The Ars Electronica Futurelab was founded after an incubation phase in 1996, together with the opening of the Ars Electronica Center. Intended mainly for developing new interactive exhibits for the museum, it soon expaned it’s outreach to collaborations with artists, academic institutions and industry partners from all over the world. Today, the Futurelab works on topics ranging from AI to Art Thinking, from mixed reality to circular creativity, from drone swarms to futures literacy – all rooted in the lab’s core mission to connect art, technology and society.
Hannes Leopoldseder founded the Ars Electronica Festival in 1979. The innovative idea swiftly gained global recognition, thanks to the invaluable contributions of many individuals. Notably, co-founder Christine Schöpf played a crucial role in elevating the Prix Ars Electronica, established in 1987, to a worldwide platform. It was also she who pushed for the establishment of an in-house research and development unit. In 1995, Gerfried Stocker was appointed as the Artistic Director and Co-CEO of Ars Electronica. He enlisted the support of Horst Hörtner, who was placed as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Following an incubation period, the Futurelab officially commenced operations with the opening of the Ars Electronica Center in 1996.
Following the initial installations in the Ars Electronica Center, such as the CAVE, collaborations with academic institutions and industry were established, leading to renowned international partnerships. The Ars Electronica Futurelab gradually diversified their expertise, exploring a wide range of areas including drone swarms, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetics, shared virtual experiences in Deep Space 8K, poetic representation of complex systems, and Art Thinking as a catalyst for change.
In 2021, the Ars Electronica Futurelab commemorated its 25th anniversary under the motto “Alchemists of the Future”. A special Futurelab Day during the Ars Electronica Festival, an exhibition and new installations in the Ars Electronica Center presented the public with the lab’s diverse body of work, gave insight into it’s history and, of course, glimpes into the future of society.
Also part of the celebration were a special website, a book about the Futurelab as well as a video series, titled “Inside Futurelab: 25th Anniversary Series”, that features insightful discussions by the lab’s researchers and artists about its history and future.
Watch our “25th Anniversary Series” videos
Alchemists of the Future – Ars Electronica Futurelab – The First 25 Years and Beyond is the first book ever written specifically about the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Numerous conversations with the transdisciplinary team of Futurelab Members and Futurelab Alumni as well as an international network of mentors, partners and clients from academia, industry and art served as a starting point. Based on this, author Andreas J. Hirsch presents insights into the mindset and methods behind the ability of the Futurelab to act as creative catalysts of future innovation. Read more about the book in an interview with Andreas J. Hirsch on the Ars Electronica Blog: Alchemists of the Future – The Book
Free Download of the Alchemists of the Future book
As part of the preparations for the 25th anniversary, seven stories emerged, highlighting essential domains of research, development, and prototyping undertaken by the Ars Electronica Futurelab: Virtual Worlds, Poetic Systems, The Art of Swarms, Humanity and Robotinity, Code for Matter, Artificial Intelligence, and Art Thinking. These stories provide a context for the lab’s work with diverse technologies and their potential implications on our future lives.
The entanglement of Ars Electronica Futurelab with the entire range of what may be considered “Virtual Worlds” — from Virtual Reality (VR) to Augmented Reality (AR) onwards to Mixed Reality (MR) — goes right back to the early days of the Futurelab in 1996, making it one of the key areas of the Futurelab’s work along this entire quarter of a century.
Poetic Systems are about art transforming different kinds of knowledge, cognition and perception into poetic levels of meaning, in this process striving to make the invisible visible, the intangible tangible, to encode and decode meanings or — in other words — to allow treasures, which are hidden inside the many systems humankind creates, to emerge.
The Art of Swarms
The story of the Ars Electronica Futurelab inventing the “Spaxels“ — a swarm of illuminated drones — is the story of a paradigm shift that was quite typical for the specific way of thinking at the Futurelab.
Humanity & Robotinity
Drawing from the extensive experiences of years with robotic projects, a new concept emerged: “Robotinity”—as a mirror term for “humanity”.It is described as a journey to understand what a robot actually is as well as to transcend issues of human-robot interaction by inserting the wider horizon of looking into future ways of arriving at a harmonious coexistence of humans and robots.
Code for Matter
In the overall ecosystem of Ars Electronica, questions related to biotechnology had been prevalent for several years. With the creation of the Bio Lab and the Fab Lab, the Ars Electronica Futurelab played a key role in the process of introducing the new format of “lab” infrastructures to Ars Electronica. These labs make new technologies tangible and provide the basis for an informed discussion of the implications of those technologies to the public.
AI-based technologies are massively shaping our world, and the speed of their development creates an urgency to understand them. The Ars Electronica Futurelab therefor develops installations with the aim of making complex topics like machine learning and neural networks understandable. At the same time, it creates art projects that raise critical questions as well as show how AI systems can be used in a creative and artistic way. Raising the question: “Can machines create?”
One of the core principles of the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s work both internally and with clients is Art Thinking: an open-minded dialogue, inspiring and innovative, which is experienced as unconventional and highly creative. Art Thinking is not a method in the strict sense, but rather a mindset, from which the qualities of the Ars Electronica Futurelab result.
1996 – Founding of Ars Electronica Futurelab— Ars Electronica’s ‘fourth pillar’
1997 – First collaborations with academic institutions and first industrial commissions
2002 – Ars Electronica Futurelab moves into its own premises and laboratory space in a commercial building close to the Ars Electronica Center
2004 – First commissions from international corporate clients
2008 – Work on the creation of the relaunch and architectural expansion of Ars Electronica Center, including Deep Space, a spacious projection aera for ultra-high-definition worlds of imagery which features 8 stereo HD projectors, projecting on a 16×9-meter wall and floor surface.
2009 – Ars Electronica Futurelab moves into its own premises in a separate part of the new Ars Electronica Center building and undergoes a restructuring process
2012 – Key role of Ars Electronica Futurelab in the creation of Klangwolke 2012 (Cloud of Sound), including the first public performance of Spaxels
2012 – Ars Electronica Solutions is established as a spin-off of Ars Electronica Futurelab to bring the creations and prototypes that emerge from the Ars Electronica ecosystem to the market
2014 – Start of Art Thinking program in cooperation with Japanese agency Hakuhodo
2015 – Upgrade of Ars Electronica Center’s Deep Space to 8K projection technology
2019 – Complete thematic redesign of Ars Electronica Center with a clear focus on AI, featuring the Understanding Artificial Intelligence exhibition
2020 – Start of Ars Electronica Futurelab’s Ideas Expedition program as it prepares for its 25th anniversary in 2021
2021 – 25th anniversary Ars Electronica Futurelab