Art and technology conceived together
When Max Haarich travelled to the "Republic of Užupis" for the first time in 2014, he never dreamed that three years later he would be founding its German "embassy" in Munich. The district of Užupis, located on the outskirts of Vilnius' old town, has been a meeting place for Lithuanian artists and intellectuals since the 1990s. On 1 April 1998, they proclaimed the "Free Republic of Užupis". The first president was and still is Roman Lileikes - according to legend, he woke up one morning and suddenly felt like the president. In its self-image, Užupis is an artistic-civil society, non-political movement. The Munich resident took its constitution with him to his hometown; constitutional articles such as "You have the right to have no rights" seemed paradoxical to him at first.
Max Haarich © Eolo Perfido Studio
Today, Max Haarich even sees the constitution as particularly effective, precisely because it cannot be transferred to the executive: actions with negative consequences could thus not be justified in the name of the constitution; man is responsible for himself. A spirit from which a clear ethic in dealing with people, animals and the environment is derived, with the maxim of looking out for each other instead of blindly following the law. And a spirit that has not let go of Max Haarich since his visit: After studying communication sciences at RTWH Aachen and working at the innovation start-up centre "UnternehmerTUM", he focused on the artistic reflection of technological developments and their social consequences. Užupis' ambassadorship opened up the possibility of bringing art and technology into symbiosis and, in parallel, always forming social synapses: According to Max Haarich, the Munich Embassy of the Artists' Republic is "the last dirty metre of the research transfer from the ivory tower to the street, one metre in front of it we stand and intercept the people".
The NFT installation at Munich's Lenbachplatz only worked from the right perspective. © Max Haarich
A horse that reads thoughts
With the pawing of his hooves, smart Hans guesses the number the person standing in front of the installation is thinking of. © Max Haarich
Whether in cooperation with the Republic or on his own initiative, the artist's projects simulate the social implications of technological change in an innovative way. Recently, for example, the first prototype of a mind-reading horse was created: Smart Hans, based on "clever Hans", a horse living around the turn of the century that could supposedly read thoughts by guessing the respective number people were thinking of. In the case of Smart Hans, an artificial intelligence performs this sorcery. While the black box of Smart Hans was that it was unclear on the basis of which information the animal could determine the numbers, Smart Hans illustrates the impossibility of determining what exactly an artificial neural network actually learns and on which data the decisions are based. At the same time, concerns about the misuse of artificial intelligence become visible.
But it would not be the Munich Embassy if these thoughts were not taken further in the sense of Užupis. Led by the letter π, Max Haarich had a Munich article anchored in the constitution of the artists' republic: "Any artificial intelligence has the right to believe in a good will of humanity.
Art or technology? Both! A transparent pixel becomes a virtual sunrise. © Max Haarich
Gravity in the Metaverse?
You can't buy this piece of Munich reality, but you can rent it as an NFT. © Max Haarich
His latest project, a five-by-five-metre poster installation at Lenbachplatz in Munich, was entitled "Good-Buy, Reality!" and offered a part of Munich's reality for sale as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT). The NFT on the poster, however, only fitted into the analogue environment within a very specific angle of view. An artificially created reality that, in its dependence on analogue reality, puts its own sale in jeopardy - the art action demonstrated how, in the face of rampant commercialisation through NFTs, personal influence is nevertheless underestimated. With "Good-Buy, Reality!" the familiar separation of analogue and virtual reality dissolved further.
However, it is still a long way until scenarios like those in the film "Matrix" become reality: For Max Haarich, the Metaverse is so far pure entertainment and technically quite unspectacular. The current development is mainly characterised by companies that see Web 3.0 as a new sales market for NFTs. Because "so far, it's mainly physical reality that's being recreated a little more colourfully", as the artist notes. This becomes clear in the example of physical laws that are transferred into the metaverse - but who says that buildings and streets have to be subject to gravity? What fascinates Max Haarich most about the Metaverse is the underlying idea of Lucid Dreaming: "A world that you can control and experience ad hoc according to your wishes, the waking dream - that's the idea that we now want to realise with technology, with codes".
The new virtual interactivity also has potential for urban and mobility planning: planners could test models and concepts in a completely new way with regard to their effects by simulating them in the metaverse.
What comes after the pixel ...
Investment in something intrinsically meaningless. Classical economics or philosophical preoccupation? © Max Haarich
However, in order for Web 3.0 not to become the juggernaut of the tech giants, "decentralisation is the core of everything". Cryptocurrencies, which run on the decentralised blockchain, show the potential of how new democratic processes can already be set in motion, away from dusty institutions. In the spirit of Užupis, completely new approaches can be created here, for example in the fight against the climate crisis. The metaphor of Užupis as an "analogue metaverse" suggests itself; a double exposure of reality.
And it gets even more philosophical: with the project of a single transparent pixel, Max Haarich is conducting "nuclear research" in the metaverse: The artist played a single transparent pixel onto a tube TV, filmed the screen with a video camera and in turn took a still image of it. The result looks like a sunrise. At the same time, it shows that a pixel in itself cannot be represented and that technology creates distortion. But it also raises questions about the substance and matter of the metaverse: the pixels. While our reality is infinitely complex, in the metaverse, if you zoom in closely, you end up in front of a single pixel at some point - questions that Max Haarich wants to continue to deal with in the future. Because the journey into the metaverse has only just begun.