Vienna Biennale 2015 Ideas for Change

The Vienna Biennale 2015 will take place from 11 June through 4 October, 2015. It is the first event of its kind to combine art, design, and architecture, with the aim of generating creative ideas and artistic projects to help improve the world. Its category-spanning, interdisciplinary approach and combination of artistic ambition and the creative economy open up new perspectives on central topics of our time and thus promote positive change in our society.

The Vienna Biennale 2015 is an initiative of the MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art. It is organized by the MAK in cooperation with the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Kunsthalle Wien, the Architekturzentrum Wien, and the creative unit of the Vienna Business Agency, departure, with support from the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology as a non-university research partner.

Digital Modernity

The Vienna Biennale 2015 was established with the understanding that we are living in a new modernity in which the digital revolution penetrates all areas of our life and is thus fundamentally changing our civilization—it is comparable to the industrial revolution, the consequences of which the last era of Western modernism dealt with. Today’s Digital Modernity offers considerable potentials for lasting improvements in quality of life as well as innovative living concepts and business models in every sector. It presents a wide range of questions for the arts, including architecture and design, and is dependent on artistic and creative inputs.

This new biennale in Vienna was established with the recognition that Vienna was one of the centers of the previous era of Western Modernity around 1900, from which significant impulses emerged whose effects in some cases continue to be felt to this day. Thus, Vienna can be seen as an authentic, credible location for the search for new paths to positive change. By following in this extraordinary tradition of experimentation, the Vienna Biennale 2015 aims to find answers to today’s most important issues and utilize the potentials of the creative revolution in order to offer people new insights for crucial areas of life. The Vienna Biennale 2015 is thus not only aimed at people interested in art, design, and architecture, but a wider audience, with the goal of raising awareness about the possibilities of fine art and the applied arts for the challenges of our time.

Vienna as a Location for Experimentation

The Vienna Biennale 2015 has invited four international curators to develop projects for 2015. New and existing works will be presented. The Vienna Biennale Circle of eminent personalities living in Vienna will provide an important connection to the city of Vienna and ensure that all the projects will be discussed and brought together with an interdisciplinary approach. The resulting insights will be presented in an additional exhibition.

The Vienna Biennale 2015 was born of the conviction that Vienna is the right place to develop a new, coherent, and unique biennale. The focus will be on people, who need one thing above all in times of radical change: orientation!

Introduction for the Vienna Biennale 2015

The all-encompassing process of digitalization is changing our daily lives so radically that we can call this a new era of modernity: Digital Modernity offers enormous potential around the world—in education, for instance—but also entails great risks due to the total economic quantification of human beings. Furthermore, given the learning abilities of digital machines, we must assume that over the coming decades a significant part of manual and cognitive work (and thus jobs) will be replaced by fully automated systems.

This upheaval of our society coincides with the overexploitation of the planet Earth. The Global North must significantly reduce human beings’ environmental footprint, while the ambitions for growth in the Global South require fundamental adjustments also in light of explosive population growth. Humanity must therefore develop an entirely new understanding of economic growth and prosperity both for the rich industrialized countries and for emerging and developing countries—an understanding that leads to a mutually accepted and sustainable distribution of the earth’s resources.

Challenges of this scale demand a radical change of attitude. The most effective mechanisms to promote this can be found in Digital Modernity itself. We must therefore “retool” the digital revolution and place it at the service of ensuring human dignity and meaning on our planet over the long term. The development and design of the necessary real and virtual concepts and tools are dependent to a substantial degree on human creativity. This means that the creative disciplines of design, architecture, and art have a particular responsibility to develop new paths for positive change. While the applied disciplines of design and architecture are expected to produce directly applicable ideas, fine art does not need to be directly useful; instead, it can offer other kinds of impetuses.

Since the creative disciplines have been progressively instrumentalized for traditional growth, a reform of creativity is necessary in order to reinvigorate them. Some approaches to this challenge are already visible: positive change is increasingly becoming a core topic in design and architecture, and even fine art is finding ways to contribute to improving the world without being “applied.” However, overcoming individual economic interests and the self-referentiality of these disciplines in the long term will only be possible if art, design, and architecture combine to form a new unity of the arts.

This unity of the arts not only means the equality of the “lower” applied arts of design and architecture with the “higher” fine art, but also and above all their qualitatively equal cooperation with the aim of mutual inspiration. We need a holistically oriented unity of the arts which does not lead to the merging of disciplines, but uses innovative structures and a lively dialogue to ensure that art, design, and architecture respect, pay attention to, and inspire one another in order to promote positive change. This is precisely the aim of the Vienna Biennale 2015. It challenges these disciplines to continue to develop by making possible a direct encounter between art, design, and architecture projects related to cities and the urban future.  

The point of departure and common theme of the projects is the potential and problems of cities, which will be examined from various perspectives: architecture and design will deal with six megacities on five continents—Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York, and Rio de Janeiro; art will focus on Bucharest as a fascinating example of a city behind the former Iron Curtain; design and architecture will address the Austrian capital of Vienna, which has repeatedly been chosen as the world’s most livable city; and art will examine the possibilities of a new Enlightenment emerging above all in the urban context as well as the importance of urban public space. Although the projects are each grounded in a specific discipline, they are also open to other disciplines and will thus initiate dialogues that will be continued in the program of related events. An interdisciplinary exhibition manifesto on the future of human work and an art exhibition that addresses this topic will round out the biennale.    

The Vienna Biennale 2015 will thus allow these creative disciplines to act together “in concert” for positive change. It aims to inspire us to act  individually and collectively to make the world a better and more sustainable place. It seeks to encourage art, design, and architecture to provide concepts and tools to this end. It is conceived as the beginning of numerous future interdisciplinary projects in Vienna and elsewhere which will further  develop our world through the possibilities of the arts.