Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich


Bruno Beusch/Tina Cassani (TNC Network)

It never stops... everyone jams—and it pushes us all to become better ... (Bradley Grosh)

And so it has come to this: the bubble burst, dotcoms drying up, lost in a haze of burn rate, the very Internet itself returning to a quaint network of chums, and we can at last happily return to the old order … UH UH, WRONG SCRIPT! In fact, quite the opposite: As lumbering behemoths struggle with slippery notions of profitability, small, nimble units of advanced Net players have adapted the rules of competitive cooperation, using media literacy, techno savviness, and street smarts to leapfrog to the next plateau, Yamakasi-style.

In recognition of this proliferation of innovation and creativity in digital culture, the 2001 edition of the Prix Ars Electronica Internet category has been expanded, revamped, and thoroughly redesigned from the ground up. Where once there was one, now there are two discrete categories: Net Vision and Net Excellence. Vying for these honors are 22 projects, carefully culled from the cream of Net activities by a highly committed jury team. These projects reflect many of the current developments on the Net: Internet-capable console games, location-based i-mode services, straight investigation journalism, hyperactive coder and designer platforms, broadband entertainment—a full range of ideas and concerns that are implemented in a bewildering array of forms and formats. The projects chosen, and detailed below, should be seen as a tribute to the vitality of Net culture, to all of those creative minds devising brand new modes of entertainment, communication, business, livelihoods and lifestyles, continually remaking the Net, far beyond any short-term hype, into the place to be. RESPECT!

RESPECT (Part 2)

Bruno Beusch/Tina Cassani (TNC Network)

Yes Papa!

What happens when a bunch of energy-charged creatives, whose references oscillate between the Internet, coding, games, anime, hiphop and club culture, set up a studio in the north of France and take every liberty to produce exactly what they find is the most fun? The result is a ground-breaking online game that pushes the envelope of sophisticated flash programming into realms unimagined.

Unanimously, and very enthusiastically, the jury has nominated Banja for the Golden Nica in the Net Vision category. For two years, Team cHmAn has been working with unconditional dedication on this game, which is named after one of its protagonists, a cool Rasta with bound dreadlocks. Unlike most other games which regurgitate the Tomb Raider formula ad nauseum, Team cHmAn actually developed their own ideas. Players are invited to take part in the savoir-vivre of the inhabitants of an island paradise, Itland. Living by the motto “Become a Banja Star and get online glory!” players have to collect as many points as possible (so-called Yes Papas), to gain access to new content—which then enhances their reputation within the Banja community. Along the way, they gradually discover the many game modules, the Itland cinema, the elaborate communication tools that are completely integrated in the game universe, or special music events, like a beach party with the French DJ producer Laurent Garnier—all implemented with that peculiar cHmAn-ian charm and a love of detail.

It’s no coincidence that Team cHmAn have made a name for themselves in dealing with up-todate vector-based animation technologies, as in the perfect use of narration techniques, or by programming one of the very first pure Flash chat environments, in which the Gallic crew joined forces with their architect friends, the “Digital Koboyz.” Presented in an early phase as the discovery at the Electrolobby 2000 at the Ars Electronica Festival, Banja is now well on the way to becoming a killer application and, in the jury’s view, to opening up completely new perspectives in web-based entertainment.

Wanna play with me?

The second nomination in the category Net Vision is also a game: Phantasy Star Online. The first massive multi-player role-playing game for consoles (Sega Dreamcast) affirms a trend toward the convergence of the Internet and game entertainment (further confirmed in the announcement that Real and Flash players will be integrated in the PlayStation2 console). Phantasy Star Online also illustrates how the gaming world is picking up impulses from the Net: based on concepts of collaboration and community, the dimension of networked playing is, indeed, looming large. The global implementation of this idea has been slowed by technological bottlenecks, allowing it to be played only on a local level. A language barrier exists as well. But by integrating innovative communication modules, Yuji Naka’s Sonic Team has overcome these obstacles. Gamers can interact with other players around the world by using either a set of dialogue sequences coupled with a real-time translation, or by an editable, icon-based language system. And Phantasy Star Online is particularly striking because of its luminous, other-worldly graphical surface, utilizing themes from high tech, science fiction and fantasy worlds, where entertainment merges into art. You’ll definitely be hooked by the time you have to feed your “MAG”—a kind of virtual pet that assists you in tricky situations and whose well-being is closely linked with the development of your own character.

Game formats of the most diverse types are being used with much greater frequency—as well as being a major trend in this year’s competition—to transport contents, ideas and messages effectively.

Austropolis, a political simulation game, uses typical elements of the Net (agents and avatars) to build up a form of virtual democracy, whereas Fuckedcompany captures the essence of the web and the dot-com collapse using a game, in which you can bet on Internet companies (or their ruin). With rumors of collapse and horror scenarios from US Internet companies, Philip Kaplan has succeeded in establishing an insider information portal —Anonymity is king, rumor is truth—which is closely watched by savvy business people. Again and again, the independent New Yorker GameLab, centered around Eric Zimmerman (the mastermind behind the already legendary Sissy Fight), succeeds in gaining new audiences for games with novel approaches.

Netbabyworld, a net-based game platform that has attained cult status, is distinguished for the style-setting pioneering character of its work. Finally, Micromusic is a digital lifestyle platform for screen kids, joystick jockeys and audio nerds, where the world revolves around game sounds, and lives by the motto, “Low-Tech Music for High-Tech People.”

Redesigning the Internet Category

In late 2000, TNC Network accepted the challenge of a total redesign of the Internet category of the Prix Ars Electronica. The mission was to open up the competition category to the full spectrum of current developments on the net, with particular regard to those scenes and sectors previously unrepresented. With over 700 entries, a high number of them first-timers, even the most optimistic expectations were exceeded in the first year. Certainly the most apparent change is the splitting of the net category into two different categories. On the one hand, the Internet has become an established part of our everyday lives, while on the other hand it continues to flourish as a powerful motor for innovation.

The two Golden Nicas offer the opportunity to honor both of these aspects equally. Net Excellence distinguishes projects that are compelling because of the originality of their concept, their content, and their creative use of state-of-the-art applications. In contrast to this, the second Golden Nica, Net Vision, distinguishes projects that are striking in their anticipative and innovative way of seeing the potential of the online medium. One Golden Nica and two Awards of Distinction are awarded in each category for outstanding cultural impact on the Internet, as well as 16 Honorary Mentions for the combined categories.

Parallel to the redefinition of the category, a nominating committee of internationally recognized Internet professionals and authorities was convened for the first time. The nineteen members of the Nominating Committee made a preselection from the entries in the fields drawing on a wide spectrum of content and format (from gaming, music, animation, film, digital lifestyle, fashion, design and sport, to screen design, net art, cultural heritage, distributed knowledge, literature, urbanism and museums, all the way to e-government, NGOs, digital divide, communities, news services, streaming media, e-commerce, research, P2P and wireless Internet). Beyond the submitted projects, each Committee member additionally nominated three sites that set new benchmarks in their respective special fields. This year our panel, experts versed in the scene (such as Gnutella developer Gene Kan; head of the international conference “Museums and the Web”, Jennifer Trant; the flash master Peter van den Wyngaert; director of the UNESCO department for the information society, Philippe Quéau; game designer Simon Carless; digital divide specialist Shahidul Alam - to name only a few), guaranteed that projects with a high standard of quality were preselected. The Nominating Committee’s shortlist of 114 projects was subsequently presented to the jury for final evaluation.

Are U Free Now?

Another tendency in the net category this year is illustrated by projects, in which the community—as one of the historical elements of the Internet—is recontextualized in the local/global framework The third nomination in the category Net Vision is a project, in which the old principle of the newsgroup is taken to a deeper level through the platform of mobile technology. ImaHima—which roughly means “are you free now?“—is a location-based community service, which enables sending email messages via an Internet cell phone to a group of recipients simultaneously. ImaHima—a kind of party-line that makes it easy to locate and contact all your friends who are near-by at the moment—is directly tailored to the local needs and circumstances in Japan, where social networking is of prime value. The service was developed by Neeraj Jhanji from India for the popular Japanese i-mode standard (mobile Internet), and enables adapting private channels to one’s own preferences. It has achieved huge popularity among the young urban population of Japan through guerilla marketing and word of mouth. The jury expressly distinguished ImaHima as a pioneering project in the context of the current development of the Internet, away from the desktop to pervasive networking.

Also working in the local/global context, but in a radically different field, is Bytes for All from Bangladesh. The site—a regional information node for South Asia— informs a worldwide audience about the consequences of the digital divide and demonstrates, together with NGOs and local associations, what can actually be achieved thanks to widespread networking.

Fighting against corruption and for independent media is the aim of Tehelka. The Indian online magazine rocked the foundations of the Indian government when it was able to prove through a sting action that leading party representatives were accepting bribes. The degree to which this investigative journalism has upset the powers that be is indicated by the serious threats against the founder Tarun J. Tejpal.

A different “divide,” this time in the USA, is the subject of 360degrees. In a web documentary, the authors unite people immediately affected in a frank dialogue about crowded American prisons and the presence of the death sentence in a democratic society. With quiz-like tests, they reveal deep-rooted prejudices in a way that is perceptive, and never moralizing.

Rhizome and the Walker Art Center hardly need to be introduced here. Starting off as a typical grassroots phenomenon, and with the dedication of the international scene, Rhizome has grown into an active, much used community resource for media art and theory. Whereas the Walker Art Center has long demonstrated how a cultural institution can deal with the net and play an important role in promoting new art forms in the process.

Link Dealer

Is it more interesting to propagate playful, interactive elements that turn exploring a web site into an individualized experience, or is it more valuable to create a highly functional site that will lead the user quickly and efficiently through the information offered? This old controversy is currently undergoing a revival in the discussion of Flash software. As a Slashdot user succinctly put it: “Should Flash be blamed for people not having a clue how to use it? Nope. Don’t shoot the tool, shoot the people who use it when they shouldn’t.”

The jury took a pragmatic course here: good interface design has to do with both. And thus the highly generalized statement by the usability guru Jakob Nielson, that flash is 99 percent bad, will be ever countered with the response from Joshua Davis: “What Mr. Jakob Nielsen promotes is such a bland form of standards—that he deters this community and society from evolving.”

Joshua Davis works as Senior Design Technologist at New York agency Kioken, well known for injecting experimental design in commercial web sites. In his spare time, Joshua Davis tinkers around with PrayStation, a showcase for experimental interface design, which was unanimously nominated by the jury for the Golden Nica in the second new category, Net Excellence. With admirable continuity, Joshua pursues the goal of implementing a creative use of technology and design daily, in small modules with PrayStation. This one-man research & development web site covers a broad spectrum of action script hacks and Flash pieces. What they have in common is that they deviate from conventional rules, are not easily categorized, and unceasingly explore new paths with their playful approach. Joshua subjects PrayStation to a constant process of change. The project started years ago as an homage to video games. Later, he simply wanted to show what a single, independent developer is capable of and thus started posting all his own developments on the site the same day. When he noticed that many designers around the world were following his working process, he refined the calendar-like interface and decided to let the scene in closer to the process by releasing his developments to download as open source. With this, PrayStation became one of the most interesting distance-learning communities in the field of web design—true to the motto “Give back to the community what the community has given me”. This aspect of passing on skills and experience—far more than just an excellent way of dealing with state-of-the-art technology—is what makes PrayStation one of the very few projects that has succeeded in bringing together different scenes (coders, art, design).

The influential and “smart” e-zine Kaliber10000 is also devoted to exchange within the worldwide designer community. Like the ambitious Flash platform Ultrashock, moderated by protagonists from the scene, K10k belongs to the hyperactive link and info dealers, who contribute on a daily basis, with fresh ways of motivating thousands of creatives around the world to exchange information, and thus take an active part in the permanent state of change that is the medium.

Creative Nodes

Networking the independent scene in the field of streaming is the mission of Boombox, a model for a platform that enables its cultural activities through commercial commissions (such as streaming the TV show Big Brother). The project is also a good example of the beneficial mutual influence of club and net culture, which is in the broader context of where the second nomination in the category Net Excellence is situated. This nomination goes to the web site of one of the most innovative record labels in the electronic music scene, Warp Records. The site is striking because of its style-setting design, the seamless integration of audio and video, and the visceral proximity of the web presence to the product, the music that the label produces. In other words: the Warp attitude does not stop at the music. In the form of a micro portal, the site functions as a node in a scene of related labels, projects, designers, graphics artists, and artists (such as Rephlex, Designers Republic etc.), who have come to the forefront in recent years because of their significant contribution to a global electronic culture. The Warp Records site was conceived by Kleber.Net, a collective from Sheffield, which developed, among other things, an online shopping system, which makes it possible for small labels to distribute their products with low overhead costs. Warp was one of the first independent labels to focus on a strong web presence and demonstrated how efficiently the net can be used by a small label to distribute its music and thus ultimately maintain its independence.

Time Machine

When the whole Prix jury met on the last day for a group photo in an icy church on the Castle Hill in Linz, a rudimentary plan on a wooden panel was passed around, tracing the development of the church over the past centuries. But, quaint as it was, this wooden panel made a poor showing to those, who had seen only a few hours earlier how much more playfully something like this can be realized today. Manhattan Timeformations, nominated in the category Net Excellence, demonstrates the significant potential of an intelligent connection between information and architecture —and realizes “information architecture” in the true sense of the word. Manhattan Timeformations intuitively allows an insight into the processes that have taken place over the past 370 years in Lower Manhattan. Using multi-layering, the dynamic relationships among the diverse factors of urban development are visualized. The time machine is turned to fast forward in Chi-Chian. This online science fiction series takes place in Manhattan in the year 3000 and makes use of the opportunity to reach a wide audience through the distribution channel of the Internet—similar to a completely different production in the field of web fiction, the animation series CUB by Steve Whitehouse.

Finally, with his funky interactive music clip DMG:I.O* vs R3:DEV*, Bradley Grosh (aka Gmunk) not only places his faith in the broadband future, he also supplies the high-speed slogan for the 2001 edition of the Internet competition: “And you look at their work, nod your head; you’re stoked ... inspired—and you get the idea ... it never stops ... everyone jams ... and there’s about 20 other artists whom I haven’t mentioned who blow my mind as well; I mean, everyone here totally stokes each other, and it pushes us all to become better ...” . And it is in this spirit, that we invite you to join the party, and share the fun with the projects of the Prix Ars Electronica 2001!

(Thanks to our jury colleagues Pete Barr-Watson, Tanja Diezmann, Solveig Godeluck and Machiko Kusahara, to Thomas Riha for his invaluable support, and to TNC Network’s Kim Danders for editing the English text)

© Ars Electronica Linz GmbH, info@aec.at