Themenschwerpunkt 2020 „Digital Romantic“

Light and city are the overarching themes of the Biennale for Light Art and Urban Design. In 2020, the Luminale, with a focus on „Digital Romantic“, offers another starting point for artistic work.

With industrialization on the rise, society in the 18th century became more science-oriented and ambitious. Much suddenly became tangible, phenomena once deemed mysterious could be explained — yet the urge to rationalize and standardize led to a „disenchantment of the world”, as Max Weber noted — and thus to its de-poetization. Romanticism emerged as a kind of counter-movement: its representatives opposed to purely vested interests, the pursuit of profit and an uncritical faith in progress. It was the dawn of a new era in which science and the arts, philosophy and poetry interfused, against the Rule of Reason.

Today, the feeling of disenchantment is burgeoning once again — the quantification of life, once praised as the pathway to a prosperous future, prepared the ground for a rampant analysis and optimization madness, big data and åneoliberal” capitalism, which has by no means yet unfolded to its full potential. Is a new Romanticism the answer to the objectification of man by the digital, and can the digital be romantic — or can Romanticism be digital? Or is the digital far more a media vehicle, communication channel or instrument for romantic content, be it the digitization of museum collections or that of romantic behavior?

Over the years, the term „Romanticism” has become „The Romantic”, sometimes even degraded to just describing an exuberance of sentimentality. According to researcher Rüdiger Safranski, Romanticism initially flourished in Germany in order to carry the revolution into culture. „It was the continuation of the revolution by aesthetic means”, a kind of life revolution: the interest in the foreign, the contradictory and the sublime, the mysterious and the secret. A spiritual liberation of the mind from the body. Even today, science seeks ways of construing brain waves and reading minds; algorithms are learning to decipher emotions. But to what end?

Where are the places of retreat for the digital generation, and what does that say about our society? Where do we find safe havens for fantasy and dreams? And is it an escape from reality or its expansion? How do we quench our thirst for raw, unfiltered emotionality; for the unbridled, unrealistic, adventurous? How do the supposedly opposing systems of the digital and the romantic merge? With its binary basis, the digital possesses an apparently clear structure, based on well-defined rules and codes that leave little room for interpretation and distortion, and even less for empathy. Romanticism thrives on the intangible, the incomprehensible, the overwhelming, going beyond the limits of the mind. With the sublime, it describes a feeling that is too great to be fully grasped (or, according to Kant, to provoke in mankind the awareness of superiority as a moral entity).

What if there is something in the digital world that fascinates us, but where we reach the limits of our imagination, lose control and feel overwhelmed? Is this possibly a feeling that creeps upon us in the current debate about deep learning, AI and avatars? What other surprises still await us in the digital worlds? What risks are involved in this development, how do we assess them and where does our superiority as moral entities come into play? And — isn't it often the case that we stand in awe before the seemingly limitless possibilities of the digital and even see it as the savior for a better world?

Romanticism is an extraordinarily dazzling term, which — together with the fascination of the digital — can give rise to a great creative and explosive force able to look backwards and forwards at the same time. What if Frankfurt is still a place of the new, digital Romanticism, as it once was in a historical context — far beyond today’s marketing hype, which seeks to degrade the individual from an active protagonist to an instructed object. Can a new Romanticism be the desideratum for the impending quantification of our lives? Or does it only separate the horror from the digital, as done once with nature, by labelling it an artistic pleasure?

The Luminale 2020, as Biennial for Light Art and Urban Design, aspires to explore this theme: Because light as a medium and material (of art and urban design) precisely unites the paradox inherent in the term „Digital Romantic”. Light (maybe better than any other medium) seems appropriate to address the aforementioned issues. In the history of art and culture, light has always been a medium that appears symbolic, poetic, mystical, spiritually and emotionally charged. Light fascinates and polarizes — best demonstrated by the growing number of visitors to light festivals worldwide.

Light also transforms, enchants familiar places, adding new levels of vision and meaning. Light played a major role in Romanticism: it gave a new face to the familiar. Romantics propagated a new way of seeing, as Novalis observed: „To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.”

Where moonlit walks and candlelight dinners provided a stage for sentimentality back then, the opportunities offered today by technical progress and the digitization of working with light are much greater, yet less tangible. Controllable, analogue and digital, at times even linked to data. On the one hand, this fascinates and attracts; on the other, there are doubts about the vociferous affirmation and unbridled celebration of technological possibilities. Is that really all it has to offer when it comes to artistic potential?

We want to show that light art can not only transform surfaces, but also unfold its effective power subcutaneously. By creating unknown places, opening perspectives and revealing layers of meaning that were previously hidden. We want to explore whether light can also create places beyond the real world, often perceived as chaotic, demanding and overwhelming. But also ask, do we even need these places at all? Is digital the solution to conveying and reinterpreting (forgotten) analogue content? Can new images be created in the mind to counter the flood of endlessly incoming content? Does light art rapidly wear off as a staged event, or does it fulfil a yearning for the true, the beautiful, the good?

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