Published online 5 January 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.0


Science arts centre opens in a blaze of colour

Gallery launches Linz as European City of Culture.

yes yes noArs Electronica Center in Linz, Austria.Daito Manabe

Austria's latest scientific museum has opened with a dramatic light show.

The Ars Electronica Center in Linz is dedicated to science and the digital arts. At 8 p.m. on Friday 2 January, the facade of the avant-garde building was instantly aflame in a dynamic flow of coloured light, a show designed by US artist Zachary Lieberman called Yes yes no. The centre's inauguration coincides with the start of the small city's year as one of the two 2009 European Cities of Culture.

The Ars Electronica organization is best known for its annual festival, which began in 1979, and its prestigious cyberarts prizes awarded to artists who use digital technologies. These have helped to raise the international profile of Linz, whose previous claim to fame has been its jam-and-pastry Linzer torte — claimed by many to be the world's oldest cake.

CellnessThis hanging sculpture called Cellness resulted from a collaboration between architect Jenny Sabin and cell biologist Peter Lloyd Jones.Jenny E. Sabin

The city has now invested more than €30 million (US$41 million) in a new building on the banks of the Danube to house permanent collections of digital art. Jagged and asymmetrical, the building is wrapped in a glass shell that incorporates 40,000 diodes of different colours that can be individually controlled by computer.

"It is the only museum in the world that presents both science and art in this way — and the building itself can be used as a canvas for artists," says the centre's spokesman Christopher Ruckerbauer.

The works of art in the centre's cavernous display rooms reflect the museum's main theme — 'new images of humankind' — and generally engage with the life sciences, robotics and digital technologies.

Last SupperThe Last SupperHaltadefinizione

Many of the works have resulted from collaborations between artists and scientists. For example, a large-scale three-dimensional hanging sculpture created by US architect Jenny Sabin, called Cellness, resulted from a collaboration with cell biologist Peter Lloyd Jones from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It reflects the structure of cells and their fibrous interconnective tissue.

US kinetic artist Arthur Ganson presents a mechanical sculpture that seems to defy the laws of nature. A chair hovers above a cat, which slides in smooth movements from left to right. Ganson says that the idea came to him while he was working with a computer program that simulates the movements of objects on the Moon.

Margot's Other CatMargot's Other CatArthur Ganson

In another room, visitors can inspect a huge, high-definition digital representation of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Consisting of more than 16 billion pixels, it allows Milan's most famous, but exceptionally delicate, fresco to be viewed in unprecedented detail.

The centre also houses laboratories — BrainLab, BioLab, Robolab and FabLab — in which members of the public can take part in scientific experiments ranging from visual perception to genetic engineering. 

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