Catalyst lab & Deep vision | The making of tomorrow
Ars Electronica exhibition at the European Patent Office, 5 October 2023 to 15 June 2024
© Ars Electronica, Photo: Christian Kain
To mark the 50th anniversary of the European Patent Convention, the European Patent Office (EPO) has invited Ars Electronica, the Linz Institute for New Media Art, to guest curate a central space in the basement of the EPO's headquarters. The space – almost 1 000 m² – originally housed the registry for patent applications but when patent granting procedures were digitalised, it was no longer needed for this purpose. In the course of repurposing the basement, we worked with Ars Electronica to develop a forward-looking concept for the use of the space that both preserves the original DNA of a patent archive and creates a special place for our staff and visitors to enjoy.
The transformation from archive to cultural space took almost two years. Our goal was to preserve as much of the original atmosphere as possible, while making use of the distinctive roller shelving as stands for exhibiting media art with a particular focus on technology. The original patent files from the early days have been incorporated into the exhibition to show how patent examiners used to work and to preserve the cultural heritage of this way of storing technical knowledge, ensuring that the history and role of the EPO remain visible for generations to come.
In today's world, it is becoming ever more important for technical progress to comply with global sustainability goals. This is vividly depicted in the digital production "Pulse of the EPO", which was created by the artistic duo Quadrature in collaboration with the EPO and can now be seen for the first time in our Deep vision immersive exhibition space. In a series of changing narratives, this 3 x 4k projection onto an 11-metre section of wall reflects the global dynamic of ten million patent applications relating to "mitigation or adaptation against climate change" (using the EPO's Y02 tagging scheme for sustainable technologies). In the production, the Berlin-based artists use the EPO’s worldwide patent statistical database PATSTAT and read out – in a free interpretation – the enormous data set.
Big data, artificial intelligence and robotics, the production of materials and sustainable manufacturing, sleep as a climate technology, experiments with botanical life in space, data classification systems and blockchain, ecosystems with a human footprint – the Catalyst lab curated by Ars Electronica spotlights the global issues and challenges of our time, examines the impact of technologies on our society and traces the rapid global changes driven by innovation and progress. The technical progress that is possible in the very way we view art is shown in "Gigapixel Editions", a digital production commissioned by the EPO and developed for the Deep vision immersive exhibition space. This digital archive allows us to experience three works from the EPO art collection in a new way, with the help of extremely high-resolution projection.
By perpetually striving for a higher quality of life, increased efficiency, greater cost-effectiveness and broader horizons, our civilisation is in a constant state of upheaval. With every technological advance and every instance of overcoming scientific boundaries, expanded spaces and possibilities shift our perspective on things and on our life situations. In order to understand the new dimensions of rapid technological influence on society in the digital age, the Catalyst lab appeals to our ability to evaluate innovation holistically on the basis of technological, societal and cultural values. In addition to a comprehensive understanding of the technologies themselves and wide-ranging public dialogue, this requires the incorporation of sustainability goals into the development of technologies, as well as the creation of an inclusive environment that promotes social cohesion.
Through the Ars Electronica exhibition, the EPO is taking the opportunity presented by the 50th anniversary of the European Patent Convention to look afresh at the pressing questions and issues of our time and inspire as many people as possible to reflect on and discuss them.