dirk Sorge is working on hand sculptures in the Museum of Industry Chemnitz, which will be shown during the exhibition “Gestures – in past, present, and future”. Photo: TU Chemnitz/Pressefoto Schmidt

Gestures store knowledge about the past

When we talk, we do not only use our mouths, but also our hands. Gestures are a part of everyday language. A thumbs up gesture, for example, signals consent. But we can also illustrate spatial conditions, visualize objects, or mimic actions. “Gestures store knowledge about the way we interact with objects, and therefore about present and past technology”, Fricke explains. She gives the phone gesture as an example, where the open hand with extended thumb and little finger is held next to the ear: the form of the hand still indicates the old telephone receiver, but can be used to refer to a modern smartphone.

Today, it is possible to control cars, robots, televisions, and smartphones with gestures. But how are these gestures established? What do gestures tell us about our language, culture, and technology? And how do they influence future developments? Gesture interfaces are a recent technology that is currently experiencing a breakthrough, with new applications emerging such as control of the “smart home” or communication with self-driving cars.

The “language of gestures” and the changing workplace

As outlined above, gestures can be understood as a focal point of current cultural and technological changes, both at the workplace and in daily communication. The exhibition ”Gestures – in past, present, and future” investigates these developments, offering fascinating interactive exhibits, art installations, and historical objects from the archives of the Museum of Industry Chemnitz.

How are gestures and language connected? What is the difference between a human and a robot hand? How can the same gesture be used to represent an airplane, and to control a virtual globe? What does an entry in a gesture lexicon look like? – The exhibitions answers these and other questions, offering a broad range of experiences for visitors of all ages.

Selected tools and machines from the museum’s archives will be on display. A “timeline of the telephone” will document how devices, as well as their handling and gestures referring to a telephone call, have changed during the 20th century. The visitors are invited to produce virtual pottery with a real pottery wheel – without touching it! Another project whose results can be experienced in the exhibition is a video documentary that documents the authentic use of traditional technologies, such as historic weaving looms. “The knowledge about the handling of these machines belongs to our cultural heritage, but could easily be lost due to the current technological changes”, opines Oliver Brehm, director of the Museum of Industry Chemnitz. „Our expertise is to combine our understanding of the functions of these historical machines, and the best methods for their preservation, with knowledge about how they were actually used at the workplace.”

“The whole project is characterized by experimental and artistic approaches that are integrated into a research perspective. This approach is visible throughout the exhibition, affording the visitors an unusual blend of analogue and digital. It throws new light on hands, gestures, and their relationship to objects”, explains Christopher Lindinger of the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz (Austria). As a research partner, the Futurelab has designed the exhibition in cooperation with the MANUACT project in Chemnitz. A number of impressive interactive exhibits were developed in this cooperation, which allow visitors to experience various aspects of gestures, gesture control, and workplace automatization.

The Ars Electronica Futurelab has also invited internationally renowned artists to contribute to the exhibition. Daniel Rozin (New York) created the interactive Wooden Mirror, which transforms a non-reflecting surface into a mirror. Hand and body movements of the spectator are captured by a camera, and 830 wooden plates produce an image of his body posture. Anette Rose’s (Berlin) video installation Captured Motion demonstrates the aesthetic potential of motion capture. In a walk-in cubic, visitors experience how words and gestures interact in the description of objects. Jennifer Crupi’s Gesture Jewelry solidifies certain hand and body movements into elegant steel contraptions. The wearer of this jewelry is forced to take on a certain body posture; the intricate hand-made pieces can be tried on by the visitors. In Golan Levin’s “Augmented Hand Series”, the visitor will have his hand transformed – be prepared to experience how it feels to have two left thumbs, or only four fingers! Further exhibits include 3D-printed sculptures of recorded gestures, and an interactive display demonstrating how “industry 4.0” works.

Special tours and workshops for schools are offered. In the workshops, students can learn how to manufacture hand dolls, how to construct a pneumatic grappler, or how to make a silent movie. Pupils from the 5th to the 10th grade are invited to participate in the photo competition “Talking Hands” with a photo of their favorite gesture (until 15 September 2017).

The exhibition is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung, the Sparkasse Chemnitz, the Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen, and the Freistaat Sachsen itself.


Opening hours of the Museum of Industry Chemnitz: Tuesday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m./Saturday, Sunday, holiday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. /Special opening hours at New Years Eve.

For further information on the exhibition, please contact Dr. Oliver Brehm, email dr-brehm@saechsisches-industriemuseum.dephone +49 371 3676140/ Dr. Ellen Fricke, email phone +49 371 531 27220 (secretariat)/ Christopher Lindinger and Marianne Eisl, email,, phone +43 732 727280

Background: Gestures and gesture research

Gestures have always been a part of human communication – some scientists believe them to be older than spoken language. Systematic scientific research on gestures, however, has only been conducted for a couple of decades. Ellen Fricke holds the chair for German Linguistics, Semiotics, and Multimodal Communication at the University of Technology Chemnitz. One of her research areas is the interaction between gestures and spoken language in face-to-face communication, aiming towards a description that integrates gesture and speech into a multimodal grammar.

The exhibition “Gestures – in past, present, and future” presents results of the research project MANUACT  – Hands and Objects in Language, Culture, and Technology: Manual Actions at Workplaces, between Robotics, Gestures, and Product Design. The interdisciplinary project at the TU Chemnitz is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with 1.2 million Euros. The three-year project investigates the intersection between traditions of object use, their embodiment in gestures, and the design of manual interfaces.

Our natural gesture repertoire, comprising the gestures that we use in everyday communication, is relevant for the design of intuitive 3D interfaces with gesture control. Because certain gestures are already anchored in memory, they are easier to learn. The MANUACT project develops a prototype for a digital lexicon of object use gestures (gestures which refer to our usage of objects, i.e. a telephone). Such gestures also function as a cultural memory, because they store information about previous technologies and our handling of them. A further goal of the project is a manual of gesture ergonomics that evaluates gestures in regard to their suitability for human-machine interfaces.

MANUACT is a cooperation between the chair for German Linguistics, Semiotics, and Multimodal Communication (Prof. Ellen Fricke), TU Chemnitz, the chair for Ergonomics and Innovation Management (Prof. Angelika Bullinger-Hoffmann), TU Chemnitz, the Saxonian Museum of Industry Chemnitz, and the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria.

For further information, visit

Mario Steinebach


More than just nice gestures

The gesture exhibition in the Chemnitz Museum of Industry has been opened, and convinced its first guests with an innovative blend of art and technology

The special exhibition “Gestures – in past, present, and future” in the Museum of Industry Chemnitz has been opened on Thursday, November 16, 2017. The exhibition runs until March 4, 2018. About 180 guests used the opportunity to experience the exhibition on 600 square meters in the special exhibition hall of the Museum of Industry Chemnitz. The foundation for the exhibition are results of the research project “MANUACT”, which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and headed by Prof. Ellen Fricke, professor of German Linguistics, Semiotics, and Multimodal Communication at Chemnitz University of Technology.

“To see the exhibition take shape after more than a year of planning and intensive cooperation was a great experience for the whole team”, said Prof. Ellen Fricke at the opening event of the gesture exhibition before roughly 200 guests. True to the exhibition focus on gesture, all speeches at the opening ceremony were simultaneously translated into sign language. Photo credits: Bianca Ziemons

The gesture researcher was very happy with the opening ceremony: “To see the exhibition take shape, after more than a year of intensive planning and cooperation with the Ars Electronic Futurelab and the Chemnitz Museum of Industry, was a great experience for the whole team. The opening of the exhibition lifted a burden from our shoulders. Now we can say that the concept is aesthetically pleasing and functions as we hoped it would do. The feedback of the first visitors seems to confirm that the exhibition works well for them.”

Exhibits for body and mind

Visitors were especially thrilled by the interactive exhibits. Sarah Börner, student of German language and literature, commented: “It’s great that there is a lot to try out and to discover with your hands.” The exhibition invites the participation of its visitors: they can experience digital pottery, braiding, or spinning, and much more. Almost all the 16 exhibits allow for some form of interaction. The result is a playful and relaxing atmosphere that fosters the curiosity of old and young. The visitors try their hands at the interactive exhibits, which results in laughter and conversation.

However, not everything was obvious or easy to solve. Börner: “The meaning and functionality of some exhibits has to be discovered”. This is the case with Berlin artist Annette Rose’s walk-in installation “Captured Motion”, a multi-channel video installation placed in a cube. It demonstrates the aesthetic potential of motion capturing as recording technology of co-verbal gestures and shows how words and gestures interact when people describe objects. Fellow student Sarah Halsema adds: “The exhibition shows how versatile gestures are and how little we are usually aware of them.” Both students especially liked the “Wooden Mirror” of New York artist Daniel Rozin which transforms a non-reflecting surface into a mirror and mimics the own movements with the help of about 800 wooden tiles that can change their position.

An exhibition that brings together different perspectives

The exhibition combines art and technology and manages to reach a broad audience. For example Thomas Fischer, an artisan who was fascinated by the possibility to experience technological developments of the future. He was especially fascinated by the exhibits of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, one of which demonstrates the interaction with self-driving cars: “The car has to recognize my gesture very preciselywithout mistakes, otherwise this could easily go wrong.” He was also positively surprised about the mixed audience: “There are so many different people, young and old, academics and artisans.” This attests to the fact that gesture research concerns everyone – we all use gestures in our daily communication.

Prof. Winfried Thielmann, professor of German as a Foreign and Second Language at Chemnitz University of Technology, was convinced by the exhibition. He admits that he had been sceptical, but then changed his opinion: “As a linguist, I thought that gesture had nothing to do with linguistics – but Prof. Fricke’s work has convinces me otherwise.”

Possibilities of nationwide success

With the exhibition, Ellen Fricke hopes to convince people from all over Germany. Fricke says: “This exhibition, with its exceptional combination of science and art, would not be necessarily expected to take place in a city the size of Chemnitz; one would rather connect it with cities such as Berlin, Cologne, or Munich. To quote, with some freedom, Ingrid Mössinger, the managing director of the Kunstsammlung Chemnitz: ‘Provincial is only what you allow to be.’ Both the Chemnitz University of Technology and the City of Chemnitz are often underrated, regarding the conditions and possibilities that they offer, but of course, you have to grasp them and make creative use of them.” The gesture exhibition presents an opportunity for unusual experiences and new perspectives. Until March 4, 2018, everyone can experience the special exhibition “Gestures – in past, present, and future” in the Museum of Industry Chemnitz.

Further information on the exhibits, on the research behind them, the museum education programme, and other aspects of the exhibition are available under:

Background: The MANUACT research project

How hands and objects fit together, how products are adapted to our hands, and how humans verbalize manual actions, are among the topics of the research project “Hands and Objects in Language, Culture, and Technology: Manual Actions at Workplaces between Robotics, Gestures, and Product Design” (MANUACT). In this research project, the professor of German Linguistics, Semiotics, and Multimodal Communication, and the professor for Ergonomics and Innovation Management at Chemnitz University of Technology cooperate with the Chemnitz Museum of Industry and with the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz (Asutria), which researches the intersection of art with technology and social issues.

Opening hours of the Chemnitz Museum of Industry: Tuesday to Friday 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. / Saturday, Sunday, holidays: 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. / Special opening hours on New Years Eve.

Further information on the exhibition is available from Dr. Oliver Brehm, email phone +49 371 3676140 / Dr. Ellen Fricke, email phone +49 371 531 27220 (secretariat) / Christopher Lindinger and Marianne Eisl, email,, phone +43 732 727280

A TV report on the opening ceremony of the gesture exhibition is available from the YouTube channel of Chemnitz University:

An instagram story on the opening is also on YouTube:

Matthias Fejes

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