Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Ars Electronica Centre in Linz, Austria

Museum of the future?
The Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria is something quite unlike anywhere else on earth. Billing itself as the Museum of the Future, a taste of what’s to come is available at the entrance.
To the left of the ticket desk, a little girl is flying.
She’s strapped into a contraption called Humphrey II, suspended from the ceiling with wires and harness, and fixing her gaze on the screen in front.
According to the display, she’s flying through the streets of a digitally-rendered Linz, and the whole shebang is operating like a Jetsons-era hang-glider.
Movements of the hands steer left and right, as well as allow her to plunge up and down. And, when she does the latter, she goes straight into the Danube.
Little did we know that the mighty river contains an Atlantis-like civilization, huh?

Year 3000 guitar fretboard
The building is absolutely crammed with such gadgets, games and simulations. One acts as a giant Year 3000 guitar fretboard. A beam of light passes along a bench (you can control the speed at which it does so), and you can place bits of felt and plastic along it. Depending on where you place them, it makes a different sound as the beam hits. It’s difficult to make anything more than a tuneless racket though.

Bizarre table
Then there’s the bizarre table with what appears to be a kids cartoon village on it. However, the images change depending on what you put on top of it. Stick down a coffee cup, and a few buildings emerge. Put a bit of rope in a circle, and it suddenly grows into a pond, full of ducks. Break the loop and the ducks fly away in formation.
In truth, many of these whizz-bang outpourings of inventiveness are utterly bewildering. They’re all undoubtedly very clever, but often it’s impossible to work out what something’s meant to do or how to make it do it. Sometimes it’s obvious that the fish move when you hit the drums, but in others it’s just an intimidating mess of screens and largely pointless interactivity.

Virtual Cave
One of the star attractions is a ‘Virtual Cave’ and it’s a crushing disappointment – 12 people huddle into a small alcove wearing silly glasses and are guided around virtual worlds by a staff member with a controller. It’d be fantastic if you could explore yourself in your own private booth, but travelling through a cyber-Renaissance city behind a crowd isn’t all that gripping.

Visitor photos
Amongst the weird flappy arm-y things and digital marionettes, it’s actually the simpler things that enchant the most. Pictures emerging when you pour sand through a funnel, merging your photo with that of previous visitors... that sort of hi-jinks is pure gold every time.

Getting to the Ars Electronica Centre

Nearest International Airport: A few budget airline flights go direct to Linz’s small airport, but many will fly into Vienna. Linz is approximately 90 minutes by train from Vienna’s Westbahnhof.

Using public transport: The trickiest thing about the Ars Electronica Center is finding it. The tourist board maps say it’s just over the Danube from the main town square. Go there, however, and you find a giant building site with nary a magical flower or computer-animated dragon in sight. The workmen don’t look too interested in that sort of thing either.
It turns out that the Center WILL be there, but not until next year. The new home will be a mammoth, ultra-sleek, beautifully designed centrepiece for the Capital of Culture 2009 festivities. Until then, it’s at Graben 15. Get tram number 3 from the train station.

More information: Ars Electronica Centre

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