The Missing Link: Welcome to Planet B – Ars Electronica, a festival in motion

After two years dominated by a pandemic, this year the Ars Electronica Festival has almost returned to its former glory and fullness with 71,000 visitors and 953 artists, scientists and students from 76 countries. Linz seemed to shake off his fear of the crown, even on the tram, only a few masked faces could be seen. What the pandemic has left behind at the festival is not only negative, quite the opposite. Establishing the Gardens in 2020 is proving to be a smart move.

What’s missing: In a rapidly changing world of technology, there is often time to re-sort all your news and background information. At the weekend, we want to use it, follow side paths away from the mainstream, try different perspectives and emphasize nuances.

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When the festival was canceled as an on-site event, organizers encouraged smaller festivals around the world. 120 cities took part, and some local organizations began to develop. At this year’s festival, a separate exhibition is devoted to these horticultural collaborations, fourteen gardening partners from cities such as Novi Sad, Taipei, Auckland and Utrecht present art projects from their surroundings.

Gardens are just one of the many groups included in the festival. Probably the most important is the initiative of the European Commission S + T + ARTS (Science + Technology + Arts), which in the light of day is a festival within the festival, with its own prizes, an exhibition and a conference. It is certainly the intellectual and organizational strength of the festival that discourages the EU from considering a competing event. From the large number of individual initiatives gathered in the ARS, only the most important can be mentioned. For example, the University of Arts in the main square of Linz, which in turn this year presents in its halls aspiring artists from almost thirty countries. Or the Lentos Museum, which shows excerpts from the Cifo Foundation’s collection (cisneros fontanals art foundation) and thus offers a stage for media art in South America.

Of course, there is also the OK, Open Cultural Center in Upper Austria, which provides an insight into the origins of interactive art. Either the Festival University with 200 students from 70 countries, the CyberArts exhibition (winner of the Golden Thread), the festival of experiments “create your world” for young visitors, various exhibitions at the Ars Electronica Center, or – or – as diverse and confusing as this year’s Ars Electronica always looks like Festival. One cannot forget the Johannes Kepler University, on whose campus the festival has been held for several years.

Despite all the changes, the festival ship is managed by a very regular crew in turbulent times. First of all, Gerfried Stocker, who, first as Artistic Director and then Managing Director, keeps the festival on the right track with his network and ideas. Again and again it goes back to the original idea, namely to combine art, technology (or optionally science) and use this synergy to show perspectives for society. She emphasizes that it is always important to bring this idea closer to young people.

Gerfried Stocker

(Image: Dorothea Cremer-Schacht)

The festival is in the process of being transformed into a platform, it speaks to the point and thus represents a structural change. It is also substantive. In over forty years of history, Ars can be divided into three phases. In the first years, the joy of trying and conquering digital space dominated. There was a confrontation with the ramifications of new technologies, especially with the realization of how quickly Big Business took over the ideas of the pioneers who saw themselves more as rebels and turned them into profitable business models. The third phase is more actionist and shaped by the will to change society.

This year’s festival motto touches on the megatrema of our times. With all the crises of the last few years, which are displacing each other at an accelerating pace, the issue of sustainable development is a great constant, and in a sense the most persistent. Even if you underestimate every penetrating panic by climate activists, you should take it seriously. But where is the solution? The program brochure suggests that not in technology but in people. We have to change.

Christel Baur

(Image: Dorothea Cremer-Schacht)

Christel Baur, who curated the thematic exhibition “Studio (dys) Topia – On the Summit of Humanity”, agrees. However, he rejects the idea that the solution lies in cold water and washers. Rather, it introduces an ecological footprint into the game and tells how the festival organization tries to minimize its footprint. Is aware that contracts with Ars service providers that oblige them to operate sustainably cannot under any circumstances compensate for the CO₂ emissions caused by the travel and accommodation of thousands of festival participants and visitors. However, she is sure that the festival’s effect will eventually compensate for this “climate damage”. Otherwise, she would have gotten out, she emphasizes.

Under the slogan “At the Summit of Humanity”, the event is having a hard time. After the summit, everything goes downhill naturally, and the festival should not carry a negative message under any circumstances. Better to stick to the well-chosen idea of ​​Planet B: We are betting on a future in which the climate crisis was overcome and asking retrospectively how it happened. Productive change of perspective.

ARS ELECTRONICA 2022 – Festival of Art, Technology and Society

(Photo: ARS)

Politicians who present their position at the opening ceremony and present all levels of government, from city councilor to federal president, are also using the stage to highlight their successes in fighting climate change. Not everyone in the audience seems to agree, which is reflected in the occasional hum. But in general, the relationship between politics and the festival seems to be clarified, you need each other and you benefit from each other in your own way.

Gerfried Stocker works offstage and personally arranges a multimedia sequence of music and video performances at the mixing console where the speeches are embedded. Stefan Zweig’s two stories about Maggelan’s circumnavigation of the world and Cyrus W. Field laying the first submarine cable from Europe to the New World recall the times when technological progress had not yet had dystopian connotations.

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