The future reviewed

The Ars Electronica has been committed to the Future for 25 years. According to its own statement it became not only the largest and most prominent but paradoxically also the oldest festival for the world between art and technology. It attracted a large number of regular visitors and participants who now thought the time had come to do a review.

Synopsis of the Past

Quite a number of exhibitions was dedicated to formerly excellent items, such as “Liquid Views” by Monika Fleischmann. Those “former times” seemed to dominate the conversations and thus contributed to an atmosphere of a retrospektive, as if many of the long-time veterans remembered the beginnigs of the computer revolution with bulbs and punch cards half amused, half stunning. Proving that the electronics then were seriously dependent on mechanics John Paradiso wired his “Modular Synthesizer” Monster everyday for new melodies. Itsuo Sakane could already talk about media art as a historian and his personal knowledge enabled him to tell even intimate details about its very beginnings. Especially for artists and art school students his speech should have been of special interest.


Ars Electronica | The Sensory Circus by Johannes Landstorfer 2004

Ars Electronica | The Sensory Circus
by Johannes Landstorfer 2004

Of course there is no review without statistical Analysis which is only available with a sufficent time past. At Ars Electronica conventional diagrams can’t be used: In cooperation with the Ars Electronica Center’s Future Lab Gerhard Dirmoser developped a detailed “Memory Theater” which related all topics and objects of the last 25 years and provided central figures and various trends via different arrangements. To cope with its complexity extra-large posters were printed but facing this enormous number of layers all attempts of information design failed.

According to the diagrams Gerfried Stocker is closely tied to the Ars. This name is not completely transparently linked with many others which might be the point for a small dissident group out of the festival to claim the Ars Electronica a Festival for art, technology and insider relationships…

Current Exhibits

It became clear in any case that at an Ars Electronica you can dive into a vast world of a huge number of projects. Highlights from former times are still fascinating but the festival knows above all but one direction: forward, towards the future. One of the audiences’ darlings ought to be the “Augmented Fish Reality” by Ken Rinaldo where the visitors got the unusual role of passive spectators. Main actors were to siamesic fighting fish which had not only the possibility to move around in their tank but also this way move the whole tank in the room – especially for toy fish probably an unknown freedom.

A very strong hint towards the interaction of the art scene with other areas could be found in the 3D-world of Ah_Q, which was created by Feng Mengbo using the game-proven Quake-III-engine.

The award-winning animations delivered very interesting and illustrative items but exeptionary ones as well: A highly dramatic story of a girl who had to tumble by her own clumsiness off a bridge to save a some minutes earlier picked up foundling not missing to celebrate harmony and happiness in front of a deluxe-airbrush-sunset (and a quite suddenly appearing sea-site) in advance. It was just like that. Noone I had the chance to talk about the movie could explain it to me. The exception was even more visible because “Ryan”, the winner, had both a fascinating story and its very own, deconstructed images.

IAMAS school from Japan showed animations as well along with a wide range of their creations. The works very excellent thus justifing the distinction granted with the invitation but above all were remarkably humorous and offered a lot of fun.

Ars Electronica | the IAMAS school of Japan

Ars Electronica | the IAMAS school of Japan

Digital Communities

In comparison to the last year the festival concentrated less on one specific area but presented a wide range past and current contributions. The result resembled more an album then a dossier. Some more peaks or depth would have made a better explanation for the promising motto. The Ars was not very futuristic and it was always easy to find one’s way back to the real world after having left the exhibitions. And if it was to reensure oneself of one’s sensual existance by the tasty experience of a Marillenknödel.

The only and not central focus was created by the “Communities”. The conferences around a “Language of Networks” were started on Wednesday already, a novelty to the schedule granting professionals the whole weekend for the actual exhibitions. The importance of the weekend-period was illustrated by the immedeatly emptied but formerly crowded conference rooms and the only scarcely occupied Donau riversides on Monday.

Ars Electronica | The Monday After

Ars Electronica | The Monday After

Nevertheless there was an intersting program: Since 2004 there is a new prize-category especially for communities. Severeal forums and discussion panels were now dedicated to this group. Intresting not at last because personalities from Joitchi Ito to Jimmy Wales to Laurence Lessig presented their views. A perfect match could be found in the electrolobby were the brandnew creativecommons section Austria was brought to life – celebrated with bottled “OpenSource Water”.

Having been a general review of past and current computer arts the Ars was worth it in any case because you could see how vibrant and active the world of networks is at those places were these networks are built.

[note: I wrote this review originally for the online magazine of Mediamatic]

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