Signals from the Future #12 - Ars Electronica

Futures Thinking at Ars Electronica

How can art help us understand science? How do we deal with an uncertain future? And do we have to be experts to participate in Futures Thinking? Christl Baur, Head of the Ars Electronica Festival and joined us at the Signals from the Future (SFTF) event on Monday, 29.11.2021, to offer insights into all of this and much, much, more.

Beginning with art, Christl believes that while no-one knows what the future holds, art can act as a compass for the future. Through the artistic visualization of future scenarios, new dialogues and perspectives can emerge, offering important impulses for discourse. To this end, the Prix Ars Electronica, a highly regarded annual prize in digital arts, culture, and music, has been awarded since 1987 to promote a global exchange around our ideas of the future.

With 3000 to 4000 submissions from 86 countries, this media prize helps us to better understand what issues people from around the world are dealing with and highlights the extent to which global differences exist. The projects submitted function like a trend barometer, from which inspiration for a tangible future is drawn, and new globally collaborations can emerge.

Art is not only productive for the exchange of ideas, but also provides a framework for further exploration at Ars Electronica in workshops with school children and students. You already know design thinking, right? Well, these workshops go further with a three-step method that Ars Electronica calls Art Thinking. The first step is called Inspiration, where the aim is to work out creative questions from the participants. This is followed by the Envision step, in which the creative questions are molded into visions of the future. Finally, the visions are translated into fast research and development projects during the last step, Prototyping. To mix things up, the individual steps are often worked on by different groups, so that a diversity of perspectives are brought into play.

Fresh and open thinking

How do we generate new ideas? Christl suggests that an important method is to constantly go back to first principles and rethink topics from scratch. While potentially exhausting, and frustrating, it’s a necessary part of creating new perspectives and solutions. To enable yourself to genuinely rethink stuff, then exchange with one's local colleagues and – as we see in the Prix – as many partners as possible from diverse cultures around the world is highly important. At Ars Electronica, a corporate culture has been nurtured to support open communication within the internal teams. Everyone is encouraged to express their own opinion, regardless of whether they are an intern or a head of department. It moves the organization away from competition and towards a culture of cooperation where new ideas can emerge from any desk.

As an aside, Christl notes that the positive benefits of the culture of openness about ideas also spills over into the everyday team communication at Ars. The teams look out for each other, especially making sure to cut back on projects when the workload becomes unmanageable (There’s a lot of futures out there to work on, after all)

Art as a door to science

A powerful artistic visualisation that has stayed with Christl is "Oceans in Transformation” by Territorial Agency. The project was created by two architects who worked together with scientists from around the world to compose a visualization of disparate oceanic phenomena into a single view. Each scientist had a background in a particular specialism, with commonly no overview of the shape of the oceanic activity, and problems, in other disciplines. Combining and then visualizing the data enabled a systemic perspective, thrilling the scientists who could now see relationships between problems that were previously obscured.  

Although conceived as an artistic project, the result unlocked a level of understanding in science, and thereby possibilities to help save our future oceans, and also raise the public awareness of the interconnectedness of nature and our human activities that impact the oceans.

Become a futurist

So futures thinking is up your street, and you would like to learn more? Watch the whole event with Christl Baur

The next Signals from the Future event will take place on 10.01.2022, where we will be joined by Ellery Studio to explore Collaborative Foresight. Click here to register.

Until then, a final a question for you: Have you thought about what desirable futures look like for you? Then maybe it’s raised some more questions…we’d love for you to bring them to bring them to the next event.

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