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)


@LivingArchitect on @LondonRealTV

(I don’t know how the hell @LondonRealTV started following me, but thank god it did. I watched an episode before bed till 2am, and another at 10am once I woke up.)

“Time is a creative force that stops things from being irreversible The irreversibility of things is where creative opportunities lie.”

“Co-construct your future by bringing things together.”

“Science, technology and culture… work together… Attempting the unknown is creativity.”

“We should be very flexible about ‘what is a good idea?’.”

You would imagine that these quotes are from artists. In fact, they came from Dr Rachel Armstrong whose biography read as follows:

Rachel Armstrong is Co-Director of AVATAR (Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research) in Architecture & Synthetic Biology at The School of Architecture & Construction, University of Greenwich, London. Senior TED Fellow, and Visiting Research Assistant at the Centre for Fundamental Living Technology, Department of Physics and Chemistry, University of Southern Denmark. Rachel is a sustainability innovator who investigates a new approach to building materials called ‘living architecture,’ that suggests it is possible for our buildings to share some of the properties of living systems. She collaboratively works across disciplines to build and develop prototypes that embody her approach.

She might have a biography of stuffs, but listen to her speak – she is just someone who is not boxed into the idea of “who I am, what I do”. Lively, explains science in a way that I can actually understand on a Sunday morning, hopelessly optimistic and just a generally exciting person.

Watch the video:

Share: 6 Lessons from Negative Reviews

This is a repost of part of Jenny’s post. Full original version here.

Before that, in a timely manner, I read this from Guardian Theatre Blog: Fail Safe.

6 Things I’ve Learned From Negative Reviews:
1. They show that you’ve DONE something. You’ve created something. You’ve pushed through your fear to ship something that matters to you.

2. Your work has spread to a wide enough audience to get real, honest feedback from people who aren’t on your payroll (friends, family, people who love us no matter what).

3. Negative reviews will come in, but guess what? THEY DON’T KILL YOU! Shocking, right? Our inner critics would have us believe the world will come crashing down, but it doesn’t. They might sting, but that’s it. It’s no gaping wound.

4. It’s an opportunity to re-examine what you DO like about your work AND what you don’t. The review can’t hurt unless you agree with it on some level. Use that information to make your work better next time. Is there anything you would do differently?

5. Negative reviews are a sign that you’ve done something different enough to piss someone off. Points for creativity!
6. I am LUCKY to have the “champagne problem” of a few negative reviews. Of reviews at all! I am very grateful my work is out there, and that it has garnered as much interest and support as it has.


There was this UFO table thing in the corner of Barbican Weekender, and appeared on the little screen on the side was the discussion topic: “Why the long queue for the rain room?” There were 2-3 people around the table, and a man sitting in the middle passing on the mic from one to another. They were talking about weather.

The atmosphere was easy and equal. I don’t like voicing public opinions, but it drew me in and I sat down by the table, and raised my hand to answer the question, “I think we are just being control freaks, we were never able to control the weather, and now we can have rain drops not falling on us, and we all wanted that.”

Questions and opinions – should we be in control; why do we want to be in control; realisation of we cannot control everything; controlling the weather to avoid catastrophes like Katrina and Sandy.

The topic changed from weather to being in control.

I raised my hand again, “Sandy made me realise that technology helped us be in control, but Mother Nature will always be more powerful. We have to be in control, yes, but we must also respect the environment we are in. Respect Mother Earth.”

The lady beside me chipped in, saying that there are billionaires are doing projects that are trying to control -something-, they are like the Bond villains who think they are doing good but actually not. The man across the table would prefer that he is in control because losing control is not a good thing. I said that it is not necessary to be in control all the time; we must trust human brain, when it loses control, it gains something else and very often, it is the “ah” moment, creativity.

The topic changed from rain, to weather, to being in control to human creativity.

I loved it. I love discussions. I love asking questions about “the norm”. I love challenging my own thoughts, even got into fights.. I mean, debates where I “attacked” the arts and my own profession – which happens a hell lot in public debates anyway. (If I couldn’t defend myself, everything I do now loses meaning within the wider context. But if I could, I will be very, very pleased.)

I hope to be in another Talkaoke soon.

Reverse side of a Talkaoke banner.

Go Bonkers for the Olympics Opening Ceremony

Industrial Revolution Scene

Don’t even try to ask me how I would compare the Beijing ceremony and London ceremony. It is like as absurd as comparing whether a nectarine or an apple has a better taste – merely a matter of preference. If you do need an answer, I’d say I LOVE the London ceremony.

The London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony was bonkers. Danny Boyle, the artistic director of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and whom I already have a great respect for, is now officially on the top of my list of GENIUS.

I was super privileged to have attended the final technical rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday 25 July 2012. I was there to watch Akram’s part and apart from that, I had no idea what to expect apart from what was revealed in the official statements and press conferences: grass, live animals, a big bell, a castle, The Tempest, Akram and 49 best dancers in the UK…

In the pre-show that started at 20.12 – the one to warm the audience up and not shown on TV – we were given enough to do. We passed down a piece of blue silk material from the top of the seats to the bottom which created the effect that water poured into the the centre of the stadium – it looked beautiful. Some of us were given huge zorb balls to play with. We were instructed on how to use the digital panel that were behind our seats – shaking, twisting and flapping it – I couldn’t see the big picture, but no doubt it’d look spectacular (and so it did).

Audience participation (which not an unfamiliar concept in the arts) was brought to a whole new level. I thought, “Very smart.”

And then, Danny Boyle came on stage and said (not a transcript), “A huge thanks to all the 10,000 volunteers who made this happen. This ceremony is yours. Please enjoy yourselves, take as many pictures as you like – and in fact, I hope you manage to get some GREAT pictures – but please help us, #savethesurprise. Thank you and enjoy the evening.”

When the director came out personally and said this directly to you, you really will listen. You respected him because he gave you his appreciation and his trust, and you know the power to make intelligent decisions lies in your hand.

At least 80,000 people watched the technical rehearsals, and no one said a word about the ceremony.

It was done with dignity and with pride.

It was because of Danny Boyle. This article gave a great insight of how it all worked, and who is there to doubt the amazingness of Danny Boyle?

“Danny created a room where no one was afraid to speak, no one had to stick to their own specialism, no one was afraid of sounding stupid or talking out of turn. He restored us to the people we were before we made career choices – to when we were just wondering.”

By the end of the ceremony, I was incredibly impressed by how well the human traffic control was organised. There were 60,000 of us. Traffic was slow, sometimes halted – the enthusiastic “game makers” (volunteers) did warm us up on these occasions – but all of us kept walking until we got on the train. No physical battle (pushing and pulling), no deadlock, no suffocation.

To be honest, I still don’t understand how such a huge crowd could even be so controlled but truth is, it happened miraculously.

The ceremony itself, was a portrayal of what I know about Great Britain, done with a quiet confidence and the arrogance that an empire has, and therefore had what I love and what I hate (all at once) about this place. It was perfectly imperfect. (which was vastly different from the Beijing ceremony.)

We know that we are not perfect and we are fine with it because we are just human. We try, we make, we share, we have fun, we pass on, and we thrive.

Humanity, mortality, elegance, grace, poetic… Things that Danny wanted to do, and done in these ways.

“This is a fallen world, but you can find grace and beauty in its darkest corners.”

Danny Boyle OOC Text

(Image courtesy of : the internet)