ars electronica 2006 . subjectivity

ars simplictyachtung alarmi love you? !?!out of order

“the most useful thing about art is its uselessness.” tom robbins

for some reson i am drawing a complete blank as i try to write this report. usually i have strong opinions after visiting the ars electronica festival. coming home from linz i usually feel passionate, sometimes exited, sometimes dissapointed. i either loved it or i hated it. this year, nothing. gah. [insert yawn]. somehow this year’s festival has left me almost indifferent. i enjoyed my visit, but somehow i was not moved by it.

of course i am not blaming tom robbins for this – i pretty much disagree with his statement anyway, or actually i understand it as a both/and situation, art may be useless or useful, use does not define art – but maybe it was a mistake to read wild ducks flying backwards, the “short writings of tom robbins”, a collection of his essays and articles (also a rather dissappointing book, i might add). the reason why i read it, was to try and set a light counterpoint to all the deep and often heady stuff, that ars electronica tends to hurl towards visitors. when i found above quote, in “what is art and if we know what art is, what is politics?”, the discrepancy became even more pronounced. ars electronica as a festival seems to completely disagree with such a statement. with a tagline that reads “festival for art, technology and society” the ars electronica seems to say the complete opposite; art is useful and has to be, art conveys message, art instigates processes of change. and this is especially true for media art, the chosen field here. yet maybe even ars electronica is in the process of toning things down. while others already seem to proclaim the end of media art, maybe we can interpret the choice of this year’s theme, simplicity, as an attempt to at least start to deflate the message.

moonride 1moonride 2moonride 3takashi's seasons

my personal experience of the festival was accentuated by the fact that the harddrive on my laptop croaked 5 hours after arriving in linz. after a short freak out, the situation quickly started to amuse me. simplicity would now be an actual and inevitable reality; at least on some level. at the very least i would not contribute too much additional clutter to all the information, that i was about to receive anyway. i even decided to take things one step further, to accept this as challenge, a hint from the universe, so to speak, and i started an experiment. my psp and a few other gadgets went into my suitcase, along with the broken laptop, even the television at the hotel television was to be forbidden territory. i would only be allowed to stare out the window, use my camera and my mobile phone and to check my emails once a day. how would it be to try and enjoy a technology festival stripped of as much extra technology as possible? could i keep it simple? i was especially curious, how this would feel surrounded by one of the most gadget-crazed crowds possible?

very relaxing, is the short answer. no chasing down wifi’s, no obsessive googling all names dropped, no constant checking emails, no blogging shitty notes; it meant no pressure to produce and contribute, just time to relax. but of course i had my moments of doubt regarding this decision. first when gerfried stocker insisted during his introduction to the festival, that this year’s theme was not intended in a “back to the roots” fashion (and how could he mean it in that way, with a daughter, who’s middle name is pixel). the goal was not to get rid of all the gadgets – pda’s, mobile phones, laptops, etc. – but to keep things simple in the midst of all the digital input, that they constantly provide. later the situation hit home, when i sat between regine and hannes during the simplicity symposium, who both used their laptops as i normally would. from the corner of my eyes i watched hannes switch between irc chat, icq and email clients, browser, linux terminal, while recording the talk using audacity and editing/uploading his flickr photos. i just smiled and enjoyed the show. omg, how enjoyable to just scribble while listening to a talk.

but enough about me. here’s my festival bits and pieces:

simplicity symposium

john maeda, according to esquire magazine one of the 21 most important people for the 21st century, guest curated the simplicity symposium. very funny, witty, he seemed mostly concerned about food. he kept asking, if people had eaten breakfast before and insisted that they eat lunch after the talks. cute. yet all in all the symposium was a bit dissappointing this year. first of all it was very short, just one day long. plus, i still have my doubts, in regards to this idea of having guest curators, an idea that was introduced a few years ago. it seems to me, that they mostly just invite their posse of friends to reproduce their views, not to say bias. with john maeda guest-curating this year, the symposium was strongly geared towards design. even the featured blogger, jason kottke, was a former webdesigner. paola antonelli, italian curator of the architecture and design department MOMA, was responsible for the most controversial statement. she said, that she considered design to be the highest form of human expression. boah. she also said, designers must be humble, because they always have to meet the needs of clients, while architects must be arrogant egomaniacs, because they often have to impose their monuments. jason kottke was pretty boring, i thought. i mean, who wants to listen to a blogger, however famous he may be, moaning on how many feeds he has to work through every day? true, we all sift through tons of information. that’s the fun part. most of us even do this without getting paid for it. walter bender talked about the one laptop per child project. the highlight of the symposium however was sam hecht’s talk, blogged by regine here.

simplicitz symposium jason kottkebrucknerhaus 1brucknerhaus 2going to the country - st. florian 1

CyberArts @ O.K. center

this year i found, that there was excellent quality interactive art on display. compared to other years, it seemed like there was more attention given to presenting the art in a truely accessible manner. the messenger by paul demarinis is of course a very impressive piece, with 3 sets of alphabets receiving emails. yet yokomono by staalplaat soundsystem impressed me the most, a dark room with more than 120 old boom boxes hanging from the walls, emitting the looped sounds picked up by vinyl-killers, small battery driven vw buses with cartridges. graffiti research lab in their room managed to convey a very clear impression of their inspiring work. sonic bed_london, a bed with embedded loudspeakers allowing visitors laying down to influence the sound, was not my favorite piece, but the setting really worked. presentabily is back, a good idea is no longer enough; this assures, that while visitors may or may not get the idea, at least the presentation itself manages to convey an impression.

yokomono by staalplaat soundsystemgraffitii research lan 2graffiti research lab 1yokomono by staalplaat soundsystem


the electrolobby, held downstairs at brucknerhaus, went back to its roots. which is great. the workshops on topics from python for mobile phones, hardware hacking and many more mangaged to create a bustling athmosphere. so this was a retrun to the lab setting of the original electrolobby. people actually producing something durng their stay. i think this works best for the wardrobe area of the brucknerhaus. no really.

going to the country – st. florian

going to the country should have actually been called going to the monastery. on saturday most of the festival’s activities were held in the baroque monastery st. florian, about 20 minutes from linz. in anticipation i thought, that this could be a nice social experiment. imagine what would happen, if you actually transpose a whole festival to an even remoter setting? unfortunately the programme was almost too busy and somehow the social potential of the situation did not really come to fruition. it was not very simple to actually find things and decide which lecture or panel to attend. less would have maybe been more in this case, imho, especially for such an exquisite setting, that would really lend itself to networking and just hanging out. impressive i found the bells concert by michael nyman and the organ music in the huge baroque church. john maeda premiered his new book “the laws of simplicty”.

going to the country - st. florian 2going to the country - st. florian 3going to the country - st. florian 4going to the country - st. florian 5

featured artist: toshio iwai

one of the highlights of going to the country was a talk by toshio iwai. i was fortunate enough to get there early enough to make it inside the relatively small room. many others were not that lucky. i did not find a seat however, so had to stand squeezed in the back of the stuffy and hot room. the good news first, toshio iwai is still one of my favorite media artist. but i have to admit, that standing through his two and half hour long preformance/presentation, a talk almost too meticulous in detail, my admiration was truely put to the test. he introduced his life’s work starting as a kid creating flip books, his student years with first experiments on moving images, going all the way to tenori-on and the nintendo game electroplankton he released last year. funny moment, when toshio iwai, who i always thought of as mr. humility, during one of his presentations exclaimed, “i am the king of media art”. downstairs john maeda crunched his teeth. the end of his talk was a bit too much of a tear jerker though. iwai showed photos of himself playing with his daughter, with a sort of “kids are the future” message.


pixelspaces was an absolute highlight of the festival this year. the mini-conference investigated how media art gets conveyed in public space. one particularly interesting approach was shiftspace by mushon zer-aviv and dan phiffer, who wrote a greasemonkey application, that will add a metalayer to websites, allowing users to leave comments and additional information, in that way effectively creating a truely public space on the web. andrew shoben presented some of the interactive art installations that his company greyworld is famous for, brilliant media art that the “person on her way to get a can of beans will understand”. mostly though, he just rocked and gave a really funny and outrageous presentation. comme quoi, media art does not need to be heady.

SENSEable @ pixelspaces 2006recording pixelspaces 2006toshio iwai @ pixelspaces 2006 2toshio iwai @ pixelspaces 2006 1

placing and re-placing media art

the last conferences at the brucknerhaus, placing and re-placing media art, turned out to be another highlight of this year’s festival. andreas broeckmann and his collegues looked at various aspects of the future of media art. is there a need for special festivals and institutions for media art? two of the speakers, for instance, pointed out how media art was still by and large pretty much ignored in art history. regarding this last point the ensuing discussion got quite heated as some speakers pointed out that this was conspiracy theory. finally here it was, the discursive spirit at ars electronica, that i appreciate so much. it showed, that people seem really quite concerned on what the future of media art might bring. one of the best thoughts imho was the one presented by dieter daniels, who pointed out that newer generations might soon stop to even make such distinctions. they have always known the technologies involved, so naturally art expressed with computers, digitally, whatever, might soon just be considered art; no need for a special field. re:place was announced, an international conference on the histories of media, art, science and technology, to be held in berlin 15. – 18. november 2007, organised by broeckmann and gunulan nadarajan. further information:

so what about this simplicity?

yes, of course it is important to eat lunch. yes, of course it is important to find a sense of simplicity in the midst of all the technology cluttering our lives and creating an information overload. yes, of course it is great to take time outs from all that. so i agree, simplicity is a goal. as far as how to do this in practice, i have not seen many pointers during the ars electronica festival. i think we will see more and more people interrupting their use of technology for a certain time as a cleansing ritual of sorts, a media fast. maybe media fasts should even become an imposed feature in our lives? soon? who knows? at any rate, for me it was great not to blog. in fact i enjoyed it so much, that i am seriously tempted to take a prolonged time-out from it now. some might say, finally.

we made it through the festival without anyone quoting luhmann, so here i go. luhmann’s observation that all communication is by nature a reduction of complexity, points out that we all already do this; we all keep sifting through information and discarding the unnessecary bits. it can even be said, that some people reduce the complexity more than others. perhaps now more than ever we need to reduce it in order to survive the onslaught of information that we receive. yet while it is important to keep things simple, it would be just as dangerous, to reduce the complexity too much. as always this is a matter of degree on a scale not of either/or.

one last note, on the new anti-pop stance, that i seeem to have noticed in the prix ars electronica selections; not one hollywood production received a mention in the computer animation/visual effects category, the winners in intecative art and digital music are even further left field and the winners in digital communities and net vision simply too politically correct. how come? i always thought, that ars electronica’s stance to effortlessly hand out prices to big budget next to artistic fringe productions was kind of refreshing. i would really be interested to know why this shift has happened? is this part of some sort of re-positioning and if yes, what could be the goal of that?

F by DeMarinisN by DeMarinisJ by DeMarinisZ by DeMarinis

About Jan Zuppinger

Jan Zuppinger has been writing this blog since 2002. He likes to grow vegetables. He likes to eat them too. He has opinions on everything, but sadly no one cares. Jan Zuppinger is not joking, just joking, he is joking, just joking, he's not joking. *click.