It has become a trope over the past 20 years that we are turning into cyborgs. Ever reliant on smartphones and social networks, much of human existence has become inseparable from and defined by digital technology. If this is true, why should art be any different? In 2012, has art too become cyborg?
To those who organize and participate in ArtFutura, an international festival devoted to the digital arts, the answer is unquestionably yes. Since it began in Barcelona in 1990, ArtFutura has taken as its starting point the thesis that art can no longer be understood apart from digital technology.
The central event of the 23rd edition of ArtFutura begins Nov. 7 and runs through Nov. 11 at the Muralla Abierta Museum in Montevideo, Uruguay. Shows in 12 other Spanish-speaking cities from Barcelona to Buenos Aires are running simultaneously, some for longer periods. This year’s festival features lectures, audiovisual demonstrations and exhibitions by artists working in new media, interactive design, video games and digital animation. In 1990 there were 5,000 attendees; this year the festival is expecting the events in the various cities to draw a total of more than 60,000.
The international element of the festival reflects the belief of its founder, Montxo Algora, that —unlike other art movements throughout history— digital art is uniquely global.
‘‘Before the Internet, most movements were somehow associated with a certain city, like Modernism in Paris,’’ said Mr. Algora. ‘‘Now it’s impossible to associate art with any particular physical place. Art is happening on the Internet.’’
Academics and thinkers are also invited each year to write on the wider social impact of digital developments. Participants have included the psychologist Sherry Turkle, William Gibson, the author of ‘‘Neuromancer’’; and Hiroshi Ishii, a professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab. ArtFutura’s first guest, Timothy Leary, contributed an essay that foreshadowed cyberculture’s present-day ubiquity.
‘‘Like millions of others I have come to feel as comfortable dealing with artificial realities over there in Cyberia … as I do operating in the closed-in Terrarium of the material world,’’ Leary wrote in 1990. ‘‘My brain, like yours, apparently craves, demands, needs to be bathed, inundated in oceans of electronic data.’’
Headlining the festival in Montevideo this year is Paul Friedlander, a self-described ‘‘scientific artist and light sculptor,’’ who has exhibited at ArtFutura for the past 10 years.
Before turning to the fine arts, Mr. Friedlander studied physics and math under Anthony Leggett, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003.
Mr. Friedlander, who calls himself an ‘‘evangelist for science,’’ said optimism about the future has been ‘‘replaced with a much more jaundiced or apprehensive feeling.’’ ArtFutura is ‘‘about putting aspirations and dreams back at the forefront,’’ he said in a telephone interview from his home in England.
The tone for the ArtFutura events was set in 1990 when Eric Gullichsen unveiled a prototype for a virtual-reality helmet that allowed users to experience 3-D environments in real time. In 2005, the Barcelona-based Grangel Studio previewed Tim Burton’s movie ‘‘The Corpse Bride,’’ for which they had developed groundbreaking stop-motion techniques.
‘‘I remember being at our first festival and showing the second animated short that Pixar ever did,’’ said Mr. Algora. The film, ‘‘Knick-knack,’’about a snowman trapped in a snow globe, is now considered a classic of 3D animation. ‘‘Everyone was very excited because we realized we were reaching the point where we would be able to make full-length feature films’’ using the technology, Mr. Algora said.
How has the artistic landscape changed? ‘‘When we started ArtFutura, there was no Internet as we know it,’’ Mr. Algora said. ‘‘For at least the next 10 to 20 years there’s going to be exponential growth in the capability of computers,” he said, with consequential impact on the kind of art people will produce.