- - - - -

I would like to introduce the theme of this year’s festival. This year’s Ars Electronica reached its 20th anniversary, and it was the last milestone in the 20th century. Therefore, the festival looked over the past 20 years and also made a challenge to new ideas for the future.

"Symposium Ars Electronica 79-99" looked back over the past 20 years on the first day and final day for the entire day. In the symposium, the staff who have made essential contributions to the development of Ars Electronica talked about past moments that marked the development of media art.

On the other hand, there was a challenge to new ideas in this memorial symposium. The place of the symposium on the final day was named ‘Chill-out Room’. A salon with a huge projector and video/PC terminals was set up in three corners of the room. It allowed the speakers to have a linear talk with each other while developing a flexible discussion. It was also intellectually exciting for audiences and allowed them to join the discussion in a relaxed atmosphere. Stocker mentioned that a tele-conference using satellite circuit and network could be a prototype to change the style of symposium for next year. In fact, it was exciting and enjoyable for its flexibility in spite of the non-stop symposium lasting four hours.

The main theme symposium "LifeScience Symposium" was also challenging. In the past Ars Electronica had focused on art of electronic/media technologies and changing society and humans. But this year’s ‘LifeScience’ focused on understanding the important events for the future of culture and humanity, and building cultures. Its attitude clarified the position of Ars Electronica as a pioneer of culture and a navigator to the future.

There were also various new devices in the selection of ‘Prix Ars Electronica’, the most authoritative media art award in the world. This is especially true in the selection of Golden Nica (grand prize) for Aphex Twin in the Digital Musics category and for Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux, in the .net category. (There are another categories such as Computer Animation/Visual Effects and Interactive Art, but I would like to focus on these two categories for their new devices.)

The name of the Computer Music category has been changed to Digital Musics in 1999. It was extended to all music and media using digital equipment from the fields of electronic music using computers. The first Golden Nica after this renewal was went to Richard James (aka. Aphex Twin) and Chris Cunningham. This was the first time that a music video won a Golden Nica. The prize-winning video for the single ‘Come to Daddy‘ produced by Chris Cunningham is an indescribable work – children in the video have Richard James’s face. In their latest video ‘Windowlicker’, a group of full-bosomed ladies in bikinis appear and they all have James’s face. There is no end to their video works as well and the techno noise of Aphex Twin. A Japanese drum musician, Ikue Mori, living in NY, won the Award of Distinction. Her specialization in drum machines and unique performances were highly recognized. The second Award of Distinction went to the Austrian record label "mego". There was a severe criticism of this sudden category change because the jury might have selected the awards neglecting to listen to more than 500 submissions.

In the meantime, this year’s most noteworthy prize-winner of ‘Prix Ars Electronica’ was Linus Torvalds. The founder of Linux won the Golden Nica in the .net category. It’s a controversial selection whether Linux is art or not, but the ‘open-source’ movement that was begun and developed from Linux is art, and Linux is one of the first products to come out of the Internet. From Ars Electronica’s goal of trying to discover a new technology and possibilities for the future, Linux was considered quite worthy of the Golden Nica. The Award of Distinction went to ‘Res Rocket‘, software that enables musicians to play together, anywhere in the world and in real time connected through the Internet.

On the special awards presentation TV program, Willi Henshall from Res Rocket himself was playing guitar at the studio. On the other hand, various sounds were collected from all over the world and they were mixed and tuned at another studio. The progress appeared on desktops in real time and realized the music collaboration across different continents. This Res Rocket is also freeware.

The second Award of Distinction went to ‘KEO‘, a project that collects messages and letters from all over the world. Those messages are burned on CD-ROMs and sent into orbit in a satellite that will return to earth in 50,000 years.

A lecture by Stocker was held at NTT-ICC during his stay in Japan. One of the audience members asked him a question, ‘What do you think about Disneyland?’ Stocker answered the question, ‘Everyone already knows what happens in Disneyland and there’s nothing really interesting there.’ A week of Ars Electronica was full of imagination of the uncertain future.

Why don’t you experience this theme park that enables you to take part in the future?

Here is some information for those who want to visit this one week theme park. The information about the Ars Electronica festival is available on the organization’s web site. It’s possible to reserve rooms at some special hotels (the charges can be discounted for festival visitors) and make inquireis about the festival through the website. They are kind enough to quickly answer any questions.

You only have to reserve a room through the web site, get a plane ticket to Linz and fly. A reasonable plane ticket to Linz is available at Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), Austria Airline (via Wien) and Swiss Air (via Zuerich). You can find information at the information bureau in the airport specially prepared for the festival during its run.

I recommend Hotel Wolfinger. It’s a classic hotel which faces toward the central square with a distinctive quality reminiscent of the turn of the century. The room charge including breakfast is about 75 US dollars. It’s reasonable. But it will be one of the hotels for VIPs during the period, so make your reservations early.

To submit your works to Prix Ars Electronica, you first have to inquire at the web site of Ars Electronica Center. Then an entry sheet will be sent out to you early next year. Prix regards the works themselves as important, not the backgrounds of creators, and has become a good means for lots of young artists such as Kazuhiko Hachiya to make their debut on the world stage. It’s worth a try.

Ars Electronica

Text and Photo: Tomohiro Okada From Coolstates Communications.
Translation: Mayumi Kaneko

[Help wanted] Inviting volunteer staff / pro bono for contribution and translation. Please e-mail to us.