By now, stopping off at Zurich Art Weekend en route to Art Basel has become an essential art world ritual. Across 73 venues, the city is hosting more than 100 free events, all packed into just one weekend and, this year, there is a special focus on art and tech.
Even in Switzerland, home to the “Crypto Valley,” as the nearby city of Zug has been dubbed, NFT-mania is on the way out. Last year, interest was slowly fading but at this year’s sixth edition of Zurich Art Weekend (June 9-11), there can be no doubt that A.I. is the new acronym on everyone’s lips.
If there is a city that is capable of leading this conversation, it’s surely Zurich. On top of being Switzerland’s financial center with attractive tax relief for residents—and so, naturally, an enclave for high-net-worth collectors—it boasts world-class research labs and a roster of Big Tech companies like Google, Apple and IBM.
Nonetheless, it can still be tricky to successfully bridge the art and tech worlds, with their vastly different customs and cultures. That mission has been at the heart of Zurich Art Weekend’s interdisciplinary programming since its inception in 2018.
“We wanted to start a conversation between artists and scientists,” the event’s founding director Charlotte von Stotzinger told Midnight Publishing Group News. “We thought two years ago with NFTs that the two worlds could merge, but now we are seeing that the split is still there. The art world hasn’t changed much from a structural point of view. The old patterns are back.”
How best, then, to introduce this uncertain audience to the innovations that the tech world has to offer? Zurich Art Weekend has concocted a compelling mix of impressive, large-scale exhibitions and more intimate panels that draw from the city’s wide pool of expertise. “We try to transform the whole of Zurich into a platform for exchange, not only between the speakers on stage but to also trigger new ideas and debates among the public,” said von Stotzinger.
Here’s your guide to what not to miss.
“Data Alchemy: Observing Patterns From Galileo to Artificial Intelligence”
June 9–24, 2023
“ETH is like the MIT of Europe,” von Stotzingen said. The research university’s impressive A.I. Center has hired a small team of curators to help organize public programming around the new technology’s creative potential.
A.I. is powerful because it can execute fast-paced and efficient pattern recognition, but historically, we have happily relied on the human brain to observe our surroundings and make our own inferences and predictions. This latest exhibition compares the history of cosmology, religion, mysticism and other esoteric belief systems with the present-day enigma of the “black box” machine learning algorithm. Are we circling back towards a less rational, pre-Enlightenment way of understanding the world?
Two special talks organized around the show are taking place at the ETH’s Collegium Helveticum Meridian Saal. These are a conversation between artist Liat Segal and research scientist Jennifer Wadsworth at 8pm on June 8 and another between the artist Rohini Devasher and the historian of science Omar W. Nasim at 3pm on June 11. More details here.
Immersive Arts Space, ZHdK
The Immersive Arts Space at Zurich’s leading arts university ZHdK is headed up by Christopher Salter, an artist and expert in the field of technology-enabled digitally immersive and mixed-reality experiences. “It’s great luck to have him in Zurich all year round,” von Stotzinger said.
This latest project, still a work-in-progress, is sure to excite and surprise. The idea is to explore how human bodies and experiences can be captured, represented and re-configured thanks to emerging technologies. As visitors enter the exhibition, their body is scanned so that a moving silhouette, or true-to-life avatar, can appear and move independently around the room, even merging with others.
“For Real” by Christopher Kulendran Thomas
Kunsthalle Zürich at 270 Limmatstrasse, 8005, Zürich
Opens June 9 at 6pm
Arriving to Zurich off the back of highly successful solo show at the ICA London, Christopher Kulendran Thomas is gaining attention for a widely varied practice that incorporates A.I. generative tools. For example, in The Finesse, a film exploring the Tamil community’s independence movement and acts of artistic resistance, archival footage is mixed up with A.I.-generated avatars. The exhibition also includes new paintings whose compositions were created by an algorithm that had been trained on a variety of Western and non-Western art historical influences and motifs.
A guided tour and conversation between the artist and the museum’s director Daniel Baumann will take place at 3pm on June 11th. More details here.
TALKS AND CONFERENCES
“Gold or Lead? The Alchemy of Crypto Art & Its Markets”
UZH Blockchain Center & Art Market Studies
June 8 at 1:15pm
For those who just can’t wait for the weekend’s excitements, the UZH Blockchain Center has planned a whole conference on crypto art to take place on Thursday, June 8. A long list of speakers are taking part in this packed program, including the center’s director Claudio Tessone. The topic is all things NFTs, but ranges from “Crypto Art: Exploitation” to “The Story Told by Data: A Forensics Approach to Crypto Art” and the big panel discussion: “Crypto Art Markets: Gold or Lead?” More details here.
“How technology is impacting power dynamics in the art world”, a panel by Arcual
Schwarzescafé at Luma Westbau, 270 Limmatstrasse, 8005, Zürich
June 9 at 4pm
Arcual, which bills itself as the first blockchain ecosystem built by the art community for the art community, is an official partner of Zurich Art Weekend. Their panel examines if and how emerging technologies are empowering previously marginalized members of the art world ecosystem and how this tech has changed the relationship between artists and their galleries. Moderated by Arcual’s CEO, Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, audiences can hear the perspectives of auctioneer Simon de Pury, art tech expert Nina Roerhs and artist Gretchen Andrew. More details here.
“Machine Imperfections: Error, Noise and Mistakes in the Arts and Sciences of Artificial Intelligence”, panel discussion
June 10 at 2pm
Not much has yet been revealed about this mysterious panel, but von Stotzingen is keen to emphasize the distinction of its participants. Christopher Salter, the mind behind the Immersive Arts Space at ZHdK and its concurrent “reconFIGURE” exhibition (see above), will be joined by Sabine Himmelsbach from the Basel’s House of Electronic Arts (HEK)—”she is recognized as one of the leading specialists on art and tech and exhibitions involving digital arts,” said von Stotzingen—and Dr Claudio J. Tessone, notable for founding the local UZH Blockchain Center. More details here.
“Talk with the artist James Bridle and curator Mirjam Varadinis”
June 10 at 2pm
Following a recent expansion, the Kunsthaus is now the biggest museum in Switzerland. This weekend, it welcomes writer and artist James Bridle, a long-time skeptic of technology, surveillance and data who, in 2019, distilled his views into the book “New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.” To celebrate The Distractor, his new installation in the Kunsthaus Digilab, which looks at the role of algorithms in the attention economy, Bridle will be in conversation with Kunsthaus curator Mirjam Varadinis about different forms of intelligence that might be more beneficial than A.I. More details here.
“The Web3 Art Conference”
NFT Art Day ZRH at Kunsthaus Zürich
June 11 at 1:30pm
Over the weekend, yet another crypto conference is coming to town. NFT ART DAY ZRH is back this year for its second edition. Following a few educational workshops on Saturday, the main event kicks off on Sunday with a robust program of panels on topics like the NFT art market, how Web3 has influenced collecting behaviour, and the the impact of accelerated technologies on art. Additionally, artist IX Shells will be in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist. More details here.
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