New Visions for HPC and the Media Arts: the Media Solution Center

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HLRS has been developing a digital twin of the backstage area of the Stuttgart State Theater.

In an interview, MSC director Matthias Hauser describes innovative collaborations HLRS has begun involving HPC experts and leaders in the arts and media industries.

Founded in 2018 by HLRS, together with the Hochschule der Medien and the Center for Art and Media (ZKM), the Media Solution Center Baden-Württemberg (MSC) promotes innovation in the arts and the media industries by facilitating access to technologies and expertise in high-performance computing and visualization.

In 2019 the MSC welcomed Matthias Hauser as its first director. Bringing 25 years of experience in culture management, Hauser has big plans for the center, seeing opportunities to establish new connections between the sciences and technology, the media, cultural organizations, industry, and other sectors. As more arts organizations and companies have begun to become involved, the MSC shows enormous potential to promote innovation across the media and cultural landscapes by bringing together the people and resources necessary to realize visionary interdisciplinary projects utilizing advanced digital tools.

We spoke with Hauser about his plans for the Media Solution Center and his perspectives on the exciting opportunities that exist at the intersection of the sciences, technology, and the arts.

You've spent most of your career in the field of culture management. How did you end up working at a high-performance computing center?

In 2015 HLRS approached my artist agency to ask if we would be interested in working together to realize a project. Bringing together HLRS and the Itaú Cultural in São Paulo, we suggested the artist Regina Silveira for the collaboration. She visited HLRS in 2016 and together with the center's scientists and technologists created a virtual reality artwork called Infinities. The work attracted interest from the art scene in Stuttgart and in 2018 a large exhibit looking at virtual reality in contemporary art called Mixed Realities was presented at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart under the curation of Dr. Eva-Marina Froitzheim.

Picture of MSC director Matthias Hauser

Matthias Hauser, General Manager of the Media Solution Center.

Over the course of these activities, Prof. Michael Resch and I had the chance to meet often. From the very beginning we asked ourselves, why couldn't we establish the first eCulture festival in Stuttgart? We developed this idea very intensively over the course of various meetings and conferences, and in collaboration with the city of Stuttgart and the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, we developed a large project. A convention will take place in conjunction with HLRS's 25th anniversary in 2021, followed by theGATE Festival (Global Arts Technology Environment) in 2022. theGATE is truly a 21st-century initiative that will explore new opportunities at the convergence of science, art, and society.

Personally, I found our collaboration on these innovative projects extremely exciting. When Prof. Resch asked me if I would be interested in taking over the management of the Media Solution Center I agreed immediately, because I found the idea of working onsite at HLRS very interesting. There is no other high-performance computing center in the world that has this sort of a concept attached to it. It's really one-of-a-kind.

How would you describe the mission of the Media Solution Center?

Our goal is to make high-performance computing accessible throughout the media, art, and cultural landscape. When it started, the Media Solution Center was focused on making production processes in the film and animation industries more efficient, but since our official founding we are finding that there is interest in many other areas. The Media Solution Center is now working on projects with, for example, the Stuttgart State Opera, the radio and television broadcaster SWR, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Theaterkunst Berlin, the ZKM, the Ludwigsburg Film Academy, M.A.R.K. 13 film production, and other partners. Our door is open for anyone who is interested.

From the very beginning I recognized that the Media Solution Center represents the future, because digitalization has put artists and cultural institutions in a position where they are constantly facing new kinds of questions. Artists can sense the pulse of contemporary society, and they engage with subjects that are extremely relevant to how we live today and how society is changing. Many are also already taking advantage of the new opportunities that digital technologies offer, and integrate them into their art practices.

Such trends suggest that we are experiencing the development of a new branch of culture: eCulture. Because of this, the Media Solution Center and the possibilities that it offers are indispensable, even if we are just getting started. New movements in industry, in culture, and in society require the technologies and know-how that scientists can offer in order to bring their concepts to life.

The MSC is coordinating a collaboration between HLRS and the Stuttgart State Opera to explore how use of virtual reality could support an upcoming major renovation.

Picture of Stuttgart State Opera

At the same time, it is exciting for scientists at HLRS to become networked with the arts, because it helps them to find better solutions to their own problems. This kind of exchange is becoming increasingly intense because the arts and digital media increasingly flow together, and because new developments are constantly happening in fields like augmented reality and virtual reality. Important topics in the sciences benefit from new kinds of inputs based on the perspectives of artists and others who are active in cultural fields.

The Media Solution Center is in a unique position, because we have exactly the right resources to promote this networking. At HLRS we have a powerful supercomputer, scientists, and experts in visualization technology. At the same time we work closely with collaboration partners like the Hochschule der Medien and the ZKM, one of the most important art museums worldwide. We're not an isolated institution, but apply the competencies of all of our partners.

How does the Media Solution Center work in practice?

If you look at the MSC logo, you see a circle. We want to provide a round table where scientists, technologists, visionaries, philosophers, artists, museum directors, and artists can meet and work on solving problems together.

Everyone is welcome to approach the Media Solution Center with his or her particular problem. Then everyone comes together around this table to share their individual knowledge and the questions that they also face. Together, we then work together to determine what resources are necessary to bring something exciting into being.

People from different disciplines speak different languages and think about problems differently. Our hope is that such projects will reveal productive, symbiotic relationships that can emerge through the Media Solution Center. At that point we can also provide support and coordination, and determine what can be done.

How do specialists from such different disciplines experience this kind of cooperation?

In the first rounds of our meetings with various partners, we heard the same comment several times: "WOW, I would never have thought to contact a high-performance computing center." But when they approach us, they find that a door has opened to completely new possibilities: brainstorming at the highest level, and the opportunity to turn their ideas into reality with us. Through this process new kinds of approaches and pathways emerge.

When we have the courage to break out of our daily working environments and step into a situation where we have more freedom, where everything isn't bogged down in its normal professional context and where we don't quite know what might happen, we enter a free space where new things can come into being. This is what we create at the Media Solution Center and at other locations. We begin to experiment, and sometimes we even run into a brick wall. But out of this experience grows a different kind of self confidence, a new perspective on what is unique about each of us, and in the end this leads to progress. Mistakes are essential for progress and so we should give ourselves the free space to make mistakes.

If you take a person out of his or her normal context — for example in a collaboration between physicians and a performance group like La Fura dels Baus, Barcelona — it is extremely exciting to watch what happens. The technology and the scientists end up working hand in hand on the development of the performance.

This is also what happens when experts in augmented reality, virtual reality, and simulation apply their technologies and methods outside of their normal work context. It leads to new ideas and completely new perspectives. And this is what the Media Solution Center is there for — to support this networking and to make this vision possible for everyone.

Interview by Christopher Williams