Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

A Broadband Digital Antidote against Established Views

Sirikit Amann

Each year the jury members again wonder: How will the cyber generation present itself this year? Will the jury members have to re-evaluate their own preconceptions regarding their expectations toward this generation? Will the images in their minds correspond to those in virtual reality?

And each time what prevails is the jury’s amazement at the range of these young people’s ideas, techniques, approaches and perspectives.

u19 is a broadband digital antidote against established views. Anyone who ventures into this realm gets a glimpse of a cool and authentic part of the digital world. What has already been invented is re-invented and re-positioned. What at first glance seems well-known, suddenly appears strange; and the new, ominously familiar.

A trend observed in the last years has become even more pronounced: the entries have moved closer to each other in quality. It has become rarer for a work to break away from the field, and the number of contenders for the top fifteen slots has grown. Perhaps this is also because it has become more common for the works to exude a personal style, an unmistakable quality. Even those so popular computer games from the 1980s or early 1990s, like Snake, Lemminge or Tron, are undergoing a revival, dressed in new garb, with fresh features and design.

GPS::Tron by Thomas Winkler, this year’s Golden Nica winner, combines new technologies, such as GPS, Bluetooth and GSM or GPRS, with the classic idea of the game Tron. What is so remarkable is that its implementation is so ingeniously simple and has its finger on the pulse of the age so perfectly. The idea of combining the cell phone with satellite coordinates and such a well-known game seems so obvious that one immediately asks: why isn’t it already on the market (at least in Austria)?

Similarly surprising and hence worthy of an Award of Distinction is Gottfried Haider’s approach in radio2stream. A terrestrial antenna, a small metal box with hardware, a web site – and you can hear a radio station of your choice on your computer. What’s new about this? Many Austria channels do not stream their programs on the Internet. radios2stream bridges this gap.

The second Award of Distinction, which goes to Manuel Fallmann, raises other issues: What distinguishes a good animation? Is a good technical performance enough or is there more to it?

Successful works in the field of animation demonstrate that it is a matter of technical brilliance coupled with well-portrayed characters and a captivating story that kindles emotions and makes you forget, so to speak, that you are just dealing with “stick figures”. And it is exactly this potential which can be found in the works at MINDistortion. The name MINDistortion derives, as can be seen, from the idea of the mind, i.e. human thought and reason, and its distortion. Yet it is not only a play on words here, but programmatic.

In judging the top fifteen works, a new sort of award was introduced this year. In addition to the Golden Nica and the two aforementioned Awards of Distinction, the jury awarded two Distinctions in kind, one for entrants under ten years of age and the other for those between ten and fourteen:

Es war einmal ein Mann, der hatte einen Schwamm... or how to bring a well-known rhyme to life. David Haslinger (eight years old) had the idea of turning a rhyme into an animated story. He impressively translated the individual passages into images and spoken text.

The pupils of the Europahauptschule in Hall, Tyrol, developed a much-needed language learning program for their Turkish classmates. It was based on visual elements and entitled Hos Geldiniz Avusturya. With it, children from Turkey who have entered school late and whose mother tongue is not German can quickly learn the language in an imaginative way.

Alongside all these pleasant surprises there were still a few unpleasant aspects: a very small number of girls or young women submitted works, many of the web sites were unimaginative, sleek, yet devoid of real content, and there was an absence of electronically-generated sound worlds. Explanations for these developments abound. It was to be expected that professional design models would also establish themselves among young web designers. And that the number of girls participating continues to be low is a pity. It doesn’t take much courage to submit something, a pen and an application form are all you need!

In recent years, the number of entries from primary schoolchildren has risen tremendously. What is striking is that these young creators tend to increasingly integrate individual works into larger projects. Stories are made up, written on the computer and then illustrated with graphic programs. Such early contact – and confrontation with the division of labor – is fertile soil for the cybergeneration.

Just the same, the children of this generation were not born technical “whiz kids”; they also have to learn their way around by trial and error. Yet the submitted projects and samples demonstrate one thing rather plainly: there is a fourth basic skill alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.

After a first viewing of the entries, it became immediately clear that the quality of this year’s works would not cause problems in awarding the prizes. All ten Honorary Mentions display a sure hand in dealing with new technologies and media, plus a good dose of imagination and creativity.

With his web page Junky Hugs, twelve-year-old Patrick Derieg-Hütmansberger has developed a very personal Flash site, adorned with many graphic elements that reveal his talent for drawing.

Dual Mouse by Christoph Wiesner was another surprise. A simple, almost banal idea, but of great entertainment value and inspirational strength – true to the old advertising motto: “Reduce to the max.”

Mathias Kunter’s Revo Race shows that Tron still has surprises in store for us. Over the years there have been countless imitations. Yet Revo Race clearly stands out from the rest. The perspective used in it produces a strong spatial character, and new effects give the game tremendous dynamics.

The project submitted by the HBLA, a secondary school for creative design in Linz, addresses a topic which has become a problem in our modern, globalized world. Taking the digital possibilities available to us, such as photography, image manipulation and graphics, [phonetcard] – from Word to Image attempts to develop a way of teaching design that is “language-sensitive, intercultural, and uses multimedia”, and “not only focuses on tolerance but also on learning techniques such as how to look things up, research and compare them”.

Tobias Schererbauer’s Internet platform Onan Casting + Onan TV is an ambitious project for young people who use the medium of the Internet in an exemplary fashion as a form of expression and basis of communication, and so allow creativity full play. The idea of establishing a regional online television made by young people for young people taps into the zeitgeist and deserves support. All together, the project gives a good picture of young people and the world they live in, a world in which digital media and networking are as natural as the right party on the weekend.

With FANTASY X—Dark Dreams Manuel Eder has created a cohesive animated film in the style of Japanese animes. The quality of the drawings and the dramatic development of the plot conform to the genre, but this work also shows how it is possible to go beyond such a genre and discover one’s own style.

Students from the BG/BRG in Waidhofen/Thaya designed, programmed and constructed a record player of another kind. Kisum is the name of this unusual object. Without much background knowledge, these young inventors experimented until they could pick up sounds from a piece of aluminium foil with a tone arm made out of a match box and a light-emitting diode.

In his project Sulaa, Gerald Gradwohl has successfully combined useful features with an aesthetic presentation.

With complement, Franz Haider has succeeded in realizing a fun idea for a game. Speed and accuracy are the basic requirements for stringing together a row of numbers that plays with the binary code.

Michaela Meindl’s and Michael Mayrhofer-Reinhartshuber’s final school project demonstrates in a special way the social component which the use of new media can involve. In EyeBoard, hard and software has been developed that enables people to control the most essential applications on their computers with their eyes.

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