What I learned at Sonar+D festival

Sonar is the largest international festival of electronic music and digital art held in Barcelona for three days every year at the end of July. Since 2013, within this festival, Sonar+D congress is organized – a place for the meeting of scientists, innovators and world-class business leaders. The questions discussed are interesting for a large audience and for us, cultural specialists this event is an opportunity to leave the comfort zone and join the new creative environment to stimulate creativity and develop a new way of thinking.

From the first day, I was struck by the informal atmosphere of the congress, filled with the spirit of creativity and millenial. The participants and the speakers are young musicians, producers, actors, and creatives, they looked simple and behaved freely. The reusable cup introduced this year could have been bought and had to be returned after use. It reflected a general concern about the environment and the rejection of the use of plastic.

The talks were held in two halls and were partially isolated from other rooms. To listen to conferences, it was necessary to wear headphones equipped with sound amplifier. The meal was organized outdoors, in a large courtyard. One could buy food in thematic food carts situated along the perimeter around the main stage, where the electronic music concerts took place. The payment was performed by a bracelet with a chip that was given to all participants at the entrance. The money for the chip had to be transferred from a bank card at special stands installed in the main pavilions.

Through the courtyard, the visitors got into another part of the exhibition pavilion, where immersive experiences were organized. The technologies presented at the congress were the works of famous contemporary artists, young start-ups, experimental works of students and big companies.

At the end of this article, I will tell about the immersive installation that stuck in my mind. First, I would like to share new ideas that I learned from several talks. My attention was attracted by questions about the importance of technology in the world of contemporary art, difficulties artists face when they create their works, the demand for this kind of art, etc.

Perhaps, the talk of Teamlab attracted the most attention of the audience. A young group of artists, who became famous thank to the opening of their own museum in Tokyo in 2018, now has great success all over the world. The conversation with the artist Noriko Taniguchi was held by Honor Harger, the director of the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. It was interesting to find out that many installations of Teamlab were first exhibited in the Singapore Museum long before the opening of their own museum in Tokyo. For this reason, Honor was well acquainted with the works of Japanese artists and held the conversation easily and with great enthusiasm.

In her speech, Japanese artist Noriko told about the company’s trajectory and the concept of some works. Teamlab team employs 500 specialists from many professional fields: engineers, mathematicians, scientists, artists, architects. This reflects the multiplicity and complexity of their creative works. Most of their works are based on immersive video projections, which are exhibited both in the halls of museums and in the open air, in ancient castles and forgotten parks. The main keynote is nature, its transience, constant variability, and infinity. Many installations are interactive, constantly changing and reacting to the movements of visitors. Their works are remembered for their uniqueness and emotional resonance, which delights the visitors.

Since recently I have visited their museum in Japan, I can say from my personal experience that the perception of the installation, when hundreds of visitors surround you, is very different from the artist’s described idea. Many important details are difficult to grasp because of the large number of external stimulus. When Noriko mentioned the mobile application, which, according to the artist, should be interactive and should regulate the lighting of the installation, I remembered how I tried to use it in the museum, but it did not work. As I have already written, the art installation of LED bulbs started automatically, according to the program, without any participation of the visitors. Therefore, although the works of artists have great creative potential, in reality, these experiences are created for the consumption of large masses of people. That causes that the initially deep artistic idea is greatly simplified and often perceived as a simple visual show.

The meaning of one of the most widely discussed terms of innovation became the topic for discussion of the round table Innovations in the corporate media environment. In my opinion, the question is relevant for many professional fields and is particularly important for the museum sector. The introduction of the Internet has led many well-known media companies, including The Guardian, to a deep crisis. It was the development and application of innovative approaches that allowed the media to remain in demand.

Caterina Preti, who is responsible for training the companies’ leaders on innovative strategies in Turner International/Warner Media, shared some important tips. The first principle is to think big, to think in bold. Think beyond the mission and vision of the company. Second, feel comfortable without a clear understanding of where you are going and how you will get there. The next tip is to accept failures as an integral part of the learning process. But this does not mean that you need to wait for failures and do nothing. Try to foresee them. Ask yourself why this idea may fail, and then do your best to avoid it. And the last recommendation primarily addressed to the managers of the companies. Stop constantly telling people what to do. If you constantly tell people what to do, they will not experiment, feel, try and learn something new. Do not give clear directions. Give the employees the freedom to find solutions themselves.

Today we live in a time when changes occur very quickly. This is the best time for those who learn fast and the worst for those who move slowly. The speed of changes is so accelerated that what has been created today may be unnecessary tomorrow. Therefore, according to Caterina, innovative programs should be applied at all levels of the company. It is not enough to have a separate team. The group needs to be recruited from the employees from different departments, and most importantly, from different levels. This will allow to find and develop innovations in all directions. The criteria for recruitment to the teams are enthusiasm, open thinking, as well as balance and a variety of different profiles.

When developing new products, she emphasized the importance of studying and understanding the users’ needs during the first stages of the project. The success of the next steps lies in understanding the needs of the audience. According to her, the ideas, even the most innovative, will be useless if they are not based on a scrupulous study of users’ profiles. In my opinion, this is very important advice, especially for the development of tourism and cultural products.

An interesting topic about the role of technologies in the processes of art was discussed at the round table Cafeteria of Creative Technologies.

Ferdi Alichi, an artist from Turkey, told about a completely new format of urban art, developed by Ouchhh+Za!:. They use artificial intelligence to interpret the symbols of ancient documents from which they create abstract art installations. This method allowed to embody the most unusual urban sculptures, as well as to create unusual immersive video projections in the interiors of buildings. As the artist noted, it was difficult to imagine several years ago that this kind of conceptual works could find large customers. Today such a format is in demand and exhibited in the main squares of cities and in the halls of major museums.

Artist Anna Diaz works together with Pablo Barquín in Hamill Industries in Barcelona. They are known for their art installations with the use of laser. Anna emphasized the importance of using the method of learn by doing, (learning through practice) in the work of today’s artists. She said that, working every time with completely new technological tools and programs, she hardly imagines what the final result will be. In her opinion, it is important for contemporary artists not to be afraid and experiment constantly.

The last artist Push1 Stop told about her innovations in visual design. Traditionally, visual artists followed DJ, and this hampered and limited their possibilities. Push1 stop freed visual art, making it an independent artistic style, which today is called generative design. But she did not stop there and went further, creating new developments in transferring sound into image. In recent works, the sound is materialized in immersive formats using lasers, fog, and other environmental effects. In her opinion, today technologies have opened many new opportunities for artists, however, often the process of creativity is hard. The artists need to get constantly new knowledge and skills to work with technical programs.

It should be noted that in general, the congress format chosen by the organizers had a rich and diverse program consisting of presentations, workshops, and sites for testing technologies. The invited artists have shown that technologies are not just a trend, but a new tool for art, the potential of which has not yet been fully revealed.

Returning to the topic of technologies, a great many of them were presented at the congress. From virtual flights to the moon, interactive AR tattoos creating music, singing plants, artificial intelligence recognizing emotions, and even conducting a choir, made from a human voice recording.

Scanning my memory for the most vivid impressions that I received from experimenting technologies, I see the following picture.

I see myself in a small area surrounded by a group of 20 – 30 persons. We are illuminated by warm tones of light projections. Following the instructions of the coach through the headphones, we do various physical exercises. The movements to music are followed by asads of yoga and practice of mindfulness. This resembles a mystical ritual, group aerobic exercises, or maybe the dances of an African tribe.

This is about the installation Onionlab by Desigual.

Why do I remember this one from all installations? I think because it was a lively contact with people I did not know, a way of self-expression through music and dance. And most importantly, because in this experience human contact prevailed over screens, helmets, and glasses.