There’s a sonorous rumble in the air, a wide variety of smells wafting through the concrete-grey corridors, coupled with a feeling of internationality, of new beginnings, of the excitingly new: the Ars Electronica Festival 2023 was once again hosted at POSTCITY! After three years on the green campus of Johannes Kepler University, this year’s event once again took place in the corridors, halls and, not least, the bunker of the former mail distribution center at Linz’s main train station. Not to be forgotten, however, are the 13 locations in downtown Linz that once again made the five festival days something very special.
1542 artists, scientists, developers, designers and activists from 88 countries participated in the festival, which was also implemented as a “Green Event” again this year. In addition, 75 students from 43 countries participated in the FOUNDING LAB, which was organized together with IDSA (Institute of Digital Sciences Austria). 338 partners and sponsors as well as 434 employees made it possible to present 650 exhibits and offer 575 events. 20 kilometers of power cables, 550 pieces of 10-meter extension cables and 550 pieces of 5-meter extension cables, 800 socket distributors, 400 screens, 75 projectors, 75 notebooks, 150 PCs and 100 Raspberry Pi, 60 exhibition wall modules, 430 tables and 2100 chairs, hundreds of plants – only by enumerating the materials, events, people and places is it possible to illustrate the dimensions of this mega-event to those who have never visited the festival. And in this retrospective, we’d like to invite all those who were there to review the last five days with us in the form of numerous images, anecdotes and videos, and to recall the feelings, impressions, smells and sounds of the Ars Electronica Festival once again.
At the same time, we’re already looking ahead, because one thing is already certain: the 2024 Ars Electronica Festival will take place from September 4-8! Where? That’s not yet revealed…
For the people of Linz in particular, the festival traditionally begins on the eve of the actual opening, when the locations in downtown Linz invite visitors to take part in the pre-opening walk. The crowds were particularly large this year, there was a great deal of interest in the exhibitions, and the locations were well attended. The event kicked off in Linz’s Mariendom with the dance performance The Mirage Replicas 2.0, continued in the Ursulinenhof of the OÖ Kulturquartier with the group exhibition by Markus Riebe, Yoichiro Kawaguchi and Sofia Talanti, and then the group walked to the Kunstuniversität Linz to the Soundcampus, where media art by students was served alongside cool drinks for this warm late summer evening. There wasn’t much time to linger when visiting the poetic exhibition Butterfly Dreams. The New Aesthetic of AI in Artistic Practice by Nanyang Technological University at the Salzamt before hustling across the Danube to the Ars Electronica Center‘s Deep Space 8K. Those who still had energy and not enough steps on their fitness watches could end the evening at the Stadtwerkstatt.
Day 1: Education Day
The next day, however, we had to get up early in order not to miss anything from the first day of the festival, the Education Day: Education is indispensable for a broad and critical, yet constructive debate about what is true and what is false, what is real and what is fake. So it’s both a statement and a demand that this year’s Ars Electronica is declaring Day 1 to be Education Day. The PH Symposium in the Lecture Hall was scheduled for 9:45 a.m. sharp, and was already well attended despite the early hour. In keeping with Education Day, the missimo Truck also opened its doors on the main square, a mobile playful learning experience on the subject of STEAM. In 2018, the Kaiserschild Foundation, a non-profit private foundation, approached the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Their idea to develop a mobile learning and dissemination concept for elementary schools resulted in missimo: Your Mission Tomorrow: a project for children ages eight to ten that offers many experiments on topics such as AI, robotics and programming and visits schools throughout Austria by truck.
But now back to POSTCITY, where at 11 a.m. the Klasse! Learning Award was presented. The ten winning projects selected by the jury were presented to the thunderous clapping and stomping of the motivated kids. The prize was created by OeAD (Austrian Agency for Education and Internationalization), BMBWF (Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research) and Ars Electronica against the background that a contemporary education system should teach young people how to actively shape their lives and learning in a digitalized world in a sustainable way. Visitors were able to learn more about the projects in a special exhibition during the festival.
The FOUNDING LAB, a project between IDSA and Ars Electronica that serves as a prototype for the interdisciplinary Linz University, IDSA, which is new in every respect, is also primarily concerned with learning in the future. In the run-up to the festival, 75 students got involved in the Summer School, discussed and negotiated in Expert Talks with Minister Polaschek and Minister Gewessler, for example, or with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and finally presented the results in the Forum and in an exhibition at the festival. Now it’s time to catch our breath before the Fall Term, the first “test semester” of the University of the Future, continues on October 4.
Those who not only wanted to deal passively with innovative educational projects, but also wanted to become active themselves, had the opportunity to do so in numerous workshops, such as the Citizen Science or the Planetary Public Stack workshop by Miha Turšič and the Waag Futurelab – where participants were able to change perspective and look down on the Earth and its environmental catastrophes from above.
But after a brief respite in POSTCITY’s invitingly designed Courtyard, flanked by local food trucks, or in a lounge chair in the Transformation Lounge, it’s now time again to immerse oneself in exhibitions, of which this year’s Ars Electronica Festival had even more to offer than ever before:
For the first time, Ars Electronica will award the European Union Prize for Citizen Science on behalf of the European Commission in 2023. The exhibition of the same name showcased the diversity and extraordinary creativity of European citizen science initiatives.
Right next door, at the Ars Electronica Campus, 56 international universities from the fields of media art, design and technology exhibited the results of their work in a wealth of projects by their students. But the Campus Exhibition didn’t just cover this huge area in POSTCITY; it also included the exhibitions at the University of Arts Linz and at the Salzamt, which had already been part of the pre-opening walk. With this joint appearance, the campus exhibition particularly emphasizes creativity, collaboration and exploration in shaping our common future.
In the evening, all festival visitors and participants met in the Train Hall for the official opening – not only of the festival but also of the FOUNDING LAB; admittedly a somewhat bumpy start into the following days. Sorry at this point to all who had to wait a little longer at the entrance. But they were finally compensated with the visually impressive laser show TRIPTYCH by Prix Ars Electronica winner Robin Fox, or with OSZILOT, which many visitors called the highlight of the festival: A sound installation and performance with everyday objects like armchairs or baking pans that used sensors to generate not only sound but an entire piece of music-as poetic as it was technically fascinating.
Day 2: S+T+ARTS Day
Day 2 is S+T+ARTS Day at the Ars Electronica Festival, which means that Thursday is devoted entirely to the intersection of art, technology and science, which are also two of the three fundamental pillars of Ars Electronica. S+T+ARTS is an initiative of the European Commission through which technology and artistic practice are to be linked in the best possible way and become an asset for both European innovation policy and the art world. The focus is on people and projects that help address Europe’s social, environmental and economic challenges. Each year, the S+T+ARTS Prize recognizes pioneering projects at the interface of art, technology and science that have the potential to contribute to economic and social innovation.
The S+T+ARTS exhibition presented the award winners and their works of this year, and at the S+T+ARTS Conference not only the projects were discussed, but also the plans for the future.
The connection between art, technology and science can also be found at JKU, more specifically at JKU Square, where the university presented itself. Whether in workshops on the future of artificial intelligence or a puppet theater that brought this very topic closer in a low-threshold way, up to the representation of the popular JKU format “Circus of Knowledge”: “Next Truth Prediction” was the keyword here on all levels.
Those who were not sure whether they could handle the abundance of impressions and projects on their own, or who simply wanted to hear a bit more background on the works, were in good hands with the colleagues at the WE GUIDE YOU Desk: From Spotlight Tours, which gave a first insight into the different focal points of the festival, to Expert Tours, where visitors had the opportunity to be guided through their areas by the experts – the scientists, artists or curators themselves – and to talk to them… there was something for everyone.
Ars Electronica never stays in its own bubble, but instead seeks collaborations and partnerships with important players, with opinion and market leaders not only in Upper Austria, but beyond the borders of the state, beyond the borders of the continent. Such a partnership also exists, for example, with Salzkammergut 2024, the European Capital of Culture in the province of Upper Austria, which was represented at the festival with several sessions.
State of the ART(ist) represents another very important representation not only of a partnership but of a project close to Ars Electronica’s heart: State of the ART(ist), a collaboration between Ars Electronica and the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focuses on artists whose existence is threatened, whether in the form of political persecution or environmental catastrophe. A special prize was awarded in recognition of artistic works, and the results were presented at the festival in the form of an exhibition and a panel.
Let’s take a detour to the other side of the Danube, to the Ars Electronica Center’s Deep Space 8K: Picture-perfect experiences, inspiring lectures and impressive performances were the program highlights in Deep Space 8K during the Ars Electronica Festival 2023.
One of Ars Electronica’s highly successful initiatives over the years was also on display here, namely the cooperation with major, renowned art houses to bring works like those of the Prado or the Reina Sofia to the digital screen and thus make them accessible to even more people. Highlights this year included Venice Revealed by Grand Palais Immersif and Iconem, LAST SUPPER INTERACTIVE (LSI), “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and as a Young Woman Too), and Goya’s Truth.
In the evening, while some of the festival audience paid tribute to the award-winning artists of Ars Electronica in the Train Hall, media art conquered the stage here in Deep Space 8K, showing a cross-section of the possibilities of space and its art.
One building away, in the studio of the Futurelab, a special highlight of the festival took place these days, for whose coveted seats the visitors raced: Rimini Protokoll, the experimental German theater collective, hosted a play that instead of an actor*actress brought a humanoid robot, a replica of the author Thomas Melle, on stage to ask the audience the uncomfortable question of the “Uncanny Valley” – the question of distance, closeness and similarity between humans and their sometimes perhaps even more perfect artificially created counterparts.
Back to POSTCITY, where the aforementioned Award Ceremony took place, this time more smoothly than at the opening the day before. The event represented the entire diversity of Ars Electronica’s awards and their winners, and showed the spectrum of their work-from New Animation Art to Digital Musics to innovation at the interface between art, technology and science (S+T+ARTS) or from the field of Citizen Science.
Day 3: More-than-Planet Day
The Ars Electronica Festival 2023 is halfway through, but it’s still a long way from being through with all the highlights it holds in store.
Let’s take a closer look at the theme exhibition: Under the title (Co)Owning More-than-Truth, it took on the question “Who owns the truth?” and illuminated the theme of this year’s festival from a variety of perspectives. As in previous POSTCITY Festival editions, its exhibits filled the bunkers and basements of the former mail distribution center, illuminating gloomy corridors and putting halls full of parcel belts and mail slides in a completely different light. But not only classic exhibits, also performances like the threatening fight of two metal machines of Cod.Act’s acquaintances, Uperqt, filled the dark halls of POSTCITY with unpleasant as well as impressive experiences.
In the midst of diverse global challenges and technological revolutions, the Futurelab addresses creative questions around “What are the Futures?” in order to create new hope and take action. In the Open Futurelab, visitors can network and exchange ideas with the Ars Electronica Futurelab team, their partners and the other participants. Visitors could immerse themselves in the Open Futurelab exhibition at POSTCITY and participate in unique experiences in the Ars Electronica Center’s Deep Space 8K. Participants also got input on the ideas and visions for the future that the Ars Electronic Futurelab is currently working on during the Expert Tour: Open Futurelab. The goal of the Futurelab is not only to present finished projects, but also to stimulate discourse, which was achieved wonderfully in this tour.
Another Ars Electronica department that presented a showcase of its activities at the festival is Ars Electronica Solutions: Ars Electronica Solutions conceives, designs and implements interactive and multisensory worlds of experience. From projects with the ESA to the export of the famous Deep Space 8K to the entire world: many more projects from Ars Electronica Solutions could be experienced in this dedicated exhibition area and in talk formats.
The art of animation and the dialogue about it were the focus of the Animation Festival and the Expanded Animation Symposium. The Ars Electronica Animation Festival 2023 sees itself as a showcase that invites people to discover the latest artistic productions in the field of digital animation. At the Expanded Animation Symposium, numerous international experts from the fields of art, science and research discussed this year’s theme, “The Art of Performance,” over the course of three days. The symposium offered several program tracks: the panels Art & Industry, Artist Position, Performative Acts, and Virtual Stages, the Synaesthetic Syntax Symposium and the ASIFA Austria Forum.
The cooperation between the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) and Ars Electronica has resulted in the prestigious CIFO x Ars Electronica Awards, which were launched in 2022. The prestigious award supports emerging Latin American artists working with technologies related to new media and digital art. This year (because the exhibition will be on view at LENTOS until the end of September), the second edition of the award will feature the exhibition “Dualities in Equalities: Art, Technology, Society in Latin America” as part of the Ars Electronica Festival, which will showcase a total of nine artistic perspectives from Latin American culture and region.
The Ars Electronica Gardens Exhibition 2023 functions as a dynamic platform for cultural and scientific partners from all over the world. Through their creative projects, these partners contribute diverse perspectives and enrich the festival with a rich spectrum of themes and ideas. The transition between the themed exhibition and the Gardens Exhibition was not only spatially fluid: the artworks were in no way inferior to those of the theme exhibition.
A wonderful gem was the presentation of Project Humanity in Deep Space 8K: Project Humanity is a research and development project that explores the potential of humans from previously unknown perspectives. For the first project, two systems were developed for people with ALS: A speech synthesis system that reconstructs their voices from very sparse past speech recordings in video recordings, and musical instruments optimized for input by eye. The presentation was not only touching, but also moving, when at the end all visitors danced for the artist suffering from ALS.
At the theme symposium, experts shed light on how technology has changed our relationship with society, nature and democracy. Prominent and inspiring personalities such as Karen Hao, journalist and data scientist, known for her coverage of AI research and co-producer of the podcast In Machines We Trust, or Sian Proctor, commercial astronaut, geology professor, artist, author and major in the Civil Air Patrol or Sarah E. Kreps, American political scientist, veteran of the United States Air Force and member of the Council on Foreign Relations were just a few of the big names at the center of the key notes and panel discussions.
Through education and innovation, visions of the future are now increasingly clear to us. Innovations and ideas should be implemented with holistic thinking that perceives us as just part of the ecosystem that needs to be preserved. (Un)Earthing the Truth: Ownership and Narratives about the Planet, the More-than-Planet Initiative’s theme conference on Saturday, takes up this very idea.
The Big Concert Night, another “old” Ars Electronica acquaintance, also returned to the halls of POSTCITY: Led by Markus Poschner, the Bruckner Orchestra performed “AUFTAKT” – Neues beginnt Anton Bruckner. They were accompanied by the Nordic, futuristic sounds of Icelandic composer and double bassist Bára Gísladóttir and Austrian rapper Def Ill, whose socially critical rap also delighted the classical audience.
Those who weren’t too tired to turn night into day on Day 3 were rewarded with spectacular visual impressions, danceable as well as impossible-to-pigeonhole sounds from the Ars Electronica Nightline. But best of all, we’ll just let pictures speak for this one…:
Day 4: Dare-the-Truth Day
Accepting an inconvenient truth was what Day 4 of the Ars Electronica Festival was all about. A special focus on this day was on the scientific evidence of the evolving climate catastrophe. In the conference “The End of the Truth,” the focus was on the people who have not only accepted this truth but are already doing everything they can to make the best of it.
The VH Award brought the winning projects of the 5th VH Award to the Deep Space 8K stage – Launched in 2016 by Hyundai Motor Group, the VH AWARD is Asia’s leading award platform. It is dedicated to discovering and supporting emerging Asian-based women media artists who are exploring the Asian context and its future.
Not only the catacombs, the bunker and the dark labyrinth of POSTCITY are an inseparable part of this building, but also the vegetated roof top, from which one has an exciting, completely new perspective on the city of Linz. The urban ecologist and botanist Friedrich Schwarz was once again invited to give an expert tour, taking visitors on a journey into the fascinating, biodiverse and rare world of plants that have ensured their own survival in the midst of the city.
Attentive festival visitors have so far missed a central part of Ars Electronica in this review: the create your world Festival is increasingly taking on a civic function-it invites people to think together about new ideas and actions, about what goals peaceful protests can and should pursue. At the same time, the create your world festival once again offered a colorful platform for educators, young people and interested tinkerers. An art fair of the future that enables new ideas and inspirations.
On the Saturday of the festival, the award-winning works of the Prix Ars Electronica in the u19 – create your world category were also brought on stage – along with their young artists. The spectrum ranged from a robot theater to an examination of one’s own culture of remembrance to a humorous PiPi machine: The works were every bit as imaginative and inventive as the “big ones”!
Another fixture of the festival Saturday, but this time of a completely different nature, is the BIO Austria farmers’ market, which spoiled the visitors with culinary delights and represented the full range of local, regional, seasonal organic food.
Those who stumbled upon the Prompt Battle were certainly not disappointed: “Do you have what it takes to be a prompt engineer?” was the name of the game. Prompt Engineers use magical prompts like a spell to get artificial intelligence to generate the best new images, text, videos or music. The Prompt Battle allowed brave humans to compete against each other in a live game show format using text-to-picture software.
Saturday evening, traditionally reserved for the Klangwolke (“Cloud of Sound”), which is no longer homemade by Ars Electronica but still very much associated with it and its content, ended for some visitors there, while others flocked in large numbers to the Ars Electronica Center’s Deep Space 8K, where the Ars Electronica Futurelab offered an entertaining glimpse into its work: the Futurelab Night performances provided an exclusive look at the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s latest artistic projects. A broad spectrum of experiences awaited visitors in a unique, immersive environment permeated by visualized sounds, sonified biodata and experimental live visualizations.
Day 5: Prix Ars Electronica Day
And, of course, art has the last word: Art is the one that’s allowed to do anything and needn’t be afraid of naivety, subjectivity or radicalism in order to hold up the famous mirror to us and our thoughts and actions. So the last day of the festival belonged to the winners of the Prix Ars Electronica, their visions, ideas and projects, whether at the Prix Ars Electronica Exhibition, which showcased award-winning media art, or at the Prix Ars Electronica Forum, where this very art was discussed and interacted with by the audience.
Then, individuals from different disciplines, countries, and experiences will come together at Re-build Together: Digital, human and arts-driven innovation in Africa. This conversation will discuss the role of digital, human and arts-driven innovation in Africa to address the possibility of reshaping the development of our countries and continents. Attempts will be made to identify areas for increased and equal cooperation between Europe and Africa, and all visitors are invited to join the discussion as well.
The Hebocon, the low-tech robot competition in the create your world area, was fun, creative and lively, with children and young people launching their creatures into the ring – cheered on by the audience. Beforehand, they could build and program their own robots on all days of the festival – no previous experience in robotics or coding was necessary. Finally, on the last day of the festival, the young creators could pit their creations against each other in fun duels, with creativity being judged just as much as speed or agility.
Finally, the Pianographique concert by Maki Namekawa with visualizations by Cori O’Lan has already become a tradition. This year’s guest performance in the Gleishalle was the visually and aurally impressive finale of the festival.
Finally, we would like to thank our 338 cooperation partners and sponsors who have made this festival possible and with whom we hope to continue implementing great projects together in the future. Among them, for example, Post AG, our host, One Mobility / Klimaticket, Aqua Alpina or Panasonic. Many thanks!
In this sense, after five days and countless sleepless hours full of endless impressions, stimulating conversations, new ideas and projects and many new beginnings, we close this festival chapter for now. We hope this review has taken you once again on a journey through everything that will be remembered from this festival. Now it only remains for us to say that we wish you peaceful days to process these impressions. We’re already looking forward to welcoming you all back – at whatever venue – to the Ars Electronica Festival 2024 from September 4-8, 2024!