Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich
Vibrant after the “dot.bomb”
Ed Burton / Casey Reas / Steve Rogers / Cornelia Sollfrank / Yumi Yamaguchi
We spent three days together in a room typing URLs and absorbing the images and texts as they traveled around the world to our computer in Linz. Slowly, hundreds of entries were reduced to the final 13. The jury, comprised of Cornelia Sollfrank, Steve Rogers, Ed Burton, Yumi Yamaguchi, and Casey Reas, conducted spirited debates and were able to arrive at a consensus despite different professional backgrounds, cultures, and genders. The quality of the work was high and decisions were difficult.
During the first day of reviewing entries, significant trends emerged. In response to the current heightened political tension in the world, the quantity and quality of political entries was high. Due to the release of the Google API, a huge number of entries used this search engine to generate text and images. This was an interesting case of a technical convenience driving artistic production. Many projects were being published on the web, but there was nothing “networked” about them.
We were surprised that many current topics were not represented in the entries. In the past year, the issues surrounding spam have grown considerably, but there were no entries related to this topic. The phenomena of Flash Mobs exploded in 2003, but there were no related entries. There was also a lack of entries integrating the Web with other devices such as mobile phones, television, and other emerging networked appliances. The jury felt that these three areas were rich for exploration and were disappointed to not see them reflected in the entries.
The winners of the Golden Nica and the Distinctions are outward-focused projects. They use the potential of the Internet for individual empowerment, insight into the news media, and political criticism. The jury felt the Internet should utilize its potential to critique and improve the condition of the world-at-large, and therefore selected projects which were not self-referential. The Honorary Mentions recipients are a group of excellent, diverse projects spanning many classifications of Internet art and design. The thread that binds them together is excellence within their individual domains. We hope the selections for this year's Prix Ars Electronica present irrefutable proof that the Internet is a vibrant medium, still relevant long after the “death of net.art” and the “dot-bomb”.
TheCreative Commons defines an intellectual property infrastructure which has the potential for empowering people to distribute their work under many different licenses. It gives people the choice to say whether and how others are able to use their music, photographs, web sites, literature, films etc. The process of creating a legally valid document is as simple as answering multiple choice questions.
Over the past few years, the number of people using this service has rapidly increased and the jury feels there are tremendous possibilities for this trend to continue. It may be the right tool to facilitate an explosion in sharing and collaboration through the Internet, and we’re excited to award it and promote it. Many of the projects submitted to the Prix Ars Electronica used the Creative Commons license. Bush in 30 Seconds, a Distinction, and txtkit, an Honorary Mention, both publish their content under this banner, and we hope to see more in the future.
Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by a diverse group of lawyers, intellectual property experts, a computer science professor, and other entrepreneurs. It presents dense legal information through friendly comics and movies and therefore gives a new audience access to understanding this crucial information. Despite the project's origins in the laws of the United States, it is working hard with groups in other countries to diffuse its policies into a global network.
Licenses are now additionally available in Japan, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, and Austria.
Marcos Weskamp and Dan Albritton have created an exceptional visualization of the current state of world news. It displays headlines from Google’s news aggregator and represents them in a spatial format allowing the viewer to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of how news is reported around the world. Previously unseen patterns emerge as viewers select between different countries, topics, and dates.
The visualization builds upon research into Treemap algorithms. It uses Flash to present headlines appropriately in vertical and horizontal orientation to maximize readability and available screen space. The high quality of visual and kinetic detail in the interface enables smooth transitions from one selection to another.
This project is very deep in content and encourages exploration. Through using Newsmap, I learn that today, 20 June 2004, in Italy there are more articles about sports than world news and the major sports story is “Euro 2004, il Trap” with 83 related articles. In Germany, there are three times as many articles about business as there are sports and the major story is “Postbank-Börsengang wird verschoben” with 357 related articles. Looking at the entire image produced by Newsmap gives insight into the biases of individual nations in relation to their news output and in relation to one another. It is fascinating to see how the same article is covered differently across the globe.
Bush in 30 Seconds
The MoveOn.org Voter Fund produced Bush in 30 Seconds and demonstrated that the Internet can catalyze a groundswell of creativity. It drove the mechanism which galvanized and funded this unique collaborative effort. Eli Pariser, the campaigns director for the Fund, explains the context for the initiative, “What we see, year after year in politics, is the same old approaches practiced by a small cadre of political consultants. And each year the enthusiasm for politics becomes dimmer and dimmer. We want to reverse that trend by bringing ordinary people into the political discussion.” The idea of the project was to encourage people to create 30-second advertisements in opposition to the Bush administration.
The goal was to show the winning advertisement during the television broadcast of the Super Bowl, the championship of American Football watched worldwide by over 130 million viewers in the U.S. and a billion worldwide. The result of the endeavor was a collection of over 1,000 political advertisements, which were judged by over 110,000 people over the Internet and by a group of celebrity judges including Janeane Garofalo, Gus Van Sant, and Michael Stipe to select a winner, but the Super Bowl broadcast failed as the television network CBS refused to air the advertisement. Instead, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund spent approximately 1 million dollars to show the advertisement on CNN for one week. This failed Super Bowl attempt underlines the truth that the Internet is the least censored media of its age.
Another positive aspect of Bush in 30 Seconds is its utilization of video content on the web. The success of this project demonstrates the increased access to broadband connections.
This elegant collaboration between Nicolas Clauss, Jean-Jacques Birgé, and Didier Silhol integrates image, sound, dance, and interaction into a seamless experience. The textured, photographic appearance creates an ethereal atmosphere from which the piece is revealed. It does not replace the experience of a dance event in real space, but promotes an alternate encounter through combining visual representation of body movements with a playful style of interaction. Birgé’s extraordinary audio stylings cleverly combine samples into ever-changing sounds in response to the visitors mouse. Somnambules is an extremely web-savvy presentation, using image sequences and audio loops to achieve something greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Peter Cho constrains the Google search engine to only return text about money. An elegant interface allows visitors to type a phrase of their choice. For example, inputting “Ars Electronica” returns results such as “… and Digital Musics. The total prize money for the Prix Ars Electronica 2003 amounts to Euro 100,000 (USD 98,650 app). If you are…” from “rhizome.org/thread.rhiz?thread=7855&text=16032”. The depth of Google's data is revealed as unexpected, but sometime absurdly logical connections are revealed between a topic and “money”.
Money Plus can not be viewed on the web as it uses a custom typography engine written in C++. It uses the Internet for the content of the work. Making this choice gave Cho the freedom to create a more fluid, dense, and visually striking presentation of the data than would have been possible with existing web tools. A strength of this project in relation to many other submitted Google projects lies in the constraints placed on the search. It does not present random nonsense, but allows for serendipity through limiting the system.
BumpList is a mailing list on which only 10 members can be subscribed at the same time. If someone new subscribes, the first in the array of subscribers is removed. This “email community for the determined” envisioned by Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Mike Bennett alters one rule in an established Internet convention, and thus becomes a provoking reflection on the original format. Imposing the artificial limit on an expansive software construction reveals interesting human behavior in the form of competition—people want to be on the list solely because it is exclusive. A remarkable element of the project is its persistence. Despite the novelty and inconvenience of the list, over 76173 people have subscribed and 72637 have re-subscribed after being kicked off. Some people have even gone to the extreme of writing a software bot to automatically re-subscribe them when they are un-subscribed from the list.
Francis Lam has re-invented the tired idea of web-postcards into what is possibly an ironic statement about the under-representation of the male nude body on the Internet, but is definitely an amusing project which makes people laugh. The Nude Messenger is a web application which allows visitors to create and send messages of small, animated icons of naked men jumping and dancing in unison to form the letters of a text message. An elegant custom animation tool allows visitors precise control over the messages’ choreography.
The Public Broadcast Cart
Ricardo Miranda Zuñiga has created a soapbox for the Internet. This wire frame shopping cart, outfitted with a microphone, speaker, and a computer with a Wi-Fi card was set loose in City Hall Park in New York City during Wireless Park Lab Days 2003. It gave the public an opportunity for individuals to broadcast locally over the speaker and internationally by streaming over the web. The physical appearance of the cart, culturally specific to the homeless population of New York, was an interesting choice as it subverts the usual association with the cart by placing it in a position of power.
txtkit—Visual Text Mining Tool
Marcus Hauer and Anne Pascual, creators of Minitasking, the visual Gnutella browser, have spent the last year developing a radical re-invention of hypertext utilizing current techniques in information visualization. In their words, “txtkit is an Open Source visual text mining tool for exploring large amounts of multilingual texts. It's a multiuser-application which mainly focuses on the process of reading and reasoning as a series of decisions and events.” It aggregates the text viewing actions of multiple users into a navigable spatial form articulating data such as keywords, how people jump through the text, and the most read paragraphs. Txtkit is exploratory and seeks to solve ambitious questions. It is an excellent implementation of innovative ideas and its impact is still undetermined.
The Italian bi-lingual e-zine on hacktivism, e-music, and new media art is a comprehensive and well maintained site worth visiting regularly for news about innovative projects. Curated by Alessandro Ludovico since 1997, Neural has become an influential voice in the Italian and international art community. A printed magazine and weekly radio broadcast complement the online content by providing different formats for experiencing the views of the publication. The jury was interested to see that many of the projects it reviewed had been previously featured at Neural.
Flight404 is Robert Hodgin's vibrant exploration of digital media. It continually re-invents itself and always pushes the boundaries of visual and interactive work. The current incarnation, Version 7, is an active, rich space full of extraordinary ideas, images, sounds, movies, and software. It is a portfolio documenting private explorations into abstract natural systems through motion and interaction.
The Contagious Media Project
Jonah Peretti and collaborators explore the elusive phenomena of popularity in what he satirically calls the BWN (Bored at Work Network). His four diverse examples of contagious media are Nike Sweatshop Emails, Rejection Line, Black People Love Us, and FundRace. Many people have heard of these projects through word-of-mouth, email, and broadcast media without suspecting the precision which they were injected into the system of Internet-borne media. The Contagious Media Project presents practical applications of elusive techniques such as “emergence”, “6-degrees of separation”, and “tipping points” that can work repeatedly. The more politically oriented projects such as Nike Sweatshop Emails and FundRace serve as poignant examples that individuals can create widespread awareness through a sophisticated use of the Internet.
As a growing platform and repository, Runme.org (founded in January 2003) is encouraging and defining the discourse around the emerging topic of software art. The founding participants, Amy Alexander, Florian Cramer, Matthew Fuller, Olga Goriunova, Thomax Kaulmann, Alex McLean, Pit Schultz, Alexei Shulgin, and The Yes Men, made the clever decision to create myriad categories, thus opening the potential of the genre rather than confining it to strict categories. This decision additionally makes it impossible for an individual to dominate. The website allows anyone to submit a piece of software art or relevant text for consideration. The extension, the annual Read_Me festival has been held in Moscow, Helsinki, and will take place this year in Aarhus, Denmark. Rather than giving awards for the “best” work, runme.org features works on its website and in print.