Ars Electronica returns to Aotearoa

This month, the world’s largest media arts festival, Ars Electronica, is returning to Aotearoa New Zealand thanks to Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland.

Maritime Trace Exposure image, credit Mizuho Nishioka
Maritime Trace Exposure by Mizuho Nishioka

Combing digital art, technology, and virtual experience, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland are co-hosting a 3D cyber exhibition, ‘Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa’—New Zealand’s contribution to the global festival which runs online from 8 –12 September.

Anyone with an internet connection can attend the cyber festival and events by visiting

Ars Electronica originated in 1979 in Linz, Austria, and is now worldwide, bringing together a range of symposia, exhibitions, performances, and concerts spanning a broad arc from speculative futuristic scenarios to philosophical debates.

“We are delighted to be co-hosting this prestigious international festival,” says Dean of Te Wāhanga Waihanga-Hoahoa—Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation Professor Marc Aurel Schnabel, a key organiser of Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa.

“Ars Electronica is one of the most influential festivals in the electronic arts and media world and it’s incredibly special to host a part of this event. We’re inviting attendees to journey though the complex, fascinating, magical, myriad connections and relationships we have with our environment, and showcasing Aotearoa’s creative energy using state-of-the-art technology and innovative forms of virtual expression.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 80 other locations around the globe can present their exhibits in online ‘gardens’— the second time ever since the inaugural festival in 1979. Festival-goers can take part from anywhere in the world—via computer screens, mobile devices, or virtual reality headsets—during the five-day event, which is set to attract over 100,000 international visitors.

“Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa explores how the digital world connects with the physical world,” says the University of Auckland’s Director of the arc/sec Lab for Cyber-Physical Architecture and Interactive Systems Associate Professor Uwe Rieger, another key organiser of Garden Aotearoa.

“The festival is for anyone interested in digital media, whether they’re ten years old or 100. Visitors can explore digital information in ways that will delight their senses, entertain them, and make them think.”

Highlights include:

  • Minimum Mass

Co-directed by Raqi Syed and Areito Echevarria of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Design Innovation, Minimum Mass is the award-winning story about love, loss, and black holes—A gritty, surreal, and cinematic story rooted in the emotional world of miscarriage and family. Set in contemporary Rotorua, New Zealand and the speculative world of black holes, it is a short interactive narrative virtual reality. Minimum Mass takes place in a real-time photographic computer-generated story world and has been developed as an in-headset experience for the Oculus Rift-S.

  • Machine Song: Gesture 1

Created by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand School of Music’s Jim Murphy, ‘Machine Song: Gesture 1’ is the first in a series of sound sculptures that seek to extract sonic gesturality from materials through the use of mechanical apparatus. ‘Machine Song: Gesture 1’ seeks to make digital sound-making systems physical, creating real-world situations inspired by what were once digital-only synthesis and sound-making approaches. By showcasing the non-abstracted chain of causality from which their sound/gestures are derived, the Machine Song series creates a shared environment in which the audience, the sound-making objects, and the actuated actant media share a common gesture-space.

  • Marine_Trace_Exposure

‘Marine_Trace_Exposure/ cross-currents’ is a collaborative project by the research group An Architecture of the Sea, whose work engages with the visualisation of the marine environment in differing spatial settings. Utilising photography, poetry and virtual space, the group’s physical and virtual exhibitions present work from the artists’ experience and observation of phenomena in relation to systematic maritime surveying, sampling, and resource exploitation – exploring the difference between ‘everyday’ maritime space and the versions we create through simulation, imagining and technologies. “Marine_Trace_Exposure/ cross-currents” is created by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Mizuho Nishioka and Tane Moleta, alongside Wayne Barrar (College of Creative Arts, Massey University) and Kerry Hines (New Zealand).

  • Polynomial Divination

For longer than recorded history, humans have been devoted to an unquenchable desire to divine truth about the world around us: systems and forces that operate just beyond the reach of our control. This scenario is the wellspring of our cultural development, often coalescing across multiple domains of art, science, technology, and religion. The digital world provides boundless tools to simulate systems and forces, natural and imagined, with a high degree of fidelity. As with ancient tribal fires, we gather around the flickering pixels and voxels, drawing forth and projecting equal parts fascination and imagination. Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Design Innovation’s Douglas Easterly and Zach Challies describe ‘Polynomial Divination’ as “a meditation on this long-held dimension of human creativity and exploration” – relying on a blend of computer-based rendering, high-resolution 3D voxel printing, and a custom projection/lighting system.

  • Virtual Futuna

Virtual Futuna examines the photogrammetric documentation of heritage buildings and its potential application in research and public dissemination. The interior of New Zealand's Futuna Chapel, a modernist masterpiece, was documented using photogrammetry to digitally stitch together 2D images to generate a 3D virtual reality model. An accessible and replicable process for documenting heritage buildings was developed. Virtual Futuna prototypes enable visitors to interact with stories from the chapel's past in an immersive virtual environment and contribute their own Futuna experiences to a growing media archive. Virtual Futuna was created by Marc Aurel Schnabel, Byron Mallet and Michael Weir from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation and Katie Scheid (USA/New Zealand).

Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa is co-promoted by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Digital Architecture Research Alliance (DARA), a research platform that takes its roots in the emerging and computable patterns of cities and cultures to lead spatial design towards a multi-dimensional and -nodal integration. DARA, located at the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation, collaborates with digital instruments and designers to lead people-focused spatial design for a liveable future environment.

In conjunction with both universities and DARA, Garden Aotearoa is also promoted by the University of Auckland’s UniServices, focusing on knowledge mobilisation and research commercialisation, and arc/sec Lab.

The Garden Aotearoa cyber exhibition and all online events are free, however associated events of the Ars Electronica festival originating in other countries may incur a fee. A full programme of New Zealand events is available at