2023 is the year AI introduced itself to the general public with great fanfare. Hardly any mass media could resist the temptation to have an article or comment written in parts of ChatGPT. The scientists were also surprised by the high quality of the chat bot texts. The changes in business and society brought about by AI techniques are slowly becoming visible after the media hype dies down. So we were curious to see how this change would be reflected in the media art festival with its goal of bringing together “art, technology and society”.
“Who Owns the Truth?”
The first challenge was to find the parts of the festival that dealt with “Who Owns the Truth?” would deal with. This has less to do with the space. After the festival had found its place at the Johannes Kepler University for the past three years, this time it was allowed to move again (“really for the last time”) to PostCity, the abandoned letter and parcel distribution center that is attached to the train station. In fact, this time the festival was less crowded and packed with exhibits than in previous years, which made orientation easier. The fact that the Cyberarts exhibition was on the event site and no longer in the OK (Offenes Kulturhaus Oberösterreich) also ensured short distances.
But what is constantly growing is not just the number of visitors (88,000) and active participants (1,542), but the number of organizations that are affiliated with the event. The ARS has become a magnet to which more and more institutions are drawn. Above all, there are the many initiatives of the EU Commission, which have taken up more and more space over the years and which help shape ARS. There is the CIFO (Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation), which has been promoting the media art of emerging Latin American artists with prizes and exhibitions since 2022 and presenting it in the Lentos Art Museum. There is the Campus Exhibition, in which universities from over 50 countries took part this year. There is the Anton Bruckner Private University for Music, Drama and Dance, which organized a whole themed day in its rooms. There is the Gardens, a media art presentation from cities around the world, an idea born during the pandemic when ARS hosted the festival at its partners’ locations and delivered it virtually.
Or there is the exhibition in the Upper Austrian Art Association with the dynamically generated three-dimensional image elements by the computer graphic artist Markus Riebe (AT). Or the Francisco Carolinum, with an extremely worthwhile show of media art, which uses eleven positions to shed light on how AI relates to humans, including works by Holly Herndon/Mat Dryhurst, who were awarded the STARTS Prize 2022 last year. Or the Animation Festival, a three-day festival within a festival with the attached Expanded Animation Symposium, both located in the premises of the Ars Electronica Center on the other side of the Danube.
Holly Herndon / Mat Dryhurst
(Image: Dorothea Cremer-Schacht)
There are also places in the city that are traditionally used, such as the architecturally impressive St. Mary’s Cathedral, this time with a ballet performance designed by the Taiwanese artist Yen-Tzu Chang. The dance with projected images and moving screens takes on a mystical aura in the dark, large cathedral and the dancer often seems more like a doll moved by external forces than a human being moved by her own power. This evokes diverse images for the viewer. The fact that it is actually about memories and cultural perspectives that are symbolized by bats only becomes clear from the description.
Shao-Tung Tseng im Mariendom
(Image: Dorothea Cremer-Schacht)
Event and awards
Jimmy Wales, Basics Wikipedia
(Image: Dorothea Cremer-Schacht)
The big events should also be mentioned: the opening event, this time with a contribution by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. Wales asked whether ChatGPT could one day write Wikipedia articles, answer: no. Wales didn’t ask whether people would prefer to consult ChatGPT in the future instead of reading Wikipedia, but he certainly sees the AI as an intelligent front-end, a better search for Wikipedia, so to speak. Let’s hope that this front end is less hallucinating than the current AI chatbots. The focus of this evening was the presentation of the newly founded scientific institution, the “Institute of Digital Sciences of Austria”, or IDSA for short, whose location in Linz is primarily thanks to the ARS. From now on, 75 students and more than 30 fellows from all parts of the world will be looking for creative, interdisciplinary solutions to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene.
The awards gala reflects how the ARS has expanded. The series began with the EU S+T+ARTS Prizes, which have been awarded for almost ten years. This time, among others, Richard Mosse was honored for his remarkable film “Broken Specter,” which was shown on a 20-meter-wide screen and shows the environmental catastrophe that is occurring along the 4,000-kilometer-long Trans-Amazonian Highway. Then came further collaborations through the EU, such as the new, well-endowed Citizen Science Prize. But the Austrian ministries have also expanded their support in recent years, for example with the “Class! Learning” prize, which honors students and teachers for their use of digital tools, or the “State of the ART(ist) Award” for artists in existential life situations or the “Digital Humanity Award”, which this year honored a group of artists who want to improve the representation of African languages in machine translation and communication programs. In memory of the Japanese pioneer of electronic music Isao Tomita, who died in 2016, a prize named after him is awarded biennially. It went to Robin Fox (AU), an artist who gave a convincing demonstration of his laser art at the opening event. Only after these awards did the artistic director of the ARS, Gerfried Stocker, introduce the winners of the four Golden Nicas of the Cyberart competition, the former centerpiece of the gala, now just one prize group among many.
(Image: Richard Mosse, Jack Shainman and Carlier Gebauer)
This year, the big concert night was once again organized by the Bruckner Orchestra under the direction of Markus Poschner with Scherzi from various symphonies. The orchestra was counterpointed by “sound spaces” by the Icelandic composer and double bassist Bára Gísladóttir and a performance by the Austrian rapper Def Ill.
What’s missing: In the rapidly changing world of technology, there is often time to re-sort all the news and background information. At the weekend we want to take it, follow the side paths away from the current events, try out other perspectives and make nuances audible.
There are always small events that are worth discovering, such as the “Uncanny Valley” by the Rimini-Protocol theater group (DE). The uncanny valley is the observation that the acceptance of robots and avatars that are more human-like initially increases, but at a certain point it decreases sharply and turns into rejection.
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