Optimism is not the belief that things will somehow work out, but rather the confidence in our ability to influence and bring about improvement. And that perhaps best describes the essence of the principle of hope, not as a passive position, but as an active force that motivates us to keep going despite adversity.

But don’t worry, this year’s festival will not be an examination of the psychological or even evolutionary foundations of the principle of hope, nor will it be a reflection on our unsteady fluctuation between hope and pessimism.

“HOPE” as a festival theme is not a resigned statement that all we can do is hope that someone or something will solve our problems, but rather a manifestation that there are actually many reasons for hope. This is expressed in the subtitle “who will turn the tide”, which does not claim to know how the turnaround can be achieved, but rather focuses on who the driving forces behind this turnabout are.

The festival’s goal is to spotlight as many people as possible who have already set out on their journey and whose activities—no matter how big or small—are a very concrete reason to have hope.

Believing in the possibility of change is the prerequisite for bringing about positive change, especially when all signs point to the fact that the paths we are currently taking are often dead ends.

But belief alone will not be enough; it requires a combination of belief, vision, cooperation, and a willingness to take concrete action. A willingness that we need, even if we are not yet sure how we will turn the tide, how we will solve the problems, and how we will deal with the effects of the problems that we are (no longer) able to solve.

What we cannot afford is to wait to make the necessary changes until we have found these solutions. What we also cannot afford to do is believe that technology will solve our problems; because that would mean once again that we not only don’t understand our technologies, but also that we understand our problems even less.

This is exactly what Ars Electronica’s thought model, which has been successful for 45 years, puts in the spotlight: the synopsis of art, technology and society, the alternatives and new perspectives that open up to us, when we also use the means of art and the eyes of artists to look at the social and cultural aspects of technological development.

Yes, technology will not solve our problems, but a lot of technology will be needed to address the problems. But this requires a different understanding both of technology and of our responsibility for using technology. But such visions must not be used as an excuse not to act; they must not tempt us to sit back and wait for the “super technology that solves everything”.

“HOPE” as the festival motto also poses an important question about the role and tasks of a festival in challenging times and is seen as a clear statement against the stupid, short-sighted pseudo-concepts and fake arguments of populist politics, against the nonsense-causing cries the mass media swamps (analog and digital), as well as against meaningless whitewashing and ignoring things.

To some, this appears to be a “crisis of imagination” because they no longer see large, spectacular plans for the future. But what has changed is not the power of imagination, the visionary courage, but the perspective. The spectacular and radical ideas are suddenly no longer concerned with growth, but with reduction. The diagram that shows the dramatic curve in which we must reduce CO2 emissions in the next few years has become a new icon, the radicalness of which also shows how radical our ideas must be. What courage it takes to even think about this radicalism without losing heart.

Hope is the opposite of fear, but there are many reasons to be afraid. The Ars Electronica Festival 2024 will show that there are also many reasons for hope—people, many people,  who have started working to bring about change with their ideas, projects, actions, and attitudes.

Young architects who no longer want to build new houses but rather renew the existing infrastructure; villages that successfully practice zero-waste; industrial designers who base their concepts on reuse instead of recycling and not only think about new materials, but also design the necessary changes in the design of the products; African open source communities of computer scientists who do not want to leave powerful AI systems in the hands of just a few large corporations.

But also technical visionaries who are developing new, more efficient forms of energy generation; economists who design new models of a socially and globally fair distribution of work and profits in a future characterized by automation and digital systems; people who are not committed to the dismantling but to the further development of democracy; seniors who fight together with their grandchildren for the human right to climate protection; artists who design gardens for insects, etc., etc., etc.

First you are amazed at how much is already happening around the world, and then hope arises. HOPE — who will turn the tide.

Gerfried Stocker,
Co-CEO / Artistic Director Ars Electronica

Gerfried Stocker (AT) is a media artist and an engineer for communication technology and has been artistic director and co-CEO of Ars Electronica since 1995. In 1995/96 he developed the exhibition strategies of the Ars Electronica Center with a small team of artists and technicians and was responsible for the setup and establishment of Ars Electronica’s own R & D facility, the Ars Electronica Futurelab. He has overseen the development of the program for international Ars Electronica exhibitions since 2004, the planning and the revamping of the contents for the Ars Electronica Center, which was enlarged in 2009, since 2005; the expansion of the Ars Electronica Festival since 2015; and the extensive overhaul of Ars Electronica Center’s contents and interior design in 2019. Stocker is a consultant for numerous companies and institutions in the field of creativity and innovation management and is active as a guest lecturer at international conferences and universities. In 2019 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Aalto University, Finland.

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