Panorama

Digital and multimedia arts
Steve Gerges_Cronos_©Gerges
Digital and multimedia arts

Digital and multimedia arts

The digital and multimedia arts sector in Luxembourg

Spoiler alert: there is not a digital and multimedia arts sector in Luxembourg (yet), at least not if you understand “sector” as meaning a clearly structured and defined artistic and economic field.

Even if lines and lines of code have yet to be written in the development of such a sector, however, there is a very real use of new technologies and digital tools among some Luxembourg artists in their work. For some, their entire artistic process is based on technologies; for others, it is the specific project that determines whether technologies are used and, if so, which ones. Yet it has to be admitted that there are not that many people in Luxembourg who call themselves “digital artists”. Is this a cause or an effect of the fact that there is no sector?

Without seeking to be exhaustive, this article is a first attempt to present types of art in Luxembourg that could be classified as digital and multimedia arts, covering the key people, dates and places.

As such, part one will cover the fairly long period between 1996 and 2021, giving an overview of the trends among Luxembourg artists who incorporate new technologies into their processes.

Part two will briefly present the main forms of public funding available for multidisciplinary projects incorporating different technologies.

The last part lists some school courses and out-of-school training programmes available in Luxembourg for anyone wanting to learn about technologies that serve an artistic purpose and/or wanting to acquire a theoretical grounding in the subject of digital and multimedia arts.

bit of history: 1990s to the present day

VJing and projection-mapping

Everything started with two VHS cassettes and images being mixed on screen in real time. The crowd had never seen anything like it. It was 1996 and this scene was taking place in Den Atelier, a concert venue in Hollerich, Luxembourg City. The man behind the video mixing desk was called Paul Schumacher (b. 1965), who would later be known by his stage name of Melting Pol. VJing had arrived in Luxembourg and other enthusiasts quickly got involved, such as the Visual Delight collective, led by Steve Gerges, who would go on to become a major player in Luxembourg’s digital arts scene.

Inspired by the Brussels techno parties he was frequenting, Melting Pol started to mix his videos more and more frequently. They were often filmed on the spot, at events like Open Air Party by Lake Echternach, which would go on to become, under the name e-Lake Festival, a key date in the country’s electronic music calendar. Schumacher often used to clash with the scene’s technicians, who would bury the video projections under light and smoke, but he eventually found his own path by organising events himself: the Melting Sessions used to bring together musicians and artists for video and audio improvisation sessions. In 2010, he did his first projection-mapping installation, which involves projecting video or graphics onto a building, where they adapt to and incorporate its architecture. This has become his specialism and he is quite widely known for it. Melting Pol is credited in some way with almost all the projection-mapping installations in Luxembourg.

Another artist fascinated by large-scale video projections is Steve Gerges (b. 1976). Starting in 2009, Gerges made his name by providing video projections for the band Artaban’s stage show. Inspired by science fiction and space exploration, and adopting themes of the relationships between humans and machines, his visual creations later found other forms of expression: interactive installations like LAN 1.0 (2014, Carré Rotondes) and LAN 2.0 (2015, Rotondes, as part of the loop cycle), the Cronos immersive projection-mapping installation (2016, as part of Luxembourg Light Nights), the Rise of the Machines kinetic light sculpture (2017, as part of Multiplica Festival) and the ONE real-time generative AV sculpture (2019, the Indépendence gallery).

Steve Gerges Multiplica_Rise of the machines_ ©Sven Becker

The 2000s – internet art and Second Life

On 19 January 2006, the Dominique Lang Art Centre in Dudelange staged a preview of the collective exhibition entitled [observe_adapt_direct]. In the installations Direct I and Direct II by artist Sneja_D (b. 1971), motion sensors detected visitors entering the hall, triggering video sequences of naked people to surprise the visitors and make them laugh. With a Master’s in Digital Arts from Camberwell College of Arts (part of the University of the Arts London), Sneja Dobrosavljevic has, since 2006, been exploring the virtual environment Second Life for her pieces and, with joinmein50years (2014), created one of Luxembourg’s few pieces of internet art.

Pit Vinandy (b. 1960), known by the public under the name of cyberpiper and profiled by multimedia director Beryl Koltz in her film Strangers in the Night (2011), has also used the Second Life environment for his work. One of his latest projects, the virtual stroll through an area of central Luxembourg City known as Pfaffenthal 1867, can still be accessed through the website of the Lëtzebuerg City Museum.

First national and international recognition of Luxembourg artists working in the digital arts

One exhibition that can be considered one of Luxembourg’s pioneering cultural events was AFK (Away From Keyboard) (curated by Margherita Balzerani), presented from 29 January to 1 May 2011 at Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain. Luxembourg artist Laura Mannelli (b. 1980) and the Atopia collective – made up of Mannelli, plus Frederick Thompsonand Kanika Langlois – were behind this group exhibition, which landed in the Luxembourg cultural scene like some sort of UFO, attracting admiration, but also a degree of misunderstanding from local journalistic critics. Looking back, however, AFK (Away From Keyboard) was an important first collective artistic offering on virtual realities, a subject beloved by those working in the digital arts. It was important, not only because it presented virtual pieces of art in a Luxembourg cultural institution, but also because it sparked conversations on the new realities that are characteristic of our times.

Virtual realities and their fusion with what we might call our “biological” lives are also themes that interest Laura Mannelli in her wider work. This artist, who graduated from the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-Mallaquais, is a true millennial: her upbringing coincided with the initial stages of the digital revolution, with computers becoming more and more widely available during her childhood in the 1980s, while her 20s saw the development of social media in the 2000s. As such, Mannelli’s process sits at the intersection of the visual arts, the performing arts, virtual realities, film, videogames and architecture.

*Another that should be remembered is China Power Station: Part III, which took place from 26 April to 15 September 2008 at Mudam Luxembourg (the country’s flagship modern art gallery). It was the first major exhibition in Luxembourg to focus primarily on video and, in particular, on new technologies.

Mannelli co-founded Human Atopic Space in 2008, alongside Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr, Margherita Balzerani and Frederick Thompson. In the five years of its existence, the collective started what Mannelli’s website calls “research in which virtual realities were either central to the creative process or vectors of a thought process that employs them”, creating cultural projects that were hosted at Paris locations the Géode (part of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie) and La Gaîté Lyrique, among other places.

The most ambitious work of art ever to have been seen in Luxembourg might just be Mannelli’s The Promises of Monsters installation. The warm-up, a virtual reality exhibition entitled Near Dante Experience, was shown at Rotondes as part of the fourth Triennale Jeune Création (Triennale for Young Creatives). The main event was displayed from 20 October 2017 to 2 February 2018 at the Indépendence gallery, as a result of Mannelli being awarded the Indépendance Grant for Creativity and Profile-raising in the Digital Arts in 2017.

Mannelli’s first solo exhibition was also another springboard towards international recognition: in 2018, after the Indépendence gallery, The Promises of Monsters was exhibited at the Centre des arts, Enghien-les Bains (Paris), alongside works by Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert, under the title of As above so below (curators: Kevin Muhlen and Emmanuel Cuisinier). In 2019, the Near Dante Experience installation was exhibited at L.E.V. Festival Gijón, in Spain.

A second artist whose work was exhibited in some of Luxembourg’s most important contemporary art spaces early in his career is Eric Schockmel (b. 1982). In 2008, Mudam acquired his two pieces Syscape # ELO and Circuit I (Syscapes), which were presented during the multi-artist exhibitions ELO. Inner Exile — Outer Limits (2008, curator: Christian Mosar) and I’ve Dreamt About (2011, curator: Marie-Noëlle Farcy). In 2014, Casino Luxembourg - Forum d’art contemporain opened up its cellars, so that he could set up a multi-screen installation called Macrostructure there.

Having trained as a motion designer (Schockmel has a Master’s in Communication Design from Central Saint Martins – part of the University of the Arts London – and a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design from the École de recherche graphique, Belgium), his visual language draws heavily on science fiction and the aesthetic aspect of technology design. Science fiction also fed into the inspiration of his latest art project: Tune into the Future (2019), which is a documentary on the life and work of Hugo Gernsback, a native of the Bonnevoie area of Luxembourg City sometimes known as “Father of Modern Science Fiction”, after whom the Hugo Awards are named.

Schockmel’s work, which is mainly made up of animated videos and animations for virtual reality projects, has now been exhibited at quite a few events outside Luxembourg, including transmediale (Berlin), the Ars Electronica Animation Festival, Art Basel | Miami Beach, Vimeo FRAME programme and the Athens Digital Arts Festival.

The resulting development of virtual reality experience

Film Fund Luxembourg’s financial support for what it called “transmedia” was a key staging post on the way to the current boom in art projects using virtual reality (VR). In the first half of the 2010s, the Film Fund received increasing numbers of funding applications from producers mentioning a new narrative medium: virtual reality headsets and all the associated creative technologies (3D modelling and animation software, videogame engines, coding languages, 3D sound design and even new camera systems).

The duo Markiewicz & Piron were also among the first to fulfil the new narrative possibilities of virtual reality. Karolina Markiewicz (b. 1976) studied politics, philosophy and theatre, and works as a theatre and cinema director. Pascal Piron (b. 1981) studied visual arts and works as an artist and director. In their work together, which started in 2013, Markiewicz and Piron create links between cinema, the visual arts and theatre. They are behind, among other things, the very noteworthy documentaries Les Formidables (2014) and Mos Stellarium (2015).

For Markiewicz and Piron, discovery of the possibilities of VR started with their 2017 participation in the VR Creators’ Lab organised by the Bavarian Film Centre in Munich. In the end, what attracted them to this technology and means of expression is the fact that a piece of art can be situated in a space that becomes an integral part of the narrative. The VR experience is also focused on the participant, and on their choices and reactions, which injects a degree of intimacy between spectator and subject.

The interactive virtual reality experiences of Markiewicz and Piron have been selected for numerous festival: Fever (2019) featured in the official competitions of VR Arles Festival (France) and Virtual Worlds Festival in Munich, and Sublimation (2019) was premièred at the 76th Venice International Film Festival – Venice Virtual Reality.

My identity is this expanse – the experiment that the duo worked on with one of the pioneering virtual reality artists, Tamiko Thiel – won the 2021 Best Immersive VR Award at the Cinequest festival in San José (United States). The installation will form part of the Stronger than memory and weaker than dewdrops exhibition at Casino Luxembourg in autumn 2021.

3D printing: a creativity tool linking the past and the future

Serge Ecker (b. 1982) was the first Luxembourg artist to use a 3D printer for artistic purposes, starting in 2008. He considers himself a researcher, meaning someone who is constantly trying to dig up forgotten places, objects and stories. What makes this multifaceted artist, who combines old know-how with new technologies in many of his projects, unique is that his work is a continuous back-and-forth between the material and the virtual.

Trained in 3D animation and special effects, Ecker rapidly made a name for himself with his installations Forget the names, let’s talk about the numbers (2015) and Handle with Care (2015). In 2016, he joined forces with Claude Ballini, Daniel Grünkranz and Panajota Panotopoulou to present the site-specific installation Tracing Transitions in the Luxembourg pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale. He is part of DKollektiv, an association that works towards the preservation and participatory re-evaluation of the steel-making heritage of the town of Dudelange.

One piece that provides a good illustration of Ecker’s creative approach is the Humpen project (2015), produced in partnership with Misch Feinen (b. 1982). Ecker used several pieces of software to rework the data obtained from digital photos of a slag pot (“Humpen”, in Luxembourgish), creating a 3D model of it. This model was produced using a 3D printer and then sent to the Massard de Kayl foundry, which created a die-casting mould. The final result, a miniature version of the “Humpen”, creates a link between the material and the digital, between artisanship and new technologies. This interdependence is central to the way Ecker thinks. His work demonstrates that it is worth questioning the ideology of so-called progress: the effacement of the old by the new, often driven by new technologies.

Ecker’s works are included in the collections of Mudam Luxembourg, of the Centre National de l’Audiovisuel (CNA), of the Ministry of Culture, of the Lëtzebuerg City Museum, of Rotondes, and of the Luxembourg City and Esch-sur-Alzette local authorities.

Fever © Markiewicz-Piron

Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain, le Virtual Reality Pavilion / VR Day and Multiplica Festival

Located at 41, Rue Notre Dame, Casino Luxembourg - Forum d’art contemporain

first opened in March 1996. Even at one of its first exhibitions, Arrêt sur images (1996, curated by Enrico Lunghi), the audience was introduced to a leading figure in multimedia arts: one of the guest artists was American Tony Oursler (b. 1957). As a forum for contemporary art, Casino Luxembourg has, over the years, become an important centre for creativity, but also for interaction, discussions and learning about the multimedia arts, video arts and digital arts, in particular through the series of conferences entitled Mardis de l’art and Forum arts, médias et société.

Every two years, Rotondes hosts the Virtual Reality Pavilion / VR Day and the Multiplica Festival, two other events that can be considered important stages in bringing digital art and culture to a wider audience.

The first Virtual Reality Pavilion opened its doors to the public on 1 December 2017, during the Luxembourg City Film Festival. Started by the founders of the audio-visual production company a_BAHN and the Luxembourg City Film Festival, in partnership with Digital Luxembourg and Film Fund Luxembourg, Virtual Reality Pavilion’s programme celebrating a new genre has, from the very beginning, achieved what it sets out to do: make the Luxembourg public more aware of the new narrative, sensory and aesthetic possibilities offered by virtual reality technologies. That first year, the programme also included talks by and meetings with people working in this budding industry under the banner of VR Day, the professional side of this virtual reality event.

In 2018, Film Fund Luxembourg took over the project and turned it into an unmissable date in the cultural calendar of the country and well beyond, with international artists and industry professionals in attendance every year. Over the years, the Film Fund has worked increasingly closely with organisations like the Phi Centre in Montreal on cooperative projects that have given Luxembourg productions access to an international market.

In 2017, the Multiplica Festival took place for the first time. It was held at the Rotondes cultural centre, which was also the driving force behind it. In its first two years, 2017 and 2019, the festival presented multidisciplinary programmes that explored the creative and artistic possibilities offered by digital tools and new technologies. In the relaxed and hands-on atmosphere that Rotondes is known for, audience members were able to find out about some of the new artistic and creative directions that can be grouped together under the term “digital arts”, not just as spectators, but also as active participants in the workshops.

In 2021, the festival has gone in a different artistic direction from previous years, favouring interrogation of the influence of new technologies on our society, through exhibits, installations and concerts, as well as workshops and panel discussions involving specialists in digital cultures.

A glimpse into the future: European Capital of Culture 2022 – Esch-sur-Alzette and the surrounding region

On 22 February 2022, European Capital of Culture Esch2022 will be inaugurated. Its programme will include, among other things, a wealth of digital art exhibitions and projects.

The Möllerei, in Esch-Belval, will host exhibitions organised jointly with three leading digital art and new media institutions:
- the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) Karlsruhe (curated by Prof. Peter Weibel and Dr Anett Holzheid)
- HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel) (curated by Sabine Himmelsbach and Boris Magrini)
- Ars Electronica Linz, Austria (curated by Martin Honzik and Laura Welzenbach)

Numerous other cross-disciplinary projects involving a range of Luxembourg artists and institutions will also be showcased as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations, which will really emphasise digital arts. With these projects, the organisers of Esch2022 are pursuing several goals: offering the largest possible audience clues on how to understand the digital arts, increasing public interest in this sort of programme, enabling Luxembourg institutions and artists to build networks international partners, and to lay the foundations for future artistic collaborations.

Public funding for the digital and multimedia arts

The fact that there cannot yet be said to be an established digital and multimedia arts sector is also reflected in the forms of public funding made available. There are not currently any cultural institutions, or any grants, bursaries or residencies specifically aimed at the digital and multimedia arts. Recent years have seen the establishment – and, just as quickly, the disappearance – of the Digital Arts Residency at Bamhaus (won in 2017 by Nora Wagner) and the Indépendence Bursary – Creativity and Awareness-raising Bursary for the Digital Arts (won in 2017 by Laura Mannelli and in 2019 by Steve Gerges). These programmes had both been launched by the National Cultural Fund (Focuna), working with the non-profit Bamhaus on the former and with the Fondation Indépendance on the latter.
Nevertheless, although there are not currently any specific grants or bursaries available for the digital and multimedia arts, projects in the field might be eligible for certain significant sources of public funding.

Ministry of Culture

The Ministry of Culture offers grants and bursaries for cultural projects to be run in Luxembourg. These are aimed at associations and individuals – as well as at any collectives, groups or teams of artists who have not formally established an association – working in a range of areas, such as the visual arts, audio-visual and the performing arts. Multidisciplinary projects can also be submitted.

Find out more at:
mc.gouvernement.lu

Luxembourg National Cultural Fund (Focuna)

Some digital and multimedia arts might be eligible for the funding available from Focuna, which is dedicated to the visual arts, among other fields.

Find out more at: focuna.lu

Film Fund Luxembourg

With its numerous funding packages, the Film Fund supports virtual reality projects as well as more traditional film productions and animations. The Film Fund also awards one-off bursaries to people wanting to take part in festivals abroad that include virtual reality projects in their line-ups, and to those wanting to train abroad in the same field.

Find out more at: filmfund.lu

Digital arts education and training in Luxembourg

As in the majority of professional fields in Luxembourg, the education path leads people abroad, although this is not to say that a degree in digital arts is the only way of making it as a professional artist using new technologies.

If you take a closer look at the CVs of the Luxembourg artists introduced in part one of this article, you will notice several things. First, the educational credentials (often a university degree) that each one has are very different, ranging from motion design to politics. Second, self-education plays an important role: apart from doing one-off training workshops, they have gained new know-how and skills from collaborations with other artists and creatives. Lastly, many of them have developed their own networks of people, enabling them to put in place the specialised teams necessary for undertaking multidisciplinary projects.

Nevertheless, Luxembourg does have a small number of education courses, offered by schools and by other bodies, through which artists can acquire certain skills that are very sought-after for coming up with and carrying out art projects using various new technologies.

Higher-education technical diplomas (BTSs) / Lycée des Arts et Métiers, Luxembourg

- BTS game programming and game design
- BTS game art and game design
- BTS dessin d’animation

Aimed at students wanting to join the videogame and animation sectors, these three BTSs develop technical and artistic skills that can also be useful for art projects working with virtual reality or immersion technologies, or even for other multimedia projects.

Find out more at: btshub.lu

Makerspaces / Bee Creative

Luxembourg has a huge network of makerspaces, which are creative spaces where young people can create their own digital tools.

First set up in the 2015-16 academic year, by the National Youth Service (SNJ), there are now easily 20 secondary schools that have makerspaces. There are also Base 1, located in Luxembourg City’s Forum Geeseknäppchen, which is open to the public, and several others set up in childcare centres and primary schools. It is only a matter of time before a generation of digital and multimedia artists emerge who started out in one of the makerspaces.

Educational setting: bee-creative.lu

Find out more at: bee-creative.lu

Alin&Art / Lycée Aline Mayrisch, Luxembourg City

This initiative of Claire Flammang – secondary-school art teacher at Lycée Aline Mayrisch – is a noteworthy voluntary course for students at that school. Since 2013, over a December weekend, a whole panoply of workshops overseen by artists from in- and outside Luxembourg are provided for registered students. While this short course is not specifically about digital or multimedia arts, it nevertheless gives them particular prominence.

Find out more at: facebook.com/artcapsuleLAML

Forum arts, médias et société / Casino Luxembourg

Launched in 2019 by Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain, in partnership with the University of Luxembourg, Forum arts, médias et société is a series of conferences recommended for artists or anyone else with an interest in the presence of media and technology in contemporary art and in our society.

Educational setting: Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain

Find out more at: casino-luxembourg.lu

Yves Conrardy, juin 2021