Art in the age of digitality

Christopher Lindinger | © Florian Voggeneder

Christopher Lindinger is an innovation researcher, computer scientist and cultural manager. He co-founded the Futurelab at Ars Electronica in Linz and was co-director of the Media Lab until he was appointed vice rector at JKU Linz in 2019. On October 1, he took up the first professorship for art and digitality at the Mozarteum University.

Mr. Lindinger, Linz has been a UNESCO City of Media Arts since 2014 - you played a leading role in the application process. What brings you to a city like Salzburg and to the Mozarteum University?

I'm originally from Salzburg, a province to which/with which I've always maintained a deep bond. I have therefore always followed developments in both the city and the state with great interest. I am convinced that my wealth of experience from different phases of life can now also make a valuable contribution here. In this dynamic field of tension in which the city moves between tradition and the future, I see a fascinating potential that must be recognized and developed. In recent years, the Mozarteum University has distinguished itself through its clear positioning and consistent further development within the university network. It is impressive to see the development of this institution and its symbolic value for the city, the region and beyond. It functions as an indispensable crystallization point for the further cultural development of Salzburg and therefore undoubtedly represents an exciting place of activity.

As of October 1, you will be intensively involved in setting up and profiling the Institute for Open Arts, newly founded in 2023 - an inter-, trans- and nondisciplinary workspace of the Mozarteum University that aims to offer open structures for artistic research in theory and practice. What do you have in mind?

As universities, we strive to equip our graduates with the necessary tools to act effectively in a world of great upheaval - across the entire spectrum of their activities, from artistic creation to social engagement. However, the diversity of disciplines, challenges and forms of expression has expanded to such an extent that the cultural approach to dealing with all these aspects needs to be reconceptualized. And this is strongly opened up by building bridges between disciplines and radically opening up to all social actors. The workspace at the Institute for Open Arts is intended to do justice to precisely these considerations. It is intended to serve as a nucleus and symbol for this new culture, in which exchange, production and critical debate are equally enabled and promoted.

The spectrum of artistic disciplines at the Mozarteum University is broad - from acting and directing to stage design, visual arts and dance to music in all its facets, the field is wide. Where/where do you see the strongest potential? Do you already have concrete project ideas in mind?

In the past few weeks, I have had numerous conversations with colleagues from various artistic disciplines. It was gratifying to experience how open attitudes and a conducive culture of conversation can lead directly to potential points of contact and initial project ideas. While in some disciplines the connection to digital - think augmented or virtual reality - is more obvious, such as in scenography or acting, however, I would like to emphasize not so much the disciplines as the people involved with whom I get to drive these developments. Here I received a broad positive response, which inspired me extraordinarily.

You will also be instrumental in developing teaching concepts in the field of art and digitality. What do you think art and/or music studies of the present and future look like? What should young artists deal with and occupy themselves with?

One of the central challenges for art universities and artistic creation in general will undoubtedly be dealing with generative artificial intelligence. We are already recognizing the enormous potential of these technologies - whether through text generation systems such as ChatGPT or software tools that are capable of completing musical compositions or even creating them independently. We are at a stage where technology is evolving faster than our understanding of how to apply it. This raises fundamental questions regarding its meaning and the best approaches to deal with them. It is in this area that I would like to focus. It is essential to critically examine the development of these technologies and help demystify them. These technologies should not be seen as substitutes, but rather as tools, supporters or "companions" in the artistic creative process. To achieve this goal, I plan to actively pursue and test the development of such technologies with partners both locally and internationally. Students' engagement with these technologies in teaching and practice, whether in application or critical reflection, will undoubtedly play a key role in art university education in the years to come.

With the new building of the Mozarteum University at the Kurgarten (UMAK), the city of Salzburg, the cultural area around the Mirabell Gardens and the Paracelsus Baths will have a new player and neighbor from 2025. An X-Reality Lab, the only one of its kind in Austria, will make it possible to experiment with and produce extended worlds of images, video and sound. The planning team includes renowned institutions such as IRCAM (Paris) and Ars Electronica. Can you already reveal more about the concept?

The X-Reality Lab is currently designed to enable a variety of visual and auditory experiences. It's a space in which viewers are surrounded by continuous projects capable of displaying three-dimensional visual worlds. A sophisticated arrangement of loudspeakers enables spatial sound reproduction and allows the recipients to immerse themselves in this world in a unique way, both acoustically and visually. The X-Reality Lab represents a sophisticated technical infrastructure designed to provide a unique platform for artistic expression.

The Prix Ars Electronica, often referred to as the "Oscar" of computer art, was awarded for the first time in 2021 to a project by the Mozarteum University in cooperation with the artists' group gold extra (Black Day) and the Neue Mittelschule Lehen in the U14 category. What fruitful experiences from your time at Ars Electronica do you take with you to the Mozarteum University, and what do you wish for?

During my time at Ars Electronica, I was able to benefit continuously from the diversity of fascinating personalities, the openness and internationality. This experience made it clear to me that fear of contact plays no role here, and that everyone involved is driven by a shared enthusiasm. This lively dynamic led not only to fruitful collaborations but also to inspiring creative processes.The bridge-building between different disciplines and cultural backgrounds that I experienced during my time at Ars Electronica is something I'd like to further intensify at the Mozarteum University. Ultimately, I hope that the energy and passion I experienced at the intersection of art and technology will spill over to students and inspire them to think beyond conventional boundaries and take bold steps in their own artistic development.


(First published in Uni-Nachrichten / Salzburger Nachrichten on October 7, 2023)

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