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Ars Electronica and Linz

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a brief history of how Ars Electronica started and developed in Linz, Austria

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Ars Electronica and Linz

  1. 1. Ars Electronica – a network for art, technology and society The development of the city of Linz and its signature cultural brand Ars Electronica, can be seen prototypic for an intense collaboration between art, science, and the industry, as well as art and society. But it is also an interesting role model for the strong impact that artistic and cultural activities can have onto the development of a city, its identity as well as its economic background. Ars Electronica also has to be understood as an interface and catalyst in the ongoing process of the cultural transformation into a modern information and knowledge driven society. The long standing success of Ars Electronica thus proves the importance and relevance of this creative and artistic work in and with new media. Creativity is all about open spaces. It’s about thinking the unpredictable, thinking against the mainstream, creating and opening up spaces where new ideas, alternative ideas can develop. Since its first inception in 1979 it has been the very nature of Ars Electronica to constantly seek out what’s new. But with all the innovations in structure and content, the basic orientation remains unchanged. The focus is on the issues of critical significance to our society. In going about this, attention is never focused exclusively on art, on technology or on society; instead, the effort is always made to reveal the multi-layered shifts and reciprocities taking place among them. Ars Electronica has been living out this curiosity for three decades now, since 1979, the year the first “Festival for Art, Technology and Society” was taking place in Linz. An inquisitiveness that is always manifesting itself in unexpected and refreshing new ways—as speculative designs for the future, as philosophical debates and analytical scrutiny of the latest developments. At all times, though, Ars Electronica conceives this artistic-scientific search for traces of emergent reality as work with and in the public sphere. In all these years, Ars Electronica has become a significant source of inspiration in the process of cultural and economic change that has been underway in this city. As a result, Linz has come to epitomize the model municipality whose orientation on the future is not just a question of commerce and industry, but rather one that is envisioned primarily as a cultural undertaking. This demonstrates the social relevance of artistic work and also serves as a prototype for urban renewal and cultural policy development options that go beyond traditionalism and tourism. The fact that the rather small city of Linz has been selected as European Capital of Culture for the year 2009 is one of the widely visible results of these changes the city has been going through in the last decades, from a grey industrial city to a colourful and inspiring modern city with high quality of life and a very stable and strong economy that is mainly based on new and innovative industries. Chapter I Lets make a brief look back into the history, when Ars Elecronica startet in this rather small city of Linz in Austria. A city of less than 200,000 inhabitants located right between Vienna and Salzburg. While Vienna has all the big, imperial culture and Salzburg has all the tradition of old, classical music and, of course, Mozart, Linz always has been an industrial city, and the economy and the identity of the city have long been based on the steel industry. Only in the 70s the city got its first concert hall. In the late 70s and 80s, however, the steel industry went into a global recession and crisis; and the city of Linz had to look for a new economic direction and also for a new identity.
  2. 2. Being between these the cultural capitals—Vienna and Salzburg—the city of Linz decided not to look back into history, but to look forward and go for the future. And they made three important steps. One was to create a lot of incentives to help new industries and new companies settle in Linz, and motivate them to move their business to Linz. The second thing was to invest in education, so the local technical university was expanded and new universities were established. And the third was to start cultural activities. In this attempt Ars Electronica was established in 1979 as a festival for Art Technology and Society and soon it became an important element in the development of the city. The driving force behind this initiative was the former Director of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, Dr. Hannes Leopoldseder. The very important idea behind Ars Electronica is that it is not just an art festival, and not just a scientific conference. It is the attempt to develop an interdisciplinary platform where, at the same time, at the same level, artists and scientists meet each other. Every year, there is a specific topic, a theme that is based on very important new technological and scientific innovations. Both artists and scientists are asked together to present their way of looking at these problems, their way of thinking. The conference as well as the exhibition is a common platform for artistic and scientific projects and ideas. It’s always about the idea to join both forces to work on solutions to cope with the challenges that arise from the cultural impact of new technologies. Being a festival for art technology and society is the basic principle or Ars Electronica up today. The second very important principle of Ars Electronica is that there is always the idea—as the title says— to not only look at art and technology, but also on their impact on our society. In practical terms this means that if you start to deal with very advanced ideas and topics, it is not enough to discuss it among the elite audience of scientists and artists. You also have to reach out for the general audience. You have to create events that raise the attention of everybody. And one of the initial projects for art in the public space was the so-called, “Klangwolke,” the “Cloud of Sound,” which is basically a kind of big, open air, outdoor concert, a huge sound, light, and laser performance. And although it doesn’t feature mainstream music it’s really a mass event. About 70,000 to 100,000 people come to this event every year. (looking at this numbers one always has to remember that the city has less than 200.000 inhabitants) „The Universe“ - Isao Tomita created the spectacular event for the 1984 Klangwolke, Foto: Ars Electronica Archive
  3. 3. This is one of the elements which have helped strongly to bring Ars Electronica and its visions to the attention of everybody, to make it an event for every person in the city of Linz, and in the region. This idea of combining the avant-garde thinking of artists and scientists with projects that are reaching out for everybody is still a very important element of our programs. The next step in the development of Ars Electronica happened in 1987, when the Prix Ars Electronica, the first international competition for computer art, was initiated. A competition totally dedicated to digital art the artistic work had to be created with computer technology. The Prix Ars Electronica started with three categories: Computer Animation, Computer Graphics and Computer Music. Today the Prix Ars Electronica is still the most highly priced and reputated competition for Cyberarts. Meanwhile it has 8 Categories: 5 Major Categories for Computer Animation, Digital Musics, Interactive Art, Hybrid Art and Digital Communities, since 1998 there is also a special category called, “U-19” (Under 19). This is a category for young people under 19 years and their creative use of computers. This is probably one of the most interesting areas right now, to see how very young people are using computer technology in highly creative ways. Among the many prize winners in the 14 years of this competition, you can probably find almost every important person who has ever worked in the field of computer art. John Lasseter, Peter Gabriel, or Toshio Iwai and Ryuichi Sakamoto, or Aphex Twin but also Neil Stephenson, Tim Berners Lee, Linus Thorwalds and Jimmy Wales for example, have been among the prize winners. This year the competition again got more than 3000 Submissions from artists from about 60 countries worldwide. Prix Ars Electronica Awards 1988, Foto Ars Electronica Archive With these activities, the festival and the price competition, Ars Electronica has also served as a logbook recording the development of new art forms and new artistic practices as well as the accompanying transcendence of boundaries to science and technology. The enormous archive that has taken shape as a result constitutes powerful testimony to the manifold currents and trends to which the interplay and friction between art and technology have given
  4. 4. rise, and also documents Ars Electronica’s unique breadth as a discussion forum providing a staging ground for confrontation and dialogue, for provocation and bridge-building. Chapter II In the 1990ies, the digital revolution and the success of the World Wide Web swapped over from the United States to Europe, and so, in Linz people started to think about the next step in the development of Ars Electronica. They considered how to create an educational and informational structure to help the local people to understand the transformation of the old economy into the new economy, from the old society into the new information society. The idea was to create the Ars Electronica Center, a “museum of the future” as a prototype for new forms of media based education and communication. Again it was Dr. Hannes Leopoldseder who developed this idea in 1993 and I had the big honour and pleasure to be taken on board in 1995 to shape and to realize this visionary concept and transform it into a real and operational exhibition infrastructure. The first Ars Electronica Center opened in 1996 and it was not conceived as an art museum for the digital art, and also not as a science center. It was build as an educational, didactic environment that would use interactive technologies and digital art projects to help people understand the cultural and social impact of new media and digital information technologies. One of its core missions was to stimulate creativity and innovative thinking. And even if it was by far not a typical art museum where you would collect art projects and exhibit them, most of the projects that we had shown in this Ars Electronica Center were created by artists. We invited artists to help us with all their competence and know-how in creating interactive, communicative environments, in communicating very complicated matters to a general audience. The first Ars Electronica Center that opend in 1996, Foto: Pilo, Ars Electronica Archive There is by far not enough space here to present all the projects, since even the elevator in this museum had a special installation. From high end virtual reality installations like the CAVE (the first ever to be installed outside the US and the first that was made accessible to the
  5. 5. public) to the basic infrastructures of an electronic classroom, from the most entertaining flight simulator "Humphrey", to exceptional art projects from world famous media artists like Toshio Iwai. The range of installations and projects was very wide but all of them were made to involve the visitors and transform them into users, participants and creators. The CAVE at the old Ars Electronica Center (1996), Foto: Pilo, Ars Electronica Archive The Electronic Classroom in the old Ars Electronica Center, Foto: Pilo, Ars Electronica Archive
  6. 6. The flight simulator "Humphrey" one of the main attractions in the old Ars Electronica Center, Foto: Pilo, Ars Electronica Archive The "Telegarden" (realized by a group of artists and engineers led by Ken Goldberg) was one of the most famous projects in the old Ars Electronica Center
  7. 7. Morphovision, exceptional media art by Toshio Iwai, Foto: Pilo, Ars Electronica Archive Chapter III To bring such concepts into reality it is very important to consider that in our time, it is maybe more important to support the production of new ideas than just the exhibition of it, and that’s why we also established the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Launched in 1996, the Futurelab is blending elements of atelier and laboratory. It is Ars Electronica’s inhouse think tank as well as engineering team. It is the place where we produce new projects for our own exhibitions and where many new art projects for the Festival are realized within our Artist in Residence program. The Futurelab is the model of a new kind of media art R&D laboratory in which artistic experimentation and technological innovation inspire one another. Each of the lab’s working groups brings together a wide variety of skills; their approach to a project is characterized by interdisciplinarity and international networking. At present, the staff of 40+ includes artists, computer scientists, physicists, media & product designers, architects, game developers, telematic engineers, sociologists, art historians and scholars in the fields of cultural studies and communications they are coming from almost all over the world. Conceiving and executing exhibitions and artistic installations as well as collaborations with university facilities and joint ventures with partners in the private sector frame the Futurelab’s broad spectrum of activities. Ars Electronica has partners and sponsors, and they can get access to the knowledge and experience of our people and the possibility to work together with them in workshops and commissioned R&D projects. (among those are big players like Siemens, SAP but also many small local companies) For example the simulation of working processes of a steel plant: Not just as a visualization but also the simulation of all the different steps that are used to manufacture steel. And the same group of people that was working on this project was also working on a very interesting art project at the same time. Software solutions that have been realized for art projects could be used in industrial projects as well.
  8. 8. « CAVE » an artistic VR-Environment of Peter Kogler, realized in the Ars Electronic Futurelab (1999), Foto: Ars Electronica Archive Virtual Steel Plant Simulation, Research project of the Ars Electronica Futurelab in collaboration with VAI and the Christian Doppler Institute for Software engineering (1999). Foto: Ars Electronica Archive
  9. 9. Another important part in the range of activities of this Future Lab is exhibition design and the development of interactive experiences for other museums and other big exhibitions like, for example, for the Millennium Dome in London. But also big media art projects for public spaces and buildings have been realised in the last years Gullivers World / Citypuzzle (2004 - 06), an interactive exhibition project from the Ars Electronica Futurelab, Foto: Pilo, Ars Electronica Archive "SourceCode", a Futurelab project for the SAP Headquater in Waldorf, Germany (2007), Foto: Ars Electronica Archive
  10. 10. The debut of the extended new Ars Electronica Center on Jan. 2nd 2009 is the latest step in a long lasting effort to educate, inform, engage and inspire the people from Linz as well as curious and interested guests from all over the world. Rooted in the long tradition of Ars Electronica, the new Center defines itself first and foremost as a gateway, as infrastructure for an active, creative encounter with issues of great current relevance. In addition to the long term themes around the new digital cultures, the new Ars Electronica Center shifts new themes into the spotlight. Fields in which the most massive and controversial innovative thrust is in the process of emerging now: the so-called Life Sciences, a field subsuming biotechnology, genetic engineering and the neurosciences. Here, we encounter imaging processes and mankind’s quest to blaze trails into the microcosm. Images of the human body. Images that get under your skin. Images which question the very ways we think about human beings and the world. The new Ars Electronica Center, opened on Jan. 2nd 2009, Foto: Andreas Hirsch, Ars Electronica Archive All the programs and exhibits are centered on the interplay of art and science. Staging exhibitions, conducting research activities and running a program imparting knowledge & skills are no longer separate strands; at the AEC , they’re completely intertwined. The watchwords: interaction and experimentation opening up new realms of ideas and images. Joint ventures with top-name research institutions in Austria and abroad sustain this facility’s strong scientific orientation; collaboration with artists opens up unaccustomed perspectives. With Ars Electronica, the city of Linz embarked on its route towards the future and it has been joined by communities of cyberartists and digerati dispersed throughout the world as well as by the local inhabitants. It functions like an ongoing expedition that blazes trails into new and barely chartered territories, gathering samples and artifacts as it continues on its journey, encountering milestones and signposts indubitably pointing the way as well as transient phenomena and experiments of uncertain outcome. Thus, bearing witness to
  11. 11. contemporary developments and accumulating authentic experience have proven to be most reliable methods for settling in the new realm of our networked and global time. Impressions from the new exhibits at the Ars Electronica Center, Fotos: Andreas Hirsch, Ars Electronica Archive

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