Robots and Work and Future, Oh My

BY Katrina Kufer / May 10 2017 / 16:03 PM

The Vienna Biennale will explore new individuality, turbocharged digitalisation and why we shouldn’t be afraid

Robots and Work and Future, Oh My
© Jonas Voigt
Stephan Bogner, Philipp Schmitt and Jonas Voigt. Raising Robotic Natives. 2016. From Hello, Robot.

Since its first edition in 2006, the Vienna Biennale (21 June-1 October) has been one of the few international art events that actively combines art, design and architecture aimed at improving the global situation. Its multi-disciplinary approach is held together by themes that resonate with contemporary concerns as well as innovative talent so that the creative economy is able to open and be utilised towards implementing positive change.

In particular, the Vienna Biennale has always appreciated and acknowledged the reality that today is a digital world, and has adapted accordingly. The Austrian city, one of the original centres of Western Modernity in the 1900s, draws on its tradition of experimentation and refocuses on people over tangible artworks. So for the 2017 edition, it has selected the theme Robots. Work. Our Future, in order to delve into meaningful living and working through the use of robotics and artificial intelligence. “The digital future affects us all. In it, we are confronted with a profoundly democratic task, which we must negotiate together, with the active support of art, design and architecture,” said initiator and head of Vienna Biennale, Christoph Thun-Hohenstein. “From its location in Vienna, in the heart of Europe, the Vienna Biennale provides catalysts for people to co-create a humane digitalised civilisation and world of work.”

As the biennial theme follows suit with the art trend of looking towards the inevitable and inextricable digital future, this event tackles the whole dilemma from a different perspective. Instead of approaching it with fear, ominous tones or fantasy-induced ideas of dystopia, Vienna Biennale offers a refreshed and optimistic view, and even possible solutions, to how working with the reality of a technology and economy-driven revolution could be more profitable. “At various exhibition sites in- and outdoors, visionary and utopian as well as realisable creative scenarios draw a complex, promising picture of the future digital world (of work). The arts have a crucial role to play in instilling digitalisation with aesthetic and humane values. That is something about which all the organisers (MAK, University of Applied Arts Vienna, Kunsthalle Wien, Architekturzentrum Wien, Vienna Business Agency and AIT Austrian Institute of Technology) are agreed.

Turning fear into opportunity is a tone which will resonate throughout the event as it considers how Digital Modernity feels, how humans want to interact and then live in it.

Here are a few projects to keep an eye out for:

Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine (a collaboration between the MAK, the Vitra Design Museum, and the Design Museum Gent) invites close encounters with the increasingly omnipresent species Robot. More than 200 objects from the realms of art, design, and architecture, as well as examples from technology, film, literature, fashion, science and pop culture, examine the inexorable hype around intelligent machines and the crucial role played by design.

A deep understanding of the upheavals and already tangible changes in the world of work are evoked by the exhibition How will we work? by the University of Applied Arts Vienna at the Angewandte Innovation Laboratory. Contemporary art, interaction design, mixed media, and time-based media, provide a critical glimpse of the often sceptical notions of automation and Industry 4.0. New technologies also herald opportunities for new fields of work and new creative constellations.

Turbocharged digitalisation harbours the risk that we will lose sight of the need to conserve and repair our world. With the project Care + Repair, the Architekturzentrum Wien is venturing out into the urban space and opening a public workspace at the Nordbahnhof, one of the largest inner-city development zones in Vienna. Six international teams of architects are developing prototypes for a Care + Repair urbanism with local initiatives and experts. A growing exhibition and a series of events on these projects will illustrate how Care + Repair architecture will bring the city into the future.

ARTIFICIAL TEARS. Singularity & Humanness—A Speculation at the MAK is an invitation to consider the future of humankind both emotionally and intellectually. Quoting from science fiction, the works on display introduce dystopian worlds that we must flee, or reveal states of consciousness and archaic aspects that illustrate humans’ poetic inefficiency in contrast to overregulation by technology.

A narrative about the effect of ‘things’ against the backdrop of new digital settings is spun by the MAK’s group exhibition ich weiß nicht [I don’t know]—Growing Relations between Things. Seventeen approaches by contemporary artists, most of whom work in Austria, analyse the interaction between humans and the objects that confront and surround us in our daily lives

Kinetic installation LeveL—the fragile balance of utopia by mischer’traxler studio conceived for the London Design Biennale 2016—will be presented in Austria for the first time. It visualises the concept of utopia as a balancing act between individual and collective aspirations. A statement on the hidden agendas behind the digital interfaces and software that surround us on a daily basis will be made by the students of the Industrial Design 2 department at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in the 10-day presentation DESIGN FOR AGENCY in the MAK FORUM.

And lastly, but not least in a long line up of projects, is The Vienna Biennale Circle, a think tank who will discuss the coexistence of human and machine and present an exhibition manifesto What do we want? Dimensions of a New Digital Humanism.

The Vienna Biennale runs 21 June-1 October in Vienna, Austria. For more information visit