LINZ, Austria — An estimated 100,000 people swarmed to Linz for Ars Electronica, Europe’s premier festival for art, technology, and social reflection, Sept. 6-10. Harvard’s metaLAB was also there, offering critique amid the techno-positivism as five members exhibited three current projects.
Ars Electronica has been an annual event in Linz since 1986, part of a deliberate effort to change the city’s image (Linz is known for being Austria’s most industrial city and Hitler’s hometown). This year’s theme, “Error — the Art of Imperfection,” included art installations, product exhibitions, science experiments, lectures, performances, and more, all held in 14 public spaces across Linz, with the main venue being PostCity, a massive, multilevel abandoned postal facility — complete with spiraling mail chutes people could slide down.
The idea behind “Error” is that, on one hand, an error can be an opportunity rather than a mistake. Yet on the other hand, with big data surveillance, privacy invasion, and social media manipulation, the dream of a beautiful digital world seems a naive error that needs to be reconceptualized — before we make irreparable mistakes with artificial intelligence.
MetaLAB was invited to join the festival by Eveline Wandl-Vogt of the Austrian Academy of Sciences; the U.S. Embassy of Austria supported the collaboration.
Since 2015, when Wandl-Vogt met metaLAB founder Jeffrey Schnapp, she has wanted to collaborate, saying metaLAB’s data visualizations make the ideas she works on “more accessible and understandable” to the public. So when Ars Electronica offered Wandl-Vogt installation space in the Create Your World section of the festival, she invited members of metaLAB to share it, bringing Harvard to the festival for the first time.