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Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy QUT

By Grace Kirk
Can experimental art show us what the future will look like? Can art influence and build a more resilient future? These are some of the questions raised by Ars Electronica senior producer and current QUT Creative Industries artistic resident Kristefan Minski.

No Walls caught up with Minski to discuss his work at Ars Electronica, his passion for experimental art, and what is shaping up to be a very exciting collaboration with QUT – the 2017 QUT Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy.

Launched in March 2017, this collaboration invites QUT staff and students to become the co-creators of a series of transdisciplinary experimental art projects.

Kristefan Minski presents at the Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy QUT launch in March 2017

About Ars Electronica

Whether it’s flying synchronised drones to a symphonic score or projecting room-sized impressions of the human anatomy, Ars Electronica is known as one of the world’s premium platforms for media art and experimental art.

Ars Electronica Center, Linz, during the blue hour. Ars Electronica / Robert Bauernhansl.

Starting as a festival in 1979, which it still holds annually in its hometown of Linz, Austria, Ars Electronica intersects at the nexus of art, society and technology.

Ars Electronica has grown to include the Museum of the Future, Prix Ars Electronica, an international competition for CyberArt, and the Futurelab, a research and development department.

Deep Space at the Ars Electronica Center, Linz

The Futurelab was originally established with the intention to produce the works that could be displayed in the Ars Electronica Center. However, it quickly gained external interest from the industry. Ars Electronica uses art to educate the public about technology opportunities, such as the drone-based aerial performance Spaxels.

Spectacular drone shows

Spaxels was initiated by the Ars Electronica Futurelab in 2012, as an experimental project for a local river festival, the Klangwolke, in Linz.

Using drones, high-powered LED and radio controlled lighting system, Klangwolke 2012 saw the largest number of quad copters ever flown in the sky at the time. The project has continued to break world records in its ongoing iterations.

Drones, can have negative associations with war and surveillance. By using this technology to respond to an artistic question, people are able to see it be used in positive ways. The Ars Electroncia Futurelab believes this is a vitally important process, informing people that technology is not to be intrinsically feared, rather it is the way technology is used which can be concerning.

“To use art to inform the public about these kinds of topics, that sometimes happen behind closed doors”

“I think this is a very important role for what art and artists can do. To use art to inform the public about these kinds of topics, that sometimes happen behind closed doors, and bring in new perspectives, new ways to perceive or understand the new world of technology,” Minski says.

The project very quickly drew international attention, and Spaxels became a commercial endeavour.

The Spaxels by Ars Electronica Futurelab were part of the celebrations for the UAE National Day 2014 in Dubai on December 1st, 2014. Credit: Martin Hieslmair

The idea was commissioned by Paramount Pictures in 2013 to have the logo of television series and movie franchise Star Trek flown around the London Bridge at the beginning of Earth Hour. That same year Ars Electronica partnered with QUT to bring the Spaxels down under.

Drone 100. Ars Electronica / Martin Hielmair

In 2016, the project then partnered with Intel, where they broke the world record for flying a swarm of 100 drones. Later that year, the team flew the Drone 100 project over Sydney harbour during the Vivid festival.

Starting from humble beginnings, the Spaxels project has become an international success.

“It’s now set to be quite a revolution in terms of display systems and the future of display systems. That was always the Ars Electronica Futurelab vision and research behind it,” Minski says.

A career of creative collaboration

Minski’s varied career includes performing as a musician in bands, studying media, directing for stage and film production, and his multi-dimensional roles at Ars Electronica. He continues to explore the world of experimental art through a unique bilateral PhD program between Australia and Austria.

“My passion is about working towards a better future”

“My passion is about working towards a better future and I believe that the combination of many different knowledge sources working together and coming together in new and interesting ways will contribute a lot to those potential futures,” Minski says.

In 2013, Minski, as the Futurelab project lead, teamed up with Aakash Odedra and Lewis Major to create Murmur, a dance performance that blended media, technology and projections to create an international touring work.

Aakash: image courtesy Ars Electronica / Kristefan Minski

“It was the first time that I deeply engaged with the discipline of dance. It was quite an interesting development for me, personally and artistically to connect more specifically with this discipline and in particular the use and connection to the body in expression,” says Minski.

According to Minski, one of the fundamental principles of experimental art is to be focussed on the process, as opposed to the outcomes.

“The process is the essential value in terms of knowledge production,” Minski explains.

Artistic thinking promotes art as a process of asking questions, while innovation is the ability to answer and respond to those questions, Minskis says. This is central to what he has learnt at the Ars Electronica Futurelab – and he has seen this model becoming immersed within industry.

Minski is also the lead researcher of the Ars Electronica Future Innovators Summit. He describes this as an event where art is curating a new kind of discussion, by bringing emerging talents together from various disciplines and cultures into a space where they can talk about the future. He wants to generate questions about the future, as it is this process “which holds essential value”.

Image: Future Innovators Summit session at Ars Electronica

Minski is currently positioned as the official Ars Electronica Representative in Australia and is in residence with QUT Creative Industries for six months in 2017.

About Futurelab Academy

The Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy is a platform for collaboration with universities across the world, to foster knowledge exchange and mutual inspiration; since 2012, the Futurelab has worked with several partners (most intensively QUT, but also, for example, Japan’s Tsukuba University or the China Academy of Arts) to support students in producing exceptional works in media art and interaction design.

The QUT Futurelab Academy collaboration 2017 launched on Wednesday 1st March. It is open to staff and students (both undergraduate and higher degree research) who have the desire to be involved in this experience to create transdisciplinary, experimental art.

The purpose is to bring people together across the faculty to work as co-creators in developing transdisciplinary artworks that employ artistic thinking, to be showcased at the Ars Electronica Festival in 2017.

“I think that the production of the experimental work we’re actually doing will bring a lot of new knowledge into QUT and hopefully into the world in terms of our artistic outcome,” Minski says.

QUT Creative Industries academic, Greg Jenkins, understands that these workshops will not be about trying to solve a problem, but instead have the project led by a divergent thinking process. QUT students have collaborated with previous Ars Electronica Festivals, such as Planets in 2014:

Vimeo: Planets at Ars Electronica Festival 2014, by QUT Interaction and Visual Design graduate Andy Bates

While creative collaborations between Ars Electronica and QUT have taken place in the past, the difference this year is that Minski will be based at QUT for six months during his position as overarching creative producer.

The QUT Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy is keen to get input from QUT staff and students to develop an understanding of artistic thinking and transdisciplinary practice.

“It doesn’t matter where the people come from or why or how they’re doing it – we want to do some interesting stuff,” Jenkins says.

Greg Jenkins presents at the Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy QUT launch

According to Jenkins, this collaboration signals QUT’s commitment to being a global partner in ventures where creative art is at the core of new ideas.

“I think that in line with QUT’s understanding of the disruptions of current life and employment and future automations of the work force – there’s an understanding that creativity is absolutely paramount to future employability… so I think that this collaboration signals our commitment to those kinds of ventures at a significant, global level,” says Jenkins.

The academy launch was livestreamed to Facebook, commencing at the 10 minute mark:

For more information about QUT Ars Electronica Futurelab Academy, take a look at their Sway presentation.