Creativity, innovation and location: Ten years on, Linz, Austria – European Capital of Culture 2009 – is among the continent’s most dynamic and experimental cities, with artworks that go beyond the famous torte.
She looks me in the eye, bows her head, furrows her brow, exactly as I do. “She” is a small robot bust with a face like a porcelain doll and wires coming out of her head that make her eyebrows very agile. Below them, she has movable glass pupils that register every tilt of my head and every expression. The human-like mien of “Emotion Simulation Robot” brings a smile to my face nevertheless.
“It’s impossible not to establish an emotional connection to this creature,” says Gerfried Stocker, 54, who sports a ponytail, glasses and always wears black. Stocker is artistic director of the Ars Electronica Center (AEC) in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. “Involuntarily, we’re prepared to respond to her as we do toward a human being, which is a very powerful and somewhat dangerous illusion.” This is why AEC has documented the findings of robot psychologist Dr. Martina Mara, Europe’s first professor for robot psychology and a researcher at Linz University since 2018: How must a robot be built so that humans feel comfortable with it? The small, friendly looking bust created by Japanese artist Takayuki Todo is one of the stars of the new permanent exhibition at the AEC, which opened in May. It features interactive presentations on artificial intelligence, robotics and genetic engineering as well as labs where visitors can, for instance, implant part of their DNA in artificially grown muscle cells – under supervision, of course. So-called Infotrainers are on hand to explain the new technologies.
Since the city was unattractive, it was free to reinvent itself
The exterior of the AEC, by day an unassuming green hexahedron on the banks of the Danube, reflects this fusion of humans and technology when it turns into a glowing, rhythmically pulsating glass cube at night. Visitors can control the colors by synchronizing the flow of flickering light with their own pulse or with music via an interface, an attraction that was unveiled ten years ago. Linz, which was European Capital of Culture in 2009, has succeeded in using this one-time event as a springboard for change.
“Linz stinks” was what even Austrians used to think when it came to the city of 200 000 – where thick billows of white smoke still belch from the chimneys of the voestalpine steel works. It didn’t help that Linz was different from other Austrian cities: “It had no high mountains, and it was situated halfway between the cultural capital, Salzburg and the uber-capital, Vienna,” says Genoveva Rückert, 42, professor for space theory. “There was very little in the way of an intellectual bourgeoisie or even an art scene. This made Linz unattractive on the one hand, but on the other, it had no cultural ballast, no outdated traditions.” The city was “free to reinvent itself.” And so developments got underway to rescue Linz from its image as a gray industrial city – thanks also to Rückert.
On the other side of the Danube, a 12-minute walk from the AEC across the Nibelungen Bridge, Genoveva Rückert joined forces again this year with sculptor Katharina Lackner, 37, to curate the Sinnesrausch exhibition at the OÖ Kulturquartier complex – an exhibition of international art that isn’t limited to the abstract. “We’re not just driven by our intellect, we come to exhibitions with our eyes and ears open, with a sense of touch and equilibrium. In short: with our bodies,” says Rückert, scrambling across the roof of the nearby Ursulinenkloster convent school through a labyrinth of blue safety nets – an installation by Croatian-Austrian design trio Numen/For Use. Taiwanese artist Te-Yu Wang also stimulates the senses with her “pneumatic installation,” for which she covered the interior of the school’s gymnasium, windows included, with lemon-colored balloon silk. As you walk on it, the fabric billows up waist-high like a silent, calm but dynamic wave suffused by soft light. Rückert calls this “immersive art,” and you do immerse yourself rather than just observe. For a full fifteen minutes, I relish a walking meditation in yellow.
The Sinnesrausch exhibition is a pared back version of the Höhenrausch Festival; they take place in alternating years. The Höhenrausch hallmark is the famous system of wooden bridges on which exhibitions conquered new space in 2009: From high up on the convent school roof, the bridges stretched across to neighboring buildings, even passing through a church tower. A Ferris wheel lit up the roof of a nearby shopping mall in the early years. It was replaced by the 30-meter-tall, wooden observation tower, the Keine-Sorgen-Turm, that stands there today and which visitors can climb through October 13, when the Sinnesrausch exhibition closes its doors. “The intoxication aspect [rausch means intoxication in German] was meant to address sensuality and the removal of barriers – which didn’t initially appeal to everyone,” says Rückert. “Some thought Höhenrausch in particular went too far toward becoming a spectacle.” But people in Linz now look forward to the annual event and particularly the Höhenrausch version that introduces modern art to a broad (non-vertigo-suffering) audience on a circuit high above the rooftops of the city.
Class a Gourmet I
For excellent roast chicken and apricot dumplings, try the Alte Metzger – a former butcher shop.
Class a Gourmet II
Sebastian Rossbach and Marco Barth serve up their take on traditional Austrian fare behind ancient walls.
Enjoy art and performances in the lobby of the Arte hotel near the Ars Electronica Center.
On September 28, a Bruckner symphony will resound throughout Linz from radios in the windows.
Halfway between the AEC and the Sinnesrausch exhibition spaces, experts from science, politics and the arts meet with members of the public at the Kepler Salon every week, another legacy from 2009. The events, which take place in the former residence of the astronomer Johannes Kepler, eschew a stage; instead, a few low stools and armchairs in a small room provide the scene for “sophisticated debate in lounge format.”
“Open lines of communication, short distances and a love of experimentation – that’s the Linz spirit,” says Chris Müller, 46, director of Tabakfabrik, where the sculptor and entrepreneur is bringing together the city’s creative forces in the halls of a former cigarette factory close to the port. Müller – tattoos and pin-striped suit – rents out lofts and office space to start-ups, artists and social projects that he hopes will benefit and pollinate each other. “As an industrial city, Linz has always been both innovative and pragmatic,” explains Müller. “Tabakfabrik is a giant lab for working out future models of community and business. When I get an idea, I get straight on the phone to the mayor. Try doing that in Vienna or Berlin!”
Müller also has close connections to a project that is still somewhat outside the tightly knit Linz scene: Mural Harbour is a huge area in the industrial port where artists from around the world having been spraying or painting the exterior walls of warehouses and cold storage facilities since 2012. Leonhard Gruber, the initiator, is from the skater and snowboard scene and is a fan of Austrian rap, graffiti and street art. In 2014, he lured the Spanish star Aryz to the Danube, promising him a huge wall and the freedom to do as he pleased with it. “His gigantic mural of a mother and child has become one of the city’s most popular Insta spots and has fueled a regular boom,” says Gruber. Belgian street artist ROA and Berlin-based graffiti crew 1Up have also helped to transform the harbor into a giant open-air gallery within only five years. Every year, three to four pieces are added; this year, one addition will be a multilayered, ChromaDepth mural by Italian artist AweR which is viewed through 3D glasses.
Along with crash courses in graffiti, Gruber gives tours of the compound, either on foot or from the water in a zille, a traditional barge. As the warehouses and cold storage buildings are all still used, Gruber is always afraid that a mural might provoke criticism. “I held my breath one day watching fork lift operators emerge from a building on which ROA was just finishing a mural of a billy goat cut in two. But the men clapped him on the shoulder,” Gruber recalls fondly. “It was a sign of approval!” And proof that the Linz spirit has now also permeated everyday life.
No-one knows who baked the first Linzer Torte, but the oldest recipe dates back to 1653.
Butter and eggs
Red currant jam
Cream the butter and sugar
Combine flour, baking powder, hazelnuts, eggs and spices
Knead together well
Chill the dough in the fridge for one hour
Roll out the dough
Spread the red currant jam on top
Cut strips of dough and place in a lattice pattern on top of the jam
Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with flaked almonds
Bake, leave to cool and enjoy!