SandScape, an illuminated workbench for landscape design where the relationship between form and computational simulations is of particular relevance. Photography by Sabine Starmayr
Man as "exterminator" is the figure destined to prevail now, following the ages of man as predator and producer - Paul Virilio, in video conference from La Rochelle, sums up the spirit of our times before the audience at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. The intervention of the French philosopher and urban designer who took part in a debate with Derrick De Kerckhove, present at Linz, was one of the events of this year's festival which drew the most interest, centered around the notion of globalization and the role of art in this process.
"UNPLUGGED. Art as the scene of Global Conflicts" was the title of the symposium which accompanied the 2002 edition of the festival (from 7 to 12 September in Linz).
The image conjured up by Paul Virilio is one of man totally closed to the solicitations of the real world, incapable of perceiving the amount of damage to the environment he is provoking. Subjected to the "tyranny of real time", to the global synchronization of all opinions, man is unable to confront world tragedies. He is pursued by a kind of torpor. What art can reawaken him?
"Militancy" in Art. Ars Electronica 2002 indicates a decisive turnaround towards an accent on the political and social role of art. "After all, technology exists and functions - explains Christine Schopf from the Austrian television network ORF, curator of the event along with Gerfried Stocker - In art there aren't so many solicitations in technical terms. It seems to us that today it is more interesting to ask oneself what impact electronic art can have on the part largely predominant in the world which is not connected to internet". Two thirds of web sites are in English, four per cent are in Chinese whilst the percentage of web sites from African countries is close to zero. "The geopolitical scenario present is strongly characterized by the presence and diffusion of internet - maintains Gerfried Stocker, who is also head of AEC, Ars Electronica Center, the museum of technological art set up in 1996 based in Linz -. The alternative use of this global network is central in all processes of transformation. One cannot think that artists are not interested in it and shut themselves away in technological virtuosos.
Carnivore, the work of RSG, was inspired by FBI's program of the same name to control the contents of web communications. It aims to show that infinite sea of data normally hidden from internet users
"Militant" art. The exhibition "Change The Map", presented at the BrucknerHaus is a possible response to a call for commitment from artists. The visualization of network data becomes the instrument with which to imagine a reconfiguration of political, economic and ecological equilibrium. "They Rule" by Josh On is for example a "reticular" representation of a database which contains the names of the members of the boards of the first hundred American companies according to the classification on the magazine Fortune (the "Fortune 100"). The piece, which won first prize in the Ars Electronica awards in the category "Net Excellence", shows a giant spiders web of participation crossing over in different companies: the fatter the person, greater is the weight they carry in the various boards. The exploration of the database is intuitive and the graphic interface is attractive and easy to interpret. Here internet is a way to highlight the interconnections which characterize the American ruling classes and the resulting conflict of interests. The visualization of data and statistics regarding economic balance is at the center of another two pieces presented at the Festival: "Carnivore" and "Logicaland". In the first, the work of RSG (Radical Software Group) - an international collective of artists lead by Alex Galloway - the data from web sites, e-mails and data from internet traffic relative to a certain server connected to the internet are shown in a way that is graphically appealing. Inspired by FBI's program of the same name to control the contents of web communications, "Carnivore" aims to show the dark side of the internet, that infinite sea of data normally hidden from internet users. Logicaland is instead a game of online simulation which is based on a real global model of distribution of resources and is open to participation and modifications by surfers.
Logicaland is a game of online simulation which is based on a real global model of distribution of resources and is open to participation and modifications by surfers
Overall the work in the Net art section shared a certain "militant" expression, where internet and the tools of visualization are just the first step, a cognitive one, in a radical protest against the current management of world equilibrium. The aesthetic quality of these works decidedly takes second place. The "Change of Map" which is referred to in the title of the exhibition does not leave space to contemplative parentheses, but invites action, in the passage from virtual to real.
Contemplating the virtual. Altogether another approach characterized instead some of the most interesting interactive art works and video-installations present in other venues at the festival: the exhibition "Cyber Arts allestita" at the OK Centrum, the permanent exhibition at the Ars Electronica Center and the exhibition "Campus" which brought together work by students from the Kunsthochschule fur Medien in Cologne. In many cases the work left behind a foreboding sense of return to the purely contemplative dimension of art, with an approach which can be integrated with the dynamics of interaction, such as in the work of Jonathan Deusch (GesichtRaum) shown inside a CAVE, a system of virtual realities made up of a room with back projections on the walls which allow a number of people to share the same artificial world. The visitor is immersed in an imaginary cube where they can explore a space made up of abstract forms featuring a human face and confront themselves with the movement of colors and various elements. The visual impact of the piece is notable and the interaction is on a purely playful level, which integrates well with the intention of the author, to bring visitors to explore a world of pure emotions and sensations.
GesichtRaum by Jonathan Deusch. The interaction is on a purely playful level: the author brings visitors to explore a world of pure emotions and sensations
The use of the screen is refined - a threshold which separates but is also the instrument of connection - the most interesting element in "Name einfugen", an installation by Lithuanian student Neringa Naujokaite which consists of video images of a white and a black woman with a perfectly synchronized soundtrack, projected on different portions of the same screen set up as a kind of tent folded in parts. Observing the video from one perspective the white woman is seen to be speaking, from another point of view it is instead the black woman saying the same things.
The refined use of the screen is the most interesting element in Name einfugen, by Lithuanian student Neringa Naujokaite. Observing the video from one perspective the white woman is seen to be speaking, from another point of view it is instead the black woman saying the same things
Also highly evocative is the video-installation "Say hello to peace and tranquillity" by Dagmar Keller and Martin Wittwer, one of the best works on show. It consists of a journey made at a slow, vaguely hypnotic pace, within a miniature model of a town with neat houses and tree lined roads, accompanied by music interspersed with sounds which resemble a telephone ring or the sound of a modem. Peace and tranquillity, the two artists seem to be saying, are in the free exploration of a world "behind glass", without peril but lifeless, static and closed in on itself, voluntarily and desperately "offline".
Say hello to peace and tranquillity by Dagmar Keller e Martin Wittwer: a journey in a world "behind glass", without peril but lifeless, voluntarily and desperately
Rethinking Interaction. Ars Electronica this year also offers some interesting experimentation regarding interaction between man and computer. The exhibition "Hidden Worlds" for example, at the Ars Electronica Center, was dedicated to "Augmented Reality" (AR - see also "Cellphones and computers: are they becoming one and the same thing?") It presented alternative ways of relating between the real and virtual world. Alongside the visualization, inside a helmet, of sounds emitted by the various participants in "The Hidden world of noise and voice", by Golan Levin, worth mentioning is the work by Japanese artists Motoshi Chikamori and Kyoko Kunoh: "Tool's life". Various everyday objects are placed on a circular surface: touching them, their shadow changes and becomes a brief animation, a kind of dream. As such the hammer becomes the branch of a tree full of birds and an anonymous bottle of perfume becomes a lamp which radiates light over the whole surface.
Tool's life, the work by Japanese artists Motoshi Chikamori and Kyoko Kunoh: by touching everyday objects their shadow changes and becomes a brief animation, a kind of dream
Conceived along different lines is a reflection on the metaphors of interaction by Ranjit Makkuni, researcher at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and one of the designers who invented the very first graphic interface in the seventies. "The crossing project" is a unique mixture of futuristic technologies and secular traditions. The objects of classic Indian crafts become the tools for accessing realities beyond the screen. "In an increasingly abstract world in which the computer makes concepts visible - explains the author - I tried to identify objects loaded with symbolic value to invite contemplation on the nature of this passage from real to virtual", The experience of interaction is also enriched by new potential in the work of Crispin Jones ("An invisible Force") and of Volker Morawe and Tilman Reiff ("Pain Station") which have in common the "painful" effects of contact with the computer. The first piece aims to be an ironic reflection of the role of "oracles" and predictors of the future which computers increasingly acquire. Inserting a card in a slot with a question about your destiny, you can obtain the response in words made up of raised pieces in a piece of wood. To reach the end however it is necessary to keep the card pressed in the slot, which heats up until it is unbearably hot. Only through this suffering can you get the complete answer. "Painstation" instead provokes electric shocks, burning and lashes on the back of the hand of the loser of a game of Pong, the legendary video game which simulates a game of tennis with two lines and a ball on a black background.
An invisible force by Crispin Jones is an ironic reflection of the role of "oracles" and predictors of the future which computers increasingly acquire
Pain Station by Tilman Reiff provokes electric shocks, burning and lashes on the back of the hand of the loser of a game of Pong, the legendary video game which simulates a game of tennis with two lines and a ball on a black background
A sense of bewilderment hits the visitor of "n-cha(n)t" by Canadian artist David Rokeby, winner of the Prix Ars Electronica in the category "Interactive Art". In a dark room, a number of monitors are hung from the ceiling. On the screens are video sequences of ears, ready to listen. Nothing appears to happen. In reality the computers are talking to each other, based on a complex system of management of language with which the artist has been working now for ten years. If no-one interrupts, they reach a synchronization and understanding which results in them singing a song. This was exactly what the artist was aiming for ("I wanted to hear computers sing - explains Rokeby - a desire which he has had since childhood, every Sunday I listened to my father, a protestant minister, lead the choir in church").
n-cha(n)t, by Canadian artist David Rokeby, winner of the Prix Ars Electronica in the category "Interactive Art". In a dark room, the computers are talking to each other: if no-one interrupts, they reach a synchronization and understanding which results in them singing a song
If computers receive input from the outside, via microphones in which visitors can speak, re-elaborate the phrases heard and respond with words which appear on the screen. When the monitor shows the ear covered by a hand it means that the computer does not want to listen - it already has too many stimuli and cannot deal with them. It asks us to go away. The feeling is one of surprise and disappointment - the relationship with the computer acquires new connotations, as if we were to suddenly find ourselves talking to something almost human, the silicon incarnation of the prophecy of the anthropomorphic machine. Perhaps this isn't art which will tip the world balance, but it certainly holds up a mirror to ourselves which is more powerful than any other. And change can only come from here. As it always does.
Ars Electronica 2002
Address : 7 - 12 September 2002
Place : Linz, Austria