Henry Giffard’s World Exhibition Balloon, Paris 1878, Wood engraving, 308 x 232 millimeters, Photograph: German Museum.

Under the heading vertical exploration the exhibition examines the role inflatable objects have played in measuring the sky and the earth. Early aviation belonged to the same tradition as classic voyages of discovery over land and sea. But balloon ascents posed a challenge to established geographical procedures: observing the cloudscapes and the surface of the earth from the air blurred the boundaries between surveys and supposition. On airborne excursions with non steerable aircraft, knowledge and imagination overlapped.

Contemporary artistic works address this interplay of fact and fiction in the production of knowledge. These inflatable objects examine our relationship to planet Earth and explore both possible and impossible alternatives: pictures taken on space expeditions appear alongside early balloon cameras; high-tech sensor systems are contrasted with handmade instrument tables; the latest air flow simulators for balloon-trips supplement historical journey predictions; contemporary visions of cloud cities revisit historical airborne laboratories.