21st Media Art Biennale WRO 2025 Qualia

opening events: 14-18 May 2025

21st Media Art Biennale WRO 2025 Qualia

opening events: 14-18 May 2025


when: opening events 14-18 May 2025, exhibitions until 15 June 2025
where: Wroclaw, Poland, more than a dozen locations
what: 21 premieres of artworks by Polish and international artists
theme: Qualia

The central theme of the WRO Biennale 2025 is Qualia.

A series of events presenting Polish and international contemporary art oriented at media experiments, interaction, examination of impulses coming from the works, and relations of art and consciousness, which we are going to try to capture through the lens of a relatively young philosophical concept, which has its roots in epistemology.

During the 21st WRO Biennale, 21 premiere artistic realizations will be presented. All are connected to media art, expanding beyond genre boundaries, providing an opportunity for thorough or casual insight into the impulses we experience through art.

Exhibitions, presentations, sound, visual, and performative events, workshops, and meetings, with their communal and inclusive character developed and accentuated during previous editions of the Biennale, will become a platform for individual experiences.

For art, as a particular field of expression and perception, retains for them, like few phenomena in a world subject to collective experiences and negotiated from different positions, the status of a certain freedom.

It allows us to confront ourselves, our own feelings, personal perceptions, and reactions, before we adjust this initial, unique perception, proper only to ourselves, according to knowledge, experience, and conventions.

As a platform for experience aimed at the perception of contemporary art from the viewer’s perspective, the Biennale takes qualia as its leading theme and method of presentation in the upcoming edition.

Qualia (sing. quale) are the felt or phenomenal qualities associated with sensory experiences, such as hearing sounds, feeling pain, and perceiving colours. Qualia are properties of sensory experiences. [1]

The definition of the term qualia has changed over time. The concept of quale as a way of empirically experiencing the present was introduced in the 1920s by Charles Sanders Peirce as part of his system of categories. [2]

Contemporary neuroscience, cognitive science, and the philosophy of mind, while analysing the issues of psychophysics (the mind-body problem) and consciousness from an epistemological perspective, are attempting to conceptualize sensory experience as an encounter with a set of data that we interpret subjectively.

A set of individual data, perceived according to sensory modalities (auditory, tactile, visual, gustatory, etc.), before it becomes the subject of conceptual interpretation, is, following semiotician C. S. Peirce, in this branch of analysis of experience and consciousness processes, presented as identical to the problem of qualia.

The author who developed the use of quale as a concept encompassing the pre-interpretive data of the external world and permanently introduced it into the philosophy of mind was the pragmatist, Clarence Irving Lewis. In his work Mind and the World Order (1929) he defined it as follows:

There are recognizable qualitative characters of the given, which may be repeated in different experiences, and are thus a sort of universals; I call these “qualia” […] The quale is directly intuited, given, and is not the subject of any possible error because it is purely subjective. [3]

Peirce points to the special role of the work of art as a prefiguration of the combined data, a composition of what we receive through the senses at a given moment, forming an immediate quality that can be the object of perception.

We are interested in how an original understanding of qualia, in the sense of Peirce, makes it possible to isolate and grasp the fresh, initial, vivid, new experience of the present moment and to see the irreducible, singular consciousness. Before reflecting on it, subdividing it, defining it with terms for description and recognition.

In Peirce’s texts published in 1933-1935, we can find the following passage: The quale-consciousness is not confined to simple sensations. There is a peculiar quale to purple, though it be only a mixture of red and blue. There is a distinctive quale to every combination of sensations so far as it is really synthetized – a distinctive quale to every work of art – a distinctive quale to this moment as it is to me – a distinctive quale to every day and every week – a peculiar quale to my whole personal consciousness. I appeal to your introspection to bear me out in this. [4]

Despite the later philosophical interpretations of the concept, ranging from those admitting its fundamental cognitive value to questioning its scientific usefulness or existence as a phenomenon altogether, one point stands out in its history, and especially in its original, early conception. Qualia are an irreducible structure of a different experience each time, seeming to grasp a flickering, subjective, non-descriptive, sometimes distinct from the expected – reaction towards an artistic work. The issues of correctness, of ‘proper’ interpretation, and finally: of adequate preparation, without which we ‘do not understand’ the work, do not apply here. We understand internally, in our own way, which abolishes normativity as a limiting category of perception and legitimizes personal impulses, associations, and feelings, shared to various extents.

The works selected for presentation at the Biennale do not illustrate particular qualities present in the works. Indeed – for each viewer they can be differently received, and the impressions they shape – different, even about the creative intentions.

It is precisely this diversity of reactions, the irreducibility of subjectivities, and the freedom to listen to one’s perception and reactions that the art world prompts, makes possible, and gives as an impulse and data for personal experience.

Viola Krajewska, Programme Director of the Biennale

[1] Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 1996.
[2] Adam Kłoś, Qualia z punktu widzenia Peirce’owskich kategorii, „Studia Kulturoznawcze”, 7 (1), 2015.
[3] Clarence Irving Lewis, Mind and the World-order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge, 1956.
[4] The Collected Papers of Charles S. Pierce, Ch. Hartshorne, P. Weiss, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1931-1935.
To study the issue, it is worth looking at the publication by Michael Tyne, plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia/, 2021.