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Who's In This Podcast
Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Sergiu Ardelean serial entrepreneur from Austria, and the CEO and Co-founder Artivive, a startup venture that fuses haptic and digital art with the captivating power of augmented reality.

Ep26. Sergiu Ardelean: No A.I. Gimmicks

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Ep27. Krista Sande-Kerback: IBM & A.I.’s Promise

Ep26. No A.I. Gimmicks: How to Add Value with A.I. & Augmented Reality Art from Artivive Co-Founder & CEO Sergiu Ardelean

What will be the defining art form of the 21st Century? 

On the latest episode of Creativity Squared, a chronic disruptor in the world of digital art shares his hard-won perspective on what separates new technology hype from sustainable art forms that unlock new possibilities for expression.

Our guest, Sergiu Ardelean, is a serial entrepreneur from Austria with a passion for pushing boundaries. He’s the CEO and Co-founder of Artivive, which is a startup venture founded in 2017 that fuses haptic and digital art with the captivating power of augmented reality. 

Artivive has offices in Europe, the US, and China, working with an amazing community of over 250,000 creatives spanning 190 countries. Artivive is collaborating with some of the most renowned museums and galleries in Vienna, Munich, San Francisco, Seoul, and Shanghai. You’ll hear in the episode how the art scene is embracing augmented art to explore new dimensions of artistic expression.

Prior to Artivive, Sergiu founded a highly successful augmented reality agency right in the heart of Vienna that served big names like Volkswagen and Audi, making waves in 42 countries around the world. 

The episode explores the true value proposition of emerging technologies for storytelling and the artistic process, how digitally extended art is helping museums and independent artists create lasting experiences, and what comes next for augmented reality. 

Joachim Ringsmuth, Sergiu Ardelean, Codin Popescu (from left to right) – Founders Artivive © Artivive

Wanted: Digital Art Education

Sergiu’s fascination with creating art using technology started early. He began experimenting with digital art during high school in his native country of Romania during the 1990s. It wasn’t long before he decided that he wanted to pursue digital art in college and potentially as a career. 

I always saw myself as a creative, but also very much in love with technology.”

Sergiu Ardelean

However, he couldn’t find a university program in Romania that matched his interests. Sergiu’s search (pre-internet) eventually led him to the cultural attaché office at the Austrian Embassy in Bucharest. He learned about a program at a university in northern Austria, where he went on to study emerging technology and multidisciplinary art forms.  

I learned to put hardware together. We also had film classes, where we’re acting and filming and the same with audio. So I have a very holistic approach on everything that’s multimedia, but also with a creative touch. And I think that was the ground for what Artivive is today.”

Sergiu Ardelean

Sergiu says he thought that he would complete his degree in Austria and then return home to Romania to start his career. 

22 years later and still calling Austria home, it’s clear that life had other plans for him. 

Artivive/Albertina Museum “Film Stills” © Artivive

Early Career and a First Foray into Emerging Media Tech

Following college, Sergiu says he felt the pressure to get a job as soon as possible to help support his family back in Romania. 

He started his first job out of college at a marketing agency, but after two years found himself yearning to work on more creatively and technologically ambitious projects. 

They weren’t really the state of the art that I learned at the university, and they weren’t applying it in marketing. So I didn’t really have the path at the agency that I was looking for.”

Sergiu Ardelean

Around the same time, his friend had developed a technology with Sony that enabled custom personalized CDs by embedding a unique code on the disk. 

The two went into business together, starting their own agency specializing customized CDs direct marketing. They managed to land Volkswagen and Audi as early clients, and their agency started growing rapidly, opening an office in Shanghai and developing campaigns all across the world. 

However, cracks started forming around 2010, when Apple began phasing out CD drives from their products. Sergiu knew that the business needed to pivot in order to stay relevant. 

The pair considered switching their delivery method from CDs to USB drives, but determined that USBs would be prohibitively expensive.  

During a trip to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sergiu first encountered the technology that would propel their business through the next decade. An early pioneer of augmented reality (AR) technology, Metaio (acquired by Apple in 2015), was demonstrating the technology that they had developed years earlier as an offshoot of a project with Volkswagen. 

Sergiu partnered with Metaio and began producing AR marketing campaigns just as the technology was starting to gain mainstream traction. Volkswagen commissioned a campaign, and Sergiu’s marketing agency was reborn. 

You could position your car in the living room or in front of your house, change the different colors of the car and the rims, and see it live in front of you, or scan an ad and see the car in 3D. We loved it, as well as our client.”

Sergiu Ardelean

After a few years, though, Sergiu started to notice that engagement with their AR campaigns was not what they were expecting. He started conducting interviews to try to understand what was going on, eventually reaching the conclusion that the AR technology was perceived as “gimmicky” by the people they were trying to reach. 

Sergiu realized then that AR was not actually providing value in the way that they were deploying it. People were looking for information in a format that they were comfortable with, and few were willing to go the extra step that the technology required (scanning a code or downloading an app) just to be served an advertisement. The realization was a crucial moment for his business and his thinking about the relationships between art, technology, and society. 

Around 2016, 11 years into his marketing career, Sergiu determined that he would need to shift his entire business model again. This time, he needed to change more than just the marketing delivery method; he’d need to build an entirely new product for a completely different kind of customer. 


Sergiu co-founded Artivive with Codin Popescu in early 2017, based on the idea of democratizing artists’ access to AR technology to augment their own works. 

What would happen if we take this technology, strip it of everything which is technical, and make it like a no-code solution for artists? How would they use the technology? How would they start telling narratives?”

Sergiu Ardelean

Recognizing Sergiu’s conviction, Codin agreed to partner up despite not fully understanding the vision of what Artivive could become. Six years later, the platform now serves over 250,000 artists and a wide collection of commercial clients. 

Sergiu says that the goal of the platform is to help artists “see themselves and work in both spaces,” digital and traditional.   

With Artivive, everyday artists can design a digital extension of their artwork in a 2D or 3D environment. The viewer can then scan the actual image in physical space (QR code not needed) and Artivive’s Bridge system will automatically recognize the image and display the digital extension through the lens of the phone screen. The digital extension can be almost any form of digital media and can serve many purposes, such as by bringing an artwork to life through animation or helping viewers understand the backstory of a particular work. 

A few years ago, Artivive partnered with Vienna’s Belvedere Museum to augment their collection of paintings by early 20th-century artist Egon Schiele. 

As the story goes, Schiele was working on a commissioned painting of a seated woman in a dress. The buyer, however, rejected Schiele’s first submission, telling him that the quilted patchwork dress he painted onto the woman made her look poor and would clash with the other works in the collection. Schiele went back to the easel and painted a regal new dress over the female subject, who turned out to be his second wife, Edith. The story about social class, love, and World War 1-era Austrian society adds meaning to the painting that staff at the museum had trouble articulating to patrons. 

In partnership with Artivive, experts from the museum were able to recreate the original dress. Now, museum visitors can see the painting as Schiele originally intended by simply holding their phone up.  

Artivive provides similar experiences at museums, galleries, and festivals all over the world, such as the Shanghai Himalayas Museum, the Ying Art Center in Shanghai, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul, and the Leica Gallery in Singapore.

Just as importantly, Artivive also supports a global community of artists engaged in diverse art forms and disciplines. 

Sergiu says he felt touched recently by a phone conversation he had with an older landscape painter who uses Artivive to show his clients a video of the entire painting process from start to finish. The painter told Sergiu that the joy for them is in the creation process, and he appreciates the ability to share that joy with his clients through the Artivive digital extension of his work. 

You’re deciding on buying an artwork because of the story, because of the artist, because of what it’s representing. And it’s much easier to tell the story if you can connect it to a digital storytelling tool, because then you can relate much easier, and then it’s becoming emotional. And then it’s not just an artwork, but it’s a story. It’s an experience.”

Sergiu Ardelean

For Sergiu, moments and experiences like these are the real value that Artivive provides. While the technology of augmented reality is certainly cool and is poised to become even cooler as hardware improves, he says that the technology itself should take a backseat to the experience that it enables. 

Artivive/Albertina Museum “Film Stills” © Artivive

Looking Forward: A.I. and Advanced AR

Machine learning is not a particularly new technology for Sergiu and Artivive. A.I. is working under the hood of its Bridge content management system, which assigns a unique “fingerprint” to each image that triggers the correct digital extension when scanned by viewers. 

However, as of right now, the platform does not include any native generative A.I. capability. He recognizes the impact of products like Canva Magic, which enables even those with little or no design experience to produce layouts and digital art through a natural language prompt. However, he’s careful not to repeat the mistakes of his past and get caught up in the hype of a new technology. 

In most discussions with our creatives, we see that some are loving it. And others are a little bit afraid if anybody can just type something, where I’m working for weeks to create the same quality. In our case, we will really want to understand the value of the technology.”

Sergiu Ardelean

Sergiu’s idea of value is centered around the experience. For instance, he says that most people who need directions do not care much about global positioning satellites or integrated transportation monitoring networks. They just care about getting from point A to point B as conveniently as possible. Similarly, the technical specifics of the technology supporting or transmitting the art itself are not, and should not be the focus of emerging digital art. 

He cites a presentation he heard by the Austrian graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister who says that  A.I.-generated images are looking more and more similar, and it’s easier to tell when an image is generated by a machine.

People at the beginning are fascinated, but then start getting bored because there is somehow something missing.”

Sergiu Ardelean

He likens the phenomenon to the early days of Photoshop. As it became more ingrained with the creative process of so many disciplines, the excitement around it dwindled, and it became just another tool. 

Sergiu says that the value is not in the tool itself, but in what the tool can help its users express. 

“Our approach is like, how can we find tools to help the creatives create the digital content that they want, to tell the story that they want to, without necessarily emphasizing that it’s A.I. just to use A.I. because everybody’s talking about it. Maybe there’s another technology that makes sense.”

Sergiu Ardelean

He highlights two new features that Artivive recently added to their AR design studio: 3D spatial audio and a particle system. 3D spatial audio allows creators to place audio elements in digital space as if they were coming out of speakers in physical space, so when the user moves around, the volume increases or decreases and some elements are stronger than others. A particle system is useful for simulating fire, smoke, rain, and clouds out of countless little particles. Particle systems can help increase the ambiance of a digital scene and make the experience feel more immersive. 

Sergiu says that both features were developed and launched with the goal of adding value by improving the experience for creators and consumers. Sergiu says that an understanding of the value that prioritizes new capabilities for storytelling and expression is more sustainable than offering new features based purely on what’s trending in technology. 

Going forward, he believes that this understanding of value will determine the winners and losers of current and future tech trends. 

Artivive/Shanghai Himalayas Museum “Miracle: The Bellini Family and the Renaissance” (print) © Artivive

When we have these gadgets, art will adapt, coming back to the idea that you know, it’s a mirror of our society at the same time. It will talk about the good and the bad things in our life. And then the creatives will use these tools as well.”

Sergiu Ardelean

Sergiu says he’s encouraged by Apple’s emphasis on the experience that its Vision Pro Goggles will unlock, rather than the resolution or the other technicals. 

Yet the question still remains for him: what will become the defining art form of the 21st century? 

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Thank you, Sergiu, for being our guest on Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared, a social media agency who understands the magic of bringing people together around what they value and love: http://socialitysquared.com.

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates will go to ArtsWave, a nationally recognized non-profit that supports over 150 arts organizations, projects, and independent artists.

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