We have been wondering and researching about the great impact that the digital is having on our lives for a while now, especially since social media has proven how dangerous, shallow, corrupt and threatening this whole world could be. Countries have been using social media to actually control people’s votes by spreading lies that, even when unmasked, are hard to discredit. Technology is quickly replacing many human activities, including the artistic ones: there are already examples of music or written works created by computers. The idea that something that is supposed to be visceral and passionately conceived by a sensible and educated mind that is able to analyze, criticize and elaborare, could be created by an algorithm is completely out of my sphere of tolerance is disturbing.
But we are in the digital era, that’s a fact, and because of the pandemic, arts have shifted – even if temporarily – to digital media; so this year, for the second time since the first edition in 1979, the Ars Electronica Festival will become ”hybrid” and will open to interdisciplinary arts and artists interested in exploring a way to share space and intentions with the digital world. The XRE (Extended Reality Ensemble) is a collective of artists, both digital and non-digital, willing to find a common ground where to meet and collaborate in a safe and balanced space. I interviewed Clara Francesca, one of the founders of the XRE and co-curator of the festival, together with Ann Wichman.
What is this festival about? What is this Deal it is going to explore and what is this Portal you’re going to open?
“The festival is about art, technology and community. Ars Electronica’s Festival theme for 2021 is “A New Digital Deal” and XRE is exploring this with our sub-theme of “A Portal” by literally opening up portals to artists in other cities, and also by asking questions through our programmed events such as, “how do we dialogue together when we are different?”, “what is technology’s responsibility towards the planet through art”, and “how can we be intimate with art and technology?”, thereby creating ‘portals of thought’”.
So, both digital and non-digital artists will perform together but how exactly will it work? What will the audience experience?
“For our exciting new Enhanced Poetry programming, the audience will experience two expert artists (one digital and one non-digital) on stage in a Covid safe space standing a little apart from one another. As the non-digital artist begins their performance (for example a comedy standup set or a poem) the digital artist begins theirs (for example virtual painting with open brush) around them. The non-digital artist takes inspiration from the digital artist and vice versa. The audience experiences the artists engaging together within the integrity of each artist’s expertise asking questions such as: “What are the ways we can dialogue together when we come from different mediums?” and “How can we share space?” It’s going to be a really exciting artistic experiment/investigation. The audience is invited into an improvised first-time performance!”
Can you tell us more about the XRE (Extended Reality Ensemble)? When and how was it born and how does it work?
“We came together around June 2020 thanks to our friend Professor Phillip Baldwin holding online grant-writing get-togethers because of COVID-19. A few of us then branched off to create art together and consequently, XRE was born. Many of the ensemble are based in New York, but we are essentially boundary-free, aiming to practice horizontal leadership to co-create a fusion of digital and non-digital art together as we explore new ways to be financially responsible together without being oppressive or controlling as a driving force.”
How did you select the artists for the festival? Did you follow specific criteria?
“This is a wonderful question. The Festival came together based on artists that the XRE Core Members were excited to collaborate with. The core team at the time consisted of myself, She’s Excited!, Sky Rolnick, Erin Wajufos, Kamel Ghabte, Tania Lentini, Sean Devare, Lulu Zeko and Alexandra Marchosky, with the wonderful support of the extended ensemble (more here). It matters to XRE that there be a real interest in a participant between the interplay of art, technology and community while desiring to make high quality work with a spirit of curiosity in the process.”
The festival will last 5 days during which artists belonging to different arts will collaborate, but it’s not going to be just performances. You’ll also host a couple of panel discussions. What are you going to discuss and with whom?
“Yes! We are really excited to invite the audience to attend our panel discussions! We want the audience to reflect with us upon ‘arts + technology + society’ along with our expert panelists (in psychology, technology, psychedelics, music, management, divination, mandala mapping, architecture). Prompt questions will ground and guide us as we tune in to the talk: ‘What is technology’s responsibility to the consumer?’ Also, ‘What new paradigms excite you in the age of accessible VR/AR/MR and art?’ Our speakers include Amelia Lichtenberg, Clay Boykin, David Lobser, Geoff Wilcox, Dr. Howard Teich, Menka Sethi, Sarah Charley, and Sky Rolnick”.
So, what is it that you’re trying to achieve with this festival? What is its purpose?
“This truly is a 360-degree festival, with artists committed to engaging in social discussions that shape our community. We are passionate about creating a Festival where everyone feels invigorated by art post 2020, where we open up new realities and really investigate if and how we can dialogue together when we are different and take steps towards understanding how art and technology come together to heal and uplift the human spirit while honoring the human need to be in multiple states of being.”
How will the audience participate in the festival and what is the cost of the ticket?
“People can enjoy the Festival by physically arriving in-person at the Culture Lab in Long Island City, where they’re invited to scan a QR code with their smartphone cameras, or by going to our YouTube channel live-streaming links to watch the Festival online. It is an all-accessible event, meaning we encourage all audiences to donate what they desire.”
There’s a Go-Fund-Me campaign going on, tell us more.
“We believe art is crucial to the fulfillment of human life and in 2020 the world saw more virtual users. As a result, we really encourage people to donate to our Go-Fund-Me campaign, to be part of the XRE magic and nurture the artists and curators. Your contribution will help towards Production costs, Public Liability Insurance Protection, Gear (Microphones, Wi-Fi Sticks, Duct Tape, 2 Projectors), Enhanced accessibility, and Percentages of artists’ fees.”
What happens after the festival? Does the collective have other projects? Are you open to new artists and, if so, what should they do in order to collect more information?
“XRE has MANY other exciting projects happening after the festival, which we are currently working on. And we also hope to do Festival Garden 2022 with Ars Electronica, fingers crossed. We love to ‘feature friends of XRE’ on Instagram so we highly encourage artists to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line of “Friends of XRE Feature Request” and then we will ask for a 30-second video and a short 500 character bio plus requested tags. Additionally, if artists are interested in being part of our ensemble, they are very welcome to email us and begin a conversation of what their interest is and how they believe they can nurture XRE and how XRE can nurture them. For our audience, please go to our website and join our mailing list! We would love to keep you updated!”
Do you have other personal projects going on?
“I do indeed! I am thrilled to be working on a project in Florence, Italy, called SPEAKING DANTE with JProductions performing September 13th. 24 hours of nonstop Dante’s Divina Commedia, performed in Florence and in English, to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the poet. Those in NYC can see it online and those in Italy can see it in person, with ticket sales at this link.”
The festival and its goals sounds absolutely interesting. If you want to know more and participate, please visit xrensemble.com where you’ll find the whole program, and if you care about supporting this event and its artists please visit gofundme.com
Official date: Sept 8-12, 2021 @ Culture Lab LIC, 5-25 46th Ave, LIC, NY 11101
Covid Policy: Audience members must be fully vaccinated to enter the galleries.