Cutting-edge festival will bring together digital art, technology and virtual experience

The world’s largest media arts festival is coming to Aotearoa New Zealand. From 8 to 12 September 2021, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and the University of ӰAPPare co-hosting , a showcase of installations at the nexus of art, technology and society.

Owl in boat

The two universities are co-organising a 3D cyber exhibition, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world via computer screens, mobile devices or virtual reality headsets. In addition to the Mozilla Hubs cyber gallery, in which visitors will be able to interact not only with other virtual visitors but also some of the installations, the festival includes a livestreamed and other featuring speakers, performances and demonstrations. In addition, three hours of Ars Electronica TV, streamed online worldwide, will focus on Garden Aotearoa.

“Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa explores how the digital world connects with the physical world,” said Associate Professor , director of the University of Auckland’s and one of the key organisers of Garden Aotearoa. “The festival is for anyone interested in digital media, whether they’re ten years old or 100. Visitors can explore digital information in ways that will delight their senses, entertain them and make them think.”

Uwe Rieger
     Uwe Rieger

“We are delighted to be co-hosting this prestigious international festival,” said Professor , Dean of Te Wāhanga Waihanga-Hoahoa—Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation and another of the key organisers. “Ars Electronica is one of the most influential festivals in the electronic arts and media world and it’s incredibly special to host a part of this event for New Zealanders to explore, experience and enjoy.”

was founded in 1979 in Linz, Austria. For more than four decades, the festival has been at the forefront of the digital revolution, with a transdisciplinary range of artists, scientists and technologists gathering for symposia, exhibitions and performances scrutinising potential futures.

The arc/sec Lab began participating in Ars Electronica in Linz in 2017 with large-scale interactive installations. In 2020, however, the Covid-19 pandemic meant festival partners all over the world presented their exhibits in online “gardens.” The University of ӰAPPand Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington co-hosted their first cyber exhibition then.

This year, like in 2020, the pandemic has prevented a planned physical exhibition from going ahead in New Zealand, but all 20 of the groups or individuals exhibiting have been able to adapt their work to the virtual format. Highlights include:

  • LightSense: Presented by the University of Auckland’s arc/sec Lab, and , LightSense is an immersive installation that augments physical constructions with holographic, digital animations. Artificial intelligence allows the system to initiate and sustain conversations with audience members, whether on-site or virtual visitors. The cyber-physical structure changes shape and demonstrates a new form of reactive architecture that responds to the emotional tenor of the conversation with the audience.
  • Marine_Trace_Exposure/cross-currents: A collaborative project by the research group An Architecture of the Sea, whose work engages with the visualisation of the marine environment in differing spatial settings. Utilising photography, poetry and virtual space, the group’s physical and virtual exhibitions present work from the artists’ experience and observation of phenomena in relation to systematic maritime surveying, sampling, and resource exploitation. Presented by Wayne Barrar (Massey University); Kerry Hines (New Zealand); Mizuho Nishioka and Tane Moleta (Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington).
  • Minimum Mass: Co-directed by Raqi Syed and Areito Echevarria of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s , Minimum Mass is the award-winning story of a couple who experience a series of miscarriages and come to believe their children are being born in another dimension. Set in contemporary Rotorua, New Zealand and the speculative world of black holes, it is a 20-minute interactive narrative virtual reality that takes place in a real-time, photorealistic, computer-generated story world developed for the Oculus Rift-S platform.

“We’re inviting attendees to journey though the complex, fascinating, magical, myriad connections and relationships we have with our environment, and showcasing Aotearoa’s creative energy using state-of-the-art technology and innovative forms of virtual expression,” said Schnabel.

“Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa allows researchers, technologists, artists and thinkers to not only present ideas to local and international audiences but also trigger public discussion of digital issues,” said Rieger. “The information age presents challenges such as the security of data and its potential misuse. On the other hand, data can become a new building material for creation that doesn’t require huge resources or physical proximity. This offers huge opportunities for New Zealand.”

In addition to the two universities, Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa is co-promoted by UniServices, a wholly owned company of the University of ӰAPPfocusing on knowledge mobilisation and research commercialisation, and Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington-based .

The Garden Aotearoa cyber exhibition and all online events are free, though some aspects of the Ars Electronica festival originating in other countries carry modest charges. A full programme of New Zealand events is available at .

Media Contacts

Uwe Rieger
Associate Professor, University of ӰAPPSchool of Architecture and Planning
+64 2102 393 271

Marc Aurel Schnabel
Professor, Te Wāhanga Waihanga-Hoahoa—Wellington School of Architecture and Design Innovation, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
+64 4 463 6095

Karen Kawawada
Communications Manager, UniServices
+64 27 242 8214