“The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible” . Einstein (Cited by Paul Davies)
I just got back from Ars Electronica in Linz and here I am trying to sort my impressions.
This years festival left me with very mixed feelings.
On a personal level this was the first time in many years, that I did not visit Ars Electronica to blog and write about it. Of course i still ended up spamming twitter, flickr and instagram with the usual useless observations and crap photos.
I had skipped last year, and so this time I just wanted to go as a normal visitor, looking for exiting things, seeking inspiration.
I wanted it to be more like a vacation. Less like a job.
But that distinction is a vague one.
What I did notice is how I went after information in a much more casual way.
It should have been more, go with the flow, and follow where inspiration leads you.
In that sense i had hoped to enjoy myself more. The only problem was that not much really inspired me.
But uhm. This years festival was quite science heavy, and who would have expected otherwise reading about the theme and the announced collaboration between Ars Electronica and CERN. However, I do think that especially for the symposium there could have been more speakers who manage to draw a nicely drawn bridge between science and the arts.
Towards the end of the second morning session of the Origin Symposium a woman took the microphone to ask one of the last questions. “I am not a scientist, i am just a simple designer”, she started with a sheepish smile, “Can i still believe that all this research will eventually lead to some really interesting future possibilities, like beaming matter or replicating food or water. Can we hope for innovations that or is this really silly of me?” (paraphrased).
To me this woman’s question summarized the mood at the symposium this year. She apologized for being an artist! The scientist, Rolf Heuer from CERN, answered in a deadpan way, “Nope, won’t happen, not in my life time. and probably not in a few more life times to come” (paraphrased). And he added, he would not even want to be beamed from one place to the other. And there you have it, how could it happen, anytime, if it is not being pursued? But joking aside, let’s forget about beaming for a moment, maybe the artists could indeed ask these silly questions and inspire science to go after the cool futuristic stuff, that we stupid people want. Yay!
In that sense the talk by Malina was one the most inspiring ones. When scientists and artists work together, he cautioned, they should be careful not to mangle or equalize their approaches. Each should look at the problem from their respective vantage points. This of course assumes that the artistic and the scientific viewpoint are as clear cut and as far apart as they sometimes seem to be. In practice this may often not even be the case. But it is still a valid point to make from a theoretical point of view.
Other than the Malina talk, Maturana and De Kerckhove would be the talks from the Origin Symposium that I recommend to watch on the Ars Electronica Youtube Channel. Maturana vexed me to no end with his almost cute stance that nothing is objective, everything emotional, lifting his shoulders, what else? His analysis of the human predicament was right on, the deconstruction was precise and accurate, but in his conclusion, he just leaves things hanging in eternal subjectivity. A lot of it is like Buddhists, pointing out that everything is empty and nothing is real, but without the potential for transcendence and objectivity that Buddhist deconstruction aims for. De Kerckhove convinced in his usual eloquent and witty style, but also amusingly struggled with his PowerPoint slides, that can be found here.
The most inspiring talks happened on Sunday morning during the morning session optimistically entitled “After the Revolution” of the Public Square Squared conference hosted by Sasaki/Mao. All the three woman were totally inspiring speakers, Lina Ben Mhenni on Tunisia, Zeyna Tufekic on Eqypt and Leila Nachawati on Syria and Spain, talking about this years protests in these countries and the role of socialmedia. Sasaki did a very nice job integrating the twitter stream in the background #square2 into the discussion.
What else? I saw many cute cute robots that i want to adopt.
i quite liked a theater piece consisting of a conversation on poetry between an android and an actress, Android Human Theater: Sayonara, safecast.org (I want to get involved) was there with Joi Ito et al. (Joi has since posted two interesting blogs that sum up somewhat the points he was making in his talks: Designing systems for transparency robustness, Safecast and CC0). Usman Haque spoke about pachube.com (I want to get involved). After seeing it in Geneva it was great to see Das Kapital by Christin Lahr again. Every day she donates one cent to save the national deficit to an account at the Deutsche Bundesbank, in the memo section the 108 signs are used to upload small excerpts of Das Kapital by Karl Marx. Oh yes and Metachaos by Alessandro Bavari, dark, delirious and pretty great animation won a Nica, and of course, any animation that can beat The External World, has to be fantastic…
When I made my way to the train station last night i started to speak to a taxi driver. This guy was ecstatic and right away he asked me, if i was in Linz for Ars Electronica? “I love this festival”, he raved, “best week in the year”. I asked him why, if he went see any of the the art or conferences? Nope. Just the fact that he could drive international guests to and from the airport. He makes more money than in any other week of the year. And oh yeh, he did go see the Fireworks/Soundwolke. So there.
[might add more stuff later … too drowsy now]