Johannes Landstorfer

The Future Reviewed

Ars Electronica Review

The Ars Electronica has been committed to the future for 25 years. According to themselves, in that time it has grown to be the largest and most prominent but paradoxically also the oldest festival for the world between art and technology. In the years Ars Electronica has attracted a large number of participants and regular visitors who have collectively decided the time has come for retrospect.


Ars Electronica | The Sensory Circus - by Johannes Landstorfer 2004

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 the atmosphere of a retrospective, as many of the long-time veterans in their half-amused and half-stunned way were reminiscing the start of the computer revolution, paired with bulbs and punch cards. Proving that the electronics then were seriously dependent on mechanics, John Paradiso rewired 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.

Of course there is no retrospect without statistical analysis, and that is only available with a sufficent time past. At Ars Electronica conventional diagrams can not be used: In cooperation with the Ars Electronica Center's Future Lab, Gerhard Dirmoser developed a detailed "Memory Theater" which related all topics and objects of the last 25 years, and also 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. That this name is linked to many others in a semi ambiguous way might be the point with which a small dissident group from the festival grounds claims that Ars Electronica is a festival for art, technology and insider relationships...

Current Exhibits

It became clear though, that in any case 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' favorites ought to be the "Augmented Fish Reality" by Ken Rinaldo where the visitors got the unusual role of passive spectators. The main actors were siamese fighting fish who not only had the possibility to move around in their tank but also to move the whole tank around in the room. - An especially unknown freedom in the common world of decorative fish.

A very strong shift 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 Quake-III-engine, an established tool in the game world.

The award-winning animations delivered very interesting and illustrative items and strangely exceptional ones as well: A highly dramatic story of a girl who celebrates harmony and happiness in front of an airbrush-deluxe sunset (and a suddenly appearing seascape) just before clumsily falling off a bridge for a recently found orphan. It was just like that. No one I had the chance to talk to about the movie could explain it to me. This exception was even more pronounced because "Ryan", the winner, had both a fascinating story and its very own deconstructed images.

Besides animation, the IAMAS school of Japan displayed a broad array of their other endeavours. The works were well worthy of the special invitation they received for Ars, and their comic style and funny undertones truly embodied fun.

Digital Communities

In comparison to the last year, the festival concentrated less on one specific area, but presented a wide range of past and current contributions. The result therefore resembled more of an album then a dossier. However, some more peaks or depth would have made a better explanation of the promising motto. This 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 one needed to reensure oneself of one's sensual existance, one had the tasty experience of a Marillenknödel.

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

Nevertheless there was an interesting program: Since 2004 there is a new prize category especially for Communities. Several forums and discussion panels were now dedicated to this group. Interesting also, 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 brand new creative commons 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 worthwhile in all cases, because you could see how vibrant and active the world of networks is at those places were these networks are built.