Combining art and new technology

What will future art critics write about our century and which works will they choose to represent our times? Gerfried Stocker, director of the Ars Electronica Center of Art and Technology, which is based in the Austrian city of Linz, provided an answer to those questions by talking about the combination of technology, biology and artistic creation. Ars Electronica is considered to be a pioneering force in its field, and has at times been subjected to harsh criticism because of the productions it has decided to fund, like that of a Portuguese artist who interfered with a butterfly’s DNA to change the color of its wings. Some saw it as a work of art that represented our era, while others thought it was just cruel and pointless. Digital era «If somebody in the future talked about our era, they would certainly describe it as digital because a great part of the population of advanced countries is involved with mobile phones, computers and the Internet. «Although all three of these inventions were initiated in the 20th century, their technology was only completed in the 21st; and it was only then that their use became widespread and we could observe their social effects,» said Stocker, who also believes that it is very important not to focus only on the people who are able to enjoy the comforts of the new technology, but also on those who are deprived of it. «I think that when future citizens talk about the early years of globalization, they will not forget that very few nations benefited financially and socially from the new technology. In reality, those who had the power handled things very selfishly: They sold their technological knowledge to poorer states at a high price and did not give any help to those living in poor conditions. «So I believe that our era will be connected with a new kind of war, the ‘Infowar’: [this will be] a combination of short, bloody battles and long campaigns in the press worldwide, to explain unjustified events.» Why does Ars Electronica believe that the new element in art will be a result of the combination of traditional methods of artistic creation, biology and technology? Today’s artists can create works of art that artists of other eras could only dream of, thanks to the new technology and the knowledge provided by scientific research. They can use both visual and sound effects and thus create works that have no material restrictions. Everything is possible in virtual reality and the same applies to those involved with genetic mechanics and biotechnology: They can now carry out experiments on living organisms instead of on canvas, wood or stone. But this combination of art and technology can only have meaning if we apply a humanistic dimension to these new circumstances of artistic creation. What are the abilities that a contemporary artist living in the digital era must possess? As Pierre Levy put it, the new artist must be the architect of events. Today’s artists are not geniuses who work alone in their workshops, isolated from the rest of the world. They have strong spiritual ties with other artists and with scientists who are active in many fields of research. They are also directly affected by social developments. Therefore, I think that artists’ greatest skills lie in their communication with others; they must be sensitive to social issues, be able to work as a team and, above all, demonstrate progress in their works. What is the main theme of this year’s annual art and technology festival that ends today at Linz? In order to understand the importance of the influence that new technology has on art, we must first become aware of the possibilities that software offers the artists. This year’s festival looks into the importance of software, its influence on the digital code currently under development, and its practical applications in artistic creation.

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