The artwork Venice, Twilight by Alexander Reben explores the collaboration between humans and AI in contemporary art making. Alexander Reben’s artworks in the field of AI technology set new standards in the investigation of collaboration between man and machine. The digitally generated series shows a series of paintings created by an AI (= Artificial Intelligence) and in turn based on the description of the painting created by another AI.

From a selection of these series, the curator chose one painting, which was then painted by a local artist and is featured in the exhibition. Vines studied robotics at world-renowned MIT and his work explores the inherently human nature of the artificial. His artistic practice explores the potential of artificial intelligence as a creative partner and the ways in which it can challenge traditional notions of creativity and art.

Presendet by Gazelli Art House London

We met Alexander for an interview just before ULTRAMARIN open its doors in Venice and talked about his Art, whats special about Venice and how he sees the current developments in the field of digital art.

VRHAM!: In Venice you’re showing your work Venice, Twilight (2022) – what’s the idea behind it?

ALEXANDER REBEN: The painting presented in Venice is prompted by the ideas of water, the color ultramarine and Venice itself. Because of how my system of artwork generation works, the artwork can both be prompted and curated around particular topics and themes. Venice is a city literally built on technology, AI art makes for a natural pairing with the environment.

Which current developments in the field of digital art are you observing at the moment, what techniques are you already using, which innovations would you like to use (more) of, and how do technical developments influence your work?

Digital and generative art tools are being developed at a quick pace, especially those using AI. As these tools become ever more advanced, their ability to help with creative expression will also grow. I foresee a future where we “collaborate” with these tools to create art and other creative outputs. In my work, I am constantly looking out for any new technical developments as part of my conceptual practice which includes investigating these technologies through the use of experimentation and a lens of absurdity.

Today we introduce our artists from ULTRAMARIN in Venice – please meet the Brazilian artist Gabriel Massan. He shows three works at once with extraordinary digital landscapes that captivate with their crystalline ephemerality and oscillating amorphous structures. His artistic practice deals with the interdependent relationship between fictional existences and digital environments and the investigation of representational possibilities of colorfulness, personal identity and time. We met him in advance for an interview – but read for yourself:

VRHAM!: At ULTRAMARIN – An immersive Exhibition you are represented with the animated video work THE DANCE FROM BELOW /BANHEIRA DE GESSO / NO ADVENTURE LAND (WMG). What relation does your work have to the theme of the Exhibition: “water”?

GABRIEL MASSAN: My research explores the performance of the organic through digital sculptures. The liquidity of movement in animation and the experimentation in habitat construction are influenced by the possible presence of water in these fictitious bodies and atmospheres. I also work with the development of fluids and watery surfaces that simulate rivers, lakes and seas, that devastate and/or bathe the lives I dedicate myself to imagine.

There is hardly a city like Venice that fits better to the theme of ULTRAMARIN: What is special for you about the lagoon city and what are you looking forward to the most?

I like the power that water exerts over the city, which defines precisely the way we enter and navigate this territory. The force of this existence that advances and advances over us and over our choices. Returning to Venice in the same year, but now rethinking its power and peculiarity is very significant for the work I have been developing as an artist.

What current developments in the field of digital art are you observing at the moment: which techniques do you already use, which innovations would you like to use (more) of, and how do technical developments influence your work?

My work takes shape digitally. My drafts are virtual. I start by using techniques in digital sculpture, digital painting and 3D animation. These compositions are firstly presented through video art and still images, like photographs. Then I explore augmented reality filters, proximity sensors, sound reaction and virtual reality. In the last two years I’ve been focusing on games and interactivity. The next step would be to integrate these environments with live simulations and mixed reality performances. The way I present my work defines the interpretations and impacts I will have on the public. Understanding what brings me closer and what pushes me away is crucial to develop a critique of the bridge between the different dimensions I explore.

Fiona Fritz is a historian and program manager for eCommemoration in the History and Politics Department of the Körber-Stiftung. Since 2018 she has been designing and coordinating international history policy projects and digital formats for young Europeans at the Körber-Stiftung. We spoke with her about the challenges of digitization and the XR History Award.

VRHAM!: Dear Fiona, the Körber-Stiftung is committed to international understanding and a vibrant civil society. What role does the keyword “digitalization” play in this context?

FIONA FRITZ: As the Körber-Stiftung, our mission statement is “Making society better. This also applies to digitization, which is already permeating and changing almost all areas of society. Many of the Körber-Stiftung’s programs therefore deal specifically with the effects of digitization on civil society, for example with hate speech on the net against local politicians, but also with strengthening the digital skills of children and young people.

In our area of history and politics, we are primarily concerned with the aspect of international understanding, which is made easier by global networking. In the digital realm, national borders no longer play a role in direct exchange, while national echo chambers remain stable in the discussion of history. At the same time, conspiracy myths and historical distortion are spreading faster than ever. This is precisely where we come in with our programs in the field of history and politics.

You are the program manager of the Körber-Stiftung’s eCommemmoration project – what is the goal of your work?

Our program eCommemoration is about history and memory in digital formats, in games, social media and extended reality. New technologies and new generations raise new questions about history. How can we use digital opportunities to create a multi-voiced and relevant memory practice? With eCommemoration, we connect actors across borders and disciplines who are engaged with history. With our eCommemoration Convention, we bring together historians, museum makers, developers, and creatives from around the world to explore, discuss, and create history and memory in games, social media, and extended reality.

We also produce our History & Politics podcast, in which we talk with guests from a variety of backgrounds about why history is always the present, and how looking back helps us to understand it better.

What challenges do you face in your work to think history and memory digitally?

Just in the last few months, with the Russian war against Ukraine, we have had to learn quite massively that history is an extremely powerful tool that is too often manipulated. That’s exactly why we initiated the XR History Award together with VRHAM!. We want to promote creative projects that use exciting virtual, augmented or mixed reality technologies to broaden our view of history and thus create new approaches. That’s why it’s important to us that with the XR History Award we can honor a project that tells fact-based stories about the past in new formats.

In our work, it is particularly important to us to bring together people from the most diverse backgrounds and countries. This is the only way we can break down prejudices against “dry history” or new digital formats. History takes place in the digital realm, whether we as a society like it or not. That’s why it’s important to us to take games and extended reality seriously as cultural assets, but at the same time to question them critically. And above all, not just to talk about the formats, but to actually try them out: Gaming and immersion, and really experiencing what the potentials, but also the limits, are in the digital.

As part of the exhibition “ULTRAmarin – An immersive Exhibition”, VRHAM! in cooperation with the Körber-Stiftung is presenting the XR History Award – more than 80 works were submitted, which you evaluated as part of the jury. What was particularly important to you in selecting the winner?

We had a really great international and interdisciplinary jury that brought together expertise from the VR field, media science, but also history. As a historian, it was particularly important to me that it was not a purely fictional story, but that it was based on real and comprehensible sources or eyewitness accounts and did not falsify history.

It was equally important to us that the project find a creative approach and show new perspectives through an artistic view. I was really excited by the submissions, because they show how vivid history and memory are in the field of extended reality. The project that we are now honoring with the XR History Award is, in my view, special in terms of the concrete stories that are told. At the same time, it serves as a model of what engagement with, or even reconciliation with, contested history can look like.

In the VR film Child of Empire, two contemporary witnesses from India and Pakistan tell their stories of escape after the violent partition in 1947. The narratives of the two protagonists are not dominated by the hatred that still too often defines the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Thus, Child of Empire overcomes the tendency to create a hierarchy of victims by placing the two narrated stories on equal footing.

Berlin-based artist and curator Manuel Rossner’s work explores the fluid transitions of analog and digital reality. At the German premiere of ULTRAMARIN, which we at VRHAM! are presenting as an umbrella brand, he will be showing his SURPRISINGLY SERIES. We talked to him about challenges and the potential of digital, NFTs and new possibilities in the art world.

VRHAM!: Your art form moves between the worlds of traditional and digital art. In an interview with Tilman Baumgärtl, you said: “My art begins where architects leave off. What are the biggest challenges in trying to link analog with virtual reality?

MANUEL ROSSNER: Often, the two worlds function in opposite ways. For example, in the digital world, the term “expensive” means that a process consumes a lot of computing capacity, while in the case of a building, it costs a lot of money to build. In addition, the network culture is completely different. It’s always a challenge to create a digital experience. It starts with basic interactions: How do I move through space?

You are one of the first artists to explore the vast possibilities that NFTs offer. What distinguishes your personal work as an NFT artist?

I see my NFTs as part of a world that I create and continue to develop. For me, fundamental questions are important: What actually is a digital object? And how does it relate to a physical object? For example, my SURPRISINGLY SERIES consists of 100 digital works that I create in virtual reality. I draw in the air and the computer gives volume to my movement. 25 of these digital objects are precisely produced in the physical world by a CNC-mill.

For people who are not yet fully aware of the connection between art and NFTs, how would you describe this art form and what possibilities do you see in it?

The analog art world has opened up to the digital only to a very limited extent for decades. Without physical objects, there has hardly been any. But the great potential of the digital lies precisely in its independence from the physical. Now artists can not only exploit these possibilities, but also let visitors or collectors participate in their work in a new way.

At VRHAM! you present your work “Surprisingly” – What can visitors expect?

In the SURPRISINGLY SERIES, I’m interested in looking at my digital work from many angles: Visitors can see the original work with their smartphone in augmented reality. In addition, there are three videos to watch that show the different materialities: Bouncy, Dripping and Cracking. There is also a physical work to see.

Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) continues its commitment to VRHAM! Festival as a partner again this year. We pick up the conversation from DKB Finanzwissen with Anne Schwanz. Anne is co-founder of the gallery Office Impart, which sees itself as a platform for contemporary art. She is also co-founder of the research initiative Art+Tech Report, which looks at the interface between art, market and technology. In this interview with DKB, she talks about the digitization of art, NFTs and the opportunities for the art market, among other topics. We think: A great insight that we want to share with you!

DKB Finanzwissen: In addition to the art trade, artworks are also becoming increasingly digital. How can we imagine a digital work of art and what forms can it take?

ANNE SCHWANZ: (…) Digital art can be anything created digitally or where digital technologies are the tools. It can take many forms: from a jpg file to a website, algorithmic programs, virtual reality representations to a video game. There are almost no limits to creativity.

DKB: What do you think distinguishes digital from analog art?

I don’t really see any difference. With a good work of art, the artistic concept is the most important thing. A digital work of art exists in digital space. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less real. The way it is perceived is just different, and you have to get involved with that. For example, you experience an immersive work of art that you can enter and that works with sound and light in a completely different way than a small drawing. (…)

DKB: Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a hype topic right now. What opportunities do NFTs offer for the art trade?

The big opportunity I see is that digital art will become more visible as a medium and more directly tradable through developments in blockchain technology. Through NFTs, the idea of digital ownership is once again brought into focus. This will play a major role in the future as more and more takes place in the digital space. (…). But despite all the hype, in the long run it will be primarily about quality, and only that will prevail. Those who collect art NFTs usually do so with a similar motivation as traditional collectors.

Want to read more from Anne? Here you can find the entire interview with further exciting insights on art, market and digitalization. Shout out to Anne and DKB for the exciting interview!

NFT – What? We asked ourselves the same question. Here you can find an introduction to the NFT business from DKB, a How-To (or a How-Not-To-Do) with all the important facts. Have fun!

The country focus Canada at VRHAM! 2021 with four VR experiences in the Art Program is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada (Embassy of Canada to Germany) and the Québec Government Office in Berlin. A conversation with the Delegate General of Québec in Germany, Elisa Valentin, about innovation and synergies between art and technologies.

VRHAM!: VR art has a high standing in Québec, there are many VR studios, festivals and a lively scene. How important is the international exchange and the visibility of this still young art form for you at a festival like VRHAM! in Hamburg?

ELISA VALENTIN: Québec is one of the pioneers in North America and worldwide in the field of immersive and interactive technologies and has a firmly established, very active and dynamic media art and VR scene, whose artistic and technological innovative power gives it a special status in the cultural and art field, but also beyond that in various other fields of application. It feeds this, among other things, from the close interaction between artists, companies and research institutions, but also from its affinity to international exchange. The VRHAM! Festival is a particularly relevant partner in this context, as it addresses both the diversity of immersive technologies and their overarching relevance for the world of culture and art, and in doing so engages local and international actors in dialogue.

V!: VRHAM! has been in contact with many Québec actors for several years, such as the Centre PHI. This year, Québec is represented with several works as part of the Canada Focus and in the international jury for the VRHAMMY AWARD with the multimedia artist Caroline Monnet. What potential do you see in the relationship between Hamburg and Québec and specifically for further cooperation?

EV: Québec is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its presence in Germany this year. During this time, close and diverse relations have developed with Germany in business, politics, science and culture. A particularly fruitful cooperation has developed with Hamburg, and Québec attaches particular importance to its further development and deepening. Due to the numerous similarities but also the complementarities between Québec and Hamburg, this cooperation has a strong potential. And this also applies to the field of media art. We are very happy about Québec’s presence at this year’s VRHAM! Festival and could well imagine a future collaboration. Both the further networking of artists, studios and media art institutions from Québec and Hamburg, the exchange of know-how and the initiation of joint cultural and art projects would be very exciting.

V!: International exchange is of particular relevance to you. Many real encounters could not take place last year because of the pandemic. Did that slow down cooperation or did something new emerge?

EV: The pandemic is also an immense challenge for the cultural and art scene in Québec and has significantly restricted the international mobility of artists. At the same time, it has accelerated digitalisation in many cultural institutions in Québec and worldwide, thus increasing the international reach and visibility of their offerings and promoting international cooperation. In this context, Québec has also been able to continue and even deepen many of its partnerships and collaborations. In addition to the now more diverse digital forms of exchange, we believe that its content has also evolved significantly in the process. The question of synergies between technology and art – in the experience of artistic and cultural content, its presentation, reception and distribution, but also in the artistic creative process itself – is nourishing the reflection with our international partners visibly and more profoundly.

Since 2018, Deutsche Telekom has been a festival partner and main sponsor of VRHAM! A large part of the artistic programme of this year’s festival can be experienced via the Magenta VR App. As of today, new exclusive VRHAM! curated content is available in the Magenta VR App.  A conversation with Wolfgang Groening, Vice President XR + Immersion at Telekom, about art, immersive worlds and accessibility.

VRHAM! With Magenta VR and the connected app, you’ve created spaces for new art and entertainment worlds at an early stage. For the VRHAM! Festival in Hamburg you are an important partner also in terms of distribution. What potential do you currently see in virtual art?

WOLFGANG GROENING: It is exciting and impressive to see how open and innovative artists deal with technology, how they use it and explore its possibilities. In this way they create something completely new and combine analog and virtual sensory impressions. Ultimately, we all benefit from inspiring, which is why we have been festival partners of the VRHAM! for many years. It is the first festival in the world that exclusively shows virtual art. With our Magenta VR app, interested people all over Germany can experience many of the audiovisual VR works of art, 360°-films and virtual experiences at home. The app is available free of charge for smartphones in the Apple App Store and in the Google Play Store.

V!: The pandemic has restricted the reality of our lives, but promoted a digital and networked way of working. Was the past year a technology accelerator and how did you position yourself specifically? Are there new products and places for experiencing virtual worlds?

WG: We all experienced how quickly we had to convert work processes digitally. This necessity has given rise to new demands and desires for technologies. I also think there is greater public interest in technology and innovation. For Deutsche Telekom, innovation is a strong focus. XR, VR, AR and MR are areas that we have been promoting for many years – including with our tech incubator hubraum. For example, the first mixed reality glasses, Nreal Light, have been available in Europe since this year. We made decisive progress in developing these MR glasses in a technology partnership with Nreal. In the future, Nreal Light will offer a broad public the opportunity to perceive our reality in an expanded manner, especially in the area of ​​AR.

V!: You once said that Deutsche Telekom would like to help bring innovations to the mass market. How important is accessibility and digital participation for you?

WG: Our goal is to technically expand and enrich possibilities and that can only be implemented if technologies are also accepted by the market. They can only be established in the long term if they are accessible and usable to the public. Technology and content must be made for people. With the combination of virtual art and direct access via the Magenta VR app, we are contributing to unlimited participation in the art sector.

Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) continues its engagement for the VRHAM! Festival as a partner this year. A conversation with Christine Faßnacht, Head of Content Maketing, about art promotion, digitalization and virtual reality as an artistic medium:

VRHAM!: Why is DKB involved in VR art, what potential do you see in this still young art form?

CHRISTINE FASSNACHT: As a digital bank, we naturally feel particularly connected to digital art. And Corona has given digitalization another enormous boost. When we were thinking about organizing the VR ART PRIZE of DKB in cooperation with CAA Berlin, we couldn’t have known that yet. But we knew that digitalization would permeate all areas of life. The banking world as well as the art world. And: it is important that we deal with the new possibilities and opportunities. Our self-image as a sustainably operating, digital bank goes hand in hand with the fact that we take up socially relevant topics and promote promising developments on the cutting edge. We also want to reflect on the impact of digitalisation on individuals and society. And our scholarship holders have reflected this in wonderful works. Patricia Detmering and Lauren Moffatt – two of the award winners – will also be on show at VRHAM!.

VR: DKB has announced the VR ART PRIZE  for the first time in 2020 in cooperation with the Contemporary Arts Alliance (CAA). The winners have been chosen and there is currently an exhibition in Berlin. How did the idea and the cooperation with the CAA come about?

CF: Yes, the exhibition “Resonance of Realities” can be seen until 4 July in the Haus am Lützowplatz. It shows the 5 artistic positions nominated for the VR ART PRIZE by Banz & Bowinkel, Evelyn Bencicova, Patricia Detmering, Armin Keplinger and Lauren Moffatt. Lauren Moffatt, by the way, won 1st place in the VR ART PRIZE. We are very happy to be able to make these exciting works – which all deal with the medium of VR in art in very different ways – accessible to a larger audience. By the way, we had 104 submissions, all of very high quality, and that shows that VR is being used more and more as a medium in art. Now, how the idea came about: We had been thinking about reorienting our art engagement with a social added value for a while – and especially with a digital focus. We have been working with CAA Berlin for several years. The beauty is that we complement each other perfectly: CAA, as a partner, brings its network and art business know-how, and we, as a bank, have the passion to create something new and to think and promote outside the mainstream. In the course of our deliberations, we came into contact with Tina Sauerländer, our artistic director, curator and proven VR art expert. Tina also played a major role in the conception of the VR ART PRIZE. So it’s real teamwork!

VR: VR Art and DKB are now also closely linked thanks to the commitment to VRHAM! and part of the worldwide community. Are there any concepts for the future?

CF: No concrete concepts yet, but of course a lot of ideas! In the summer, we plan to take a step back and reflect on how we would like to continue our commitment. What makes sense? How can we link things intelligently? What does the post-Corona world look like? The art and culture sector in particular has suffered a lot, and I think we are all asking ourselves: What’s next?

For the VRHAM! FORWARD, Markus Selg is part of the selection committee for the teams. The artist, stage designer and musician was awarded the German Theatre Prize “Faust” in 2020 for the stage design of “ULTRAWORLD”, a theatre performance he conceived together with Susanne Kennedy for the Volksbühne Berlin. At the end of February, the new common production “I AM (VR)” celebrated its digital premiere in Tokyo. Markus Selg is a researcher, someone who crosses borders. A conversation with him about experiments, multimedia spaces of experience and VR in theatre:

VRHAM!: Susanne Kennedy told in an interview about your new joint project “I AM (VR)”: VR … “is a tool that lets us realize what reality is in the first place.” What artistic potential does VR offer for the field of theatre, for the performing artists and the audience?
MARKUS SELG: VR is a kind of mirroring of the human sensory experience, directly in one’s own head. It is not only a powerful technology of simulation, but a profound tool for reflection on human perception and ego-consciousness. Who am I? Who is this avatar with whom we identify? Do we exist in the physical world or do we exist primarily within the stories our brains tell themselves. Who or what hallucinates these stories? If we live in our own simulation, how can we interact with others? Can we even distinguish between reality and simulation? With the walk-on stage and VR, theatre has the possibilities of total immersion with simultaneous collective presence in the space. Compared to cinema or computer games, our physical bodies can also be included in the theatre space. With the fusion of theatre, VR and art, a system can emerge within which we can create the most complex cosmologies – with the audience as actors at their centre.

V!: The current situation has brought many things out of balance, has accelerated developments and opened up new areas. What should theatre “learn” from this?
MS: Theatre is now slowly opening up to digital thinking and virtual technologies. Right now, however, there is still a lot of forced actionism – like the streaming of conventional plays. I see the opportunity more in fundamentally envolve the form of theatre. If we extend the fantastic but somewhat cumbersome theatre machinery into digital space, a wide variety of actors – human, non-human, biological and synthetic intelligences – will have the opportunity to play together. Physical limitations can be lifted and navigating between worlds can become more fluid. A platform can emerge that will come closer to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk than any art form before. The venue where we will perform our algorithmic rituals and celebrate life in its entirety and its mysteriousness.

V!: You are on the jury for VRHAM! FORWARD, which is explicitly aimed at artistic teams. Does art only work together? What benefits do you see in collective artistic process?
MS: Art works quite well on its own, but I am most fascinated by the collective process. The magic that happens in the interaction between people. When a work is created that was actively envisioned by each individual, but no one could have dreamed of the result on their own. I see the stage as a kind of ritualistic architecture for community, a system of collective dreaming. An experimental space for a collective practice. How can you generate a creative situation and make it so concentrated and open that everyone can best contribute with their abilities?

For VRHAM! FORWARD, VRHAM! Virtual Reality & Arts Festival, together with the Institut für theatrale Zukunfsforschung  (ITZ) at Zimmertheater Tübingen, is looking for artists from Europe who are working in the field of the performing arts experimenting with Virtual and Augmented Reality.  An interview with the artistic director of the ITZ, Peer Mia Ripberger.

VRHAM!: Who is the Open Call aimed at, who can apply until 31st March?

PEER MIA RIPBERGER: For the joint Open Call, we are looking forward to receiving submissions from artistic production teams in the field of immersive art. These can be both conceived projects and artistic works in the early stages that can be continued here at the ITZ in Tübingen in a concentrated working environment. We provide one of our stages for this and the most beautiful terrace on the Neckar for breaks and evenings.

V!: The use of digital media including VR is at the centre of your theatrical work. What potential do you see in this for the artistic process and socio-political exchange? What does this mean in concrete terms for the residencies you have announced?

PMR: Our focus on developing plays on socio-political themes allows us to think together contemporary theatre approaches and innovative media art. In doing so, digitalisation and automation occupy us both in terms of content and form as a means of staging. With VREEDOM, for example, we brought out a VR production in September 2020 that focused on the shared experience of VR for several people. Reflection on the media used also always plays a role for us – like VR here. Together with the VRHAM! team and the residents, we want to build a bridge from Tübingen to Hamburg and enter into an intensive exchange with the productions in order to push this reflection further.

V!: The last year has (inevitably) accelerated digitalisation in many cultural institutions. Do you now see your expertise and experience as even more of an impulse generator and networker?

PMR: We are of course trying to use the full potential of digital technologies in the performing arts and to bring their potential out into the city and the German-speaking theatre landscape. This is particularly exciting here because Tübingen, with its ‘Cyber Valley’, is one of the best and most innovative AI research locations in the world. Face-capturing as a means of staging, social VR and innovative progressive web apps that enable audio walks without audience contact as GPS-based smartphone applications – we have dealt with digitalisation in very different areas. Our discursive and contemporary approach, the young team and the wealth of ideas and innovations at the ITZ enable us as a theatre to break new ground not only aesthetically but also structurally. However, we always confront these digital technologies with analogue settings in order to make theatrical experiences possible – and we consider this to be the way forward. So far, we have refrained from exclusively digital productions.