Physics and Art Collide in Linz

Ars Electronica and CERN showcase award-winning art and research projects

3 min read
Physics and Art Collide in Linz

A physicist and an artist may appear, at first glance, to exist in very different worlds. But Ars Electronica, a renowned European cultural organization, and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, think that if you look closer, the two may have more to offer one another than meets the eye.

To formalize their hunch, the institutions recently announced that they'll be collaborating on several upcoming programs, fostering dialogue between artists and scientists. While Ars Electronica has been exploring the intersection of art and technology since 1979, working with a research center that houses some of the world's most most complex particle accelerators and decelerators is a first.

This year's Ars Electronica festival is dedicated to the new partnership, and got underway today in Linz, Austria. A conference, exhibitions, performances, and open labs will all take place under the theme "Origin – how it all begins."

Ars Electronica directors Christine Schopf and Gerfried Stocker say the theme was inspired by the "advanced basic research" going on at CERN. They say they're interested in society's capacity for innovation, and how research that doesn't offer a quick return on investment fits into today's world.

CERN's Director General, Rolf Heuer, and Director of Research and Scientific Computing, Sergio Bertolucci, will speak at the festival's conference to explain CERN's major projects and objectives. Physicists Anton Zeilinger and Michael Doser will also give talks on their respective areas of study, quantum information and anti-matter.

Doser has already given public presentations (pictured below) at an exhibition called “Origin – Investigating the Big Bang," which is also folded into the festival's programming. The exhibition is a review of CERN's history, organization and objectives, which include solving the mystery of The Big Bang and constructing the Large Hadron Collider.


Prix Ars Electronica, a competition offering some of the most coveted prizes in the digital arts, is another festival highlight. Making up their own exhibition, winning projects address social and political issues related to technology.

For example, Newstweek, the winner in the Interactive Art category, and The Choke Point Project, winner of this year's voestalpine Art and Technology Grant, both address the Internet as a decentralized medium for delivering information, and seek to improve it. Newstweek is a device that manipulates news read by people sharing wireless hotspots. It plugs into ordinary outlets, and allows writers to remotely edit headlines and other news content.


Choke Point, in reaction to the government "turning off" the Internet in Egypt during this year's uprisings, maps critical nodes in Internet service. The project's team is interested in network infrastructures that prevent governments or other entities from having an Internet kill switch. The P2P Foundation, a collaborator, explains the vision for an open and autonomous Internet on its wiki.

After the festival ends next week, Ars Electronica will continue its collaboration with CERN. Ariane Koek, who is heading up the development of a CERN Cultural Board for the Arts, says one of her main goals is to create an integrated space for artists at the research center through a residency called Collide@CERN. It will host three Ars Electronica artists.

Koek explains that Ars Electronica is a “perfect fit" for the program and will be followed, she hopes, by more partnerships with stellar art organizations. Prior to the launch of CERN's new cultural policies, Koek studied other residencies that involved scientists and artists, as well as the overall cultural climate at CERN. “CERN is a unique setting that involves over 10 000 people from organizations all over the world, and we know we want to develop a program that puts art on the same level as science," she says.

“When we invited Ars Electronica artistic director Gerfried Stocker here to see the campus, he was immediately inspired to move forward with the partnership….it really works beautifully because Ars Electronica has always had a focus on technology and science," she says.

The winners of the residency at CERN will likely be announced during the festival.

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