Reimagining Archives: The ONB Labs Art Program

The ONB Labs Art Program was ONB’s third and most extensive artistic experiment for the ODL project. We invited four art students to engage creatively with our digital collections. Take a look at the results!

Our third artistic experiment greatly benefited from the lessons learned in the first two programs and from feedback and exchange with project partners. While the first two programs had an international focus and targeted artists at different experience levels, the third program addressed students from Austrian art universities (University of Applied Arts Vienna, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and the University of Art and Design Linz) as its target audience. For the artistic supervision of the program and the jury, we were able to enlist Irene Posch and Manuela Naveau, both professors at the University of Art and Design Linz.

Posters promoting the open call for the ONB Labs Art Program

Exploring Digital Collections

In consultation with Irene and Manuela, we opened four digital collections of historical holdings for artistic exploration, connecting them to relevant contemporary topics. These collections include:

  • Wiener Zeitung Newspaper: Approximately 34,000 editions spanning 1703 to 1882, which had previously proven fruitful during the web residency.
  • Digitized Postcards: Around 75,000 postcards from the late 19th century to the 1940s. They were selected for their geographical approach facilitated by the AKON project’s user-friendly interface.
  • Botanical Illustrations: A visually appealing collection of approximately 1,800 digitized watercolors by court botanists Franz I., Mathias Schmutzer, and Johann Jebmayer, sourced from the ÖNB’s image archive.
  • Travel Reports: English, French, and German reports from 1501 to 1850, compiled into a bibliographic corpus in research projects such as “Travelogues — Perceptions of the Other” and “Ottoman Nature in Travelogues” (ONiT). Many reports include illustrations and maps.

These collections are available as images, with digitized postcards and botanical illustrations accessible in their visual form. The newspaper editions and travel reports were offered as both images and searchable full texts.

From Kick-off to Mid-Term Checkpoint

At the beginning of the ONB Labs Art Program, we organized a kick-off workshop where the students were provided with information about the history and structure of the collections and introduced to the materials. Experts from the collections and a representative from the Wiener Zeitung familiarized the students with the history of the selected holdings and presented original items. Even though the students in the Art Program exclusively work with digital holdings, knowledge about the materiality of physical holdings can sometimes be indispensable for artistic work.

In January 2023, we organized a mid-term workshop at the University of Arts Linz to gather feedback and assess the progress of the works. This workshop served as an essential checkpoint in the creative journey, providing an opportunity for participants to share their insights and receive guidance.

The Final Phase

After the deadline for completing the artworks at the end of February 2023, we entered the crucial phase of integrating them into the ONB Labs Artspace, working closely with the artists to ensure that their works fit the Artspace environment while maintaining their original essence. Through ongoing collaboration and consideration of technical and aesthetic aspects, we decided on the visual presentation and facilitated interactivity, resulting in an immersive amalgamation of artistic expression within the digital realm.

Celebrating the ONB Labs Art Program Finissage

The final results were launched in the Artspace on the 8th of May 23 and presented at the ONBs Art Program Finissage, an event we held at the Museum of Literature in Vienna. We look forward to sharing more about the event in an upcoming blog post. 

To see, explore and experience the works go to