Ars Electronica Festival 2014: an interpretation

Here is an abridged version of the English Highlight guide tour that I gave on Sunday 7th September at Ars Electronica Festival 2014 (AEF). Thank you to the 6 wonderful audience members I had and that €2 tip really made me happy.

I was at AEF for 3 weeks from 23 August till 13 September 2014, thanks to the Sampad European Placement Programme for Digital Learning funded by Leonardo da Vinci Mobility Programme.

A little bit of history

Ars Electronica started as a festival in 1979 by 4 people – the head of Upper Austrian Regional Studio, a cyberneticist/physician, an electronic musician/composer and a music producer. The genesis of this has not changed much 35 years later where the festival is still a meeting point of people from all sorts of backgrounds, gathering together in the name of electronic art and whatever that means to them.

Prix Ars Electronica was established in 1987 to recognise the achievements of these people and projects; many household names from Pixar to Wikileaks were winners of this award that is the industry equivalent of Oscars. 1996 saw the opening of the permanent home for the organisation (later refurbished and reopened in 2009) – Museum of the Future / Ars Electronica Center (AEC) – as well as the start of its R&D / Production department, FutureLab.

Today, the Festival, the Prix, the AEC and FutureLab are the DNA of the Ars Electronica brand.

The now is future

What amazed me was how many of the festival themes were still as relevant right now – “Information society”,  “The higher the technology, the higher the need for contact. The more we introduce technology into
society, the more people cuddle together.” “Artificial life” “Humanum – the fifth cultural technique” (on being human, versus computer). These were the festival themes between 1982 and 1990, and still topics of discussions I had just a few weeks ago.

I particularly liked the key word of 1989, “Openness”. It has one of the shortest opening remarks of the all, but has, to me, poetically responded to at least two of the key moments in that year: the revolutions of 1989, and the 20th birthday of the internet.

(Ars Electronica made all their festival catalogues freely available on their Archive. I highly recommend reading this and this.)

My interpretation of  “C… is for change”, AEF 2014

Here is my take on how to make sense of the many sights, sounds, concepts – familiar and not. There were some topics that appeared repeatedly in the many exhibitions of the festival, and by giving them headings, perhaps would help us formulate questions and respond to the festival theme: “What does it take to change?”


1. Social activism: Using technology to comment or take action on a social issue

The guys at Perpetual Plastic Project designed and 3D-printed a festival egg on the last day of the festival using a filament made of recycled plastics

The guys at Perpetual Plastic Project designed and 3D-printed a festival egg on the last day of the festival using a filament made of recycled plastics

My favourite examples:

2. The return of the analogue

Wall installation “In Search of Lost Time” by Nataša Sien?nik.

My favourite examples:

3. Awareness of the human senses – related to “the need of human contact” (theme of 1984), how artists try to bring back awareness to our own self and the human body, rather than the screens

My favourite examples:

  • Touchy (the only way you could go round touching people because it was a genuine need)
  • Planted (have you ever wondered what you will hear if you were a plant in Linz? Definitely not music or podcast from your earphones)
  • Sonotopia (Even buildings sing)

4. Human-Machine relationship – how much do you trust machines? Are machines trustable like humans? Are machines like humans, & vice versa?

"Das Vergerät" by Boris Petrovsky

“Das Vergerät” by Boris Petrovsky

My favourite examples:

  • The Collider (run towards a closed door. Run without hesitation and the door will open at the last minute before you hit it)
  • Learn to be a Machine (you thought you are controlling an interactive video of eyeballs, but they are actual eyeballs of a human being hidden under the bench you’re sitting on)
  • Das Vergerät (household machines play a symphony)

5. Virtual / Real – How do you know what is virtual and what is real? Does it even matter anymore?

The last thing you'd see of Mirage performance. Think again.

The last thing you’d see of Mirage performance. Think again.

My favourite examples:

  • Mirage (this is so fake it’s real)
  • Smiling Buddha (smile is infectious. Look, even videos of people will follow you)

(6). Of course, there are always the projects that are technically out-of-this-world brilliant

"Walking City" by Universal Everything

A big fat blob that WALKS from “Walking City” by Universal Everything

My favourite examples:

  • Walking City (I want to be a fat walking man if I can walk to that soundtrack everytime I walk)
  • Spaxels (DANCING DRONES)
  • Clouds (…I was using the Oculus Rift for so long the usher had to politely ask me to leave)