Ars Electronica: a global journey mapping the new world

Ars Electronica, a festival dedicated to digital arts, has just ended in Linz. The aim of this edition was to analyze new cultural challenges through sharing.

The latest edition of Ars Electronica, the famous Linz-based festival dedicated to digital arts, has just ended. The main objective of this pandemic edition was to identify the keywords to tackle the cultural challenges of the present by sharing the complexities that this period has placed in front of us. The title chosen for this edition is In the Kepler’s Gardens. It’s a journey through the networked biotopes and ecosystems in which people all over the world are working to develop and shape our future. In other words, many communities that have already begun not only to think about the current problems, but also to work on concrete solutions for the future. Places, talks, exhibitions and institutions that become platforms where scientists, artists and designers work together in order to try out new alliances and forms of cooperation. Kepler’s Gardens is the name of the new festival venue in Linz, but also the organizing principle of the festival, which doesn’t want to just dive into the network and disappear there, but rather to emerge from the network and manifest itself in many places all over the world. Starting in Linz and working with lots of partners from a huge international network, Ars Electronica developed the idea of the Kepler’s gardens intended as conceptual clusters that can manifest themselves in any analogical or virtual part of the world, and are the epicenter of a luxuriant garden/landscape that can flourish even in the driest places.

Be Water by Hong Kongers, Dedicated to the Hong Kong protesters, Eric Siu, Joel Kwong. Credit Designed Eric Siu

Autonomy and Democracy, as well as Technology, Ecology, Humanity and Uncertainty are the keywords to delve into the thick web of issues that we can no longer postpone.  More than 120 venues all over the world have been involved in a sort of exciting experimental laboratory, almost a prototype for next-level networking, that focuses on new forms and possibilities for the fusion and coexistence between analog and digital, real and virtual proximity. Ars Electronica’s main objective is to mediate and interconnect art, technology and society by encouraging new forms of networking between communities on a local and global scale – a transnational cooperation that is increasingly essential for our complex world. This is why the decision to award Be Water by Hong Kongers, a project that supports Hong Kong’s democracy revolution, becomes emblematic of the spirit of this edition. This is the first time that Prix Ars Electronica awarded a Golden Nica in the Digital Communities category to a movement of anonymous citizens for its innovative and creative digital activism. The project, coordinated by Eric Siu and Joel Kwong, alludes to the movement’s ability to adapt to any situation at any time, just like water. Hong Kongers are using digital media to organize, document and elude the repressive surveillance of the Chinese government, while emphasizing the important role of artists in their commitment to creating an open society. This edition pays close attention to environmental issues, too. For example, Photosynthetic Me by the Italian group composed by Vanessa V (concept and design), Andrea Macchia (images), Vincenzo Guarnieri (scientific design), is an experiment based on the idea of becoming plant-like. It’s a project that mixes design, science, technology and dystopia. The photosynthetic qualities of the Elysia chlorotica slug have generated the simulation of an evolutionary process in which the project tried to activate a photosynthetic system capable of making people self-sufficient for food and energy requirements. The installation explores the limits among science, fiction, art and life by displaying video and text documentation of this evolutionary process. We are thus forced to ask ourselves a few questions: What if we could swap genes with other species, becoming like leaves? Is this natural? Can we evolve in our imperfection? Another interesting project is Prisma Garden, an exhibition project curated by Mona Liem that showcases five Indonesian artists whose works shows their anxiety and hope about the current situation. In the Name of the Leaf by Angki Purbandono emphasizes how the diversity of human characters can be reflected on leaves, an analogical project he developed while spending time in an Indonesian prison because of cannabis. Purbandono used art as a means of emancipation by creating the Prison Art Programs. Rubi Roesli is an architect whose work reflects his opinion on the current state of urban spaces as well as his desire for an open and evolving urban dimension where the presence of nature is free to express itself.

The Pangolin Scales, Thomas Faseth, Harald Pretl, Christoph Guger, Anouk Wipprecht. Photo Tom Mesic

On a similar note, Naufal Abshar also projects his hope for nature’s return to the concrete jungle of the city through his paintings. Motionbeast, a collective engaged in graphic-visual experimentation, has developed a virtual journey in a vast and beautiful tea plantation in Java, telling the story of one of Indonesia’s best-known natural assets and its incredible journey from the mountains to the coffee tables in every corner of the world. Finally, Notanlab presented the richness of Indonesian flora in an engaging interactive installation. Returning to the idea of the garden that, in its etymology, appears as a fence and paradise, this edition of Ars Electronica motivates us to consider the planet and ourselves as subjects to be cared for through a desire for knowledge, be it digital or analogical, as long as it aims at an increasingly necessary change.

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