Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Systems Making the Invisible Visible

Marko Ahtisaari, Markus Seidl, Yukiko Shikata, Eva Wohlgemuth

The way people use the web or Internet has changed considerably in the last two or three years due to the diffusion of the so-called Web 2.0. Many people started to “connect” with each other contributing databases or knowledge spaces autonomously to the collective public, or they collaborated with each other beyond physical space. Broadband and wireless technology allow people connect continuously, forming a “connected identity” of each individual or as collectives. It means that people use the Internet not only to present some results objectively, but also use it as the trajectory of themselves, as part of their mind spaces. How is this situation reflected in the artistic visions and experiments using the Internet? What can we find out from those projects that forecast something for the future? We four jurors studied the 298 applications to learn from them and to think over such issues for three days.

This year’s jury session offered us the opportunity to reflect on the state of the complex and fast subdividing interests of various kinds of creators with wider angles. We could say that the Internet of today is a system of “panarchy”, a term used by Norman White, a Canadian Robotics artist, following in the tradition of Gregory Bateson, where coexisting cross-purposes offer a bewildering mix of “hard data” and fantasy, deception and insight. Yet, according to Bateson, this state of complexity or diversity could be the sign for cultural sanity and he describes unhealthy systems as those with similar cultural conditions and too few species.

Faced with the diversity, we jurors, gathering from different fields, found ourselves nonetheless sharing certain criteria such as: (1) projects that challenge the “Webness”, or web-specificity, (2) projects that connect different layers of reality, (3) projects that show an innovative approach, (4) projects that critically reflect on the current social and technological situations.

Some inclinations were discernable in the applications—we witnessed many projects that were “parasitic” on existing web services e.g. photosharing sites such as flickr. While these projects offered new visual renditions of the flood of images, processed in real time and uploaded online, they focused primarily on attractive (but random) visualization without engaging the audience or community. There was also a big group of text-based works, linking personal diary or blog and transferring them into visuals, where randomly retrieved texts or visuals gain no extra value by being set up by letter shapes. These projects did not take any critical position on the process of data organization and reorganization. We also witnessed several comments on online advertising including remixes and representations of existing online ads. However, again few of these projects engaged the “webness” of the web. We witnessed many projects connecting with physical components. The tendency was already noticed last year as a “new direction for networkbased arts” (Jury Statement 2005), but particularly this year, the physical aspects have extended into a variety of spaces and expressions, encouraging public interactions.

Only a certain range of countries made up the main submitters, and we would like to encourage entrants from regions such as Middle East, Africa, Russia, India, and China especially. This would spread the possibilities of enrichment and diversity of view in the whole pool of web creations and the infiltration of other expressive forms. We noticed that there were no gender topics and women’s issues in general. There were also very few games that were really taking the webconnected condition of participants into concern or that would introduce live feeds.

As a whole, there were no big innovative entries or system-changing movements such as Creative Commons (2004), Processing (2005), but we think these are rather exceptional, and are glad to find many elaborated, innovative projects.

Finally we chose the Golden Nica, two Distinctions and eleven Honorary Mentions for the following reasons: (1) They make visible the invisible of or via the Internet, deleted and marginalized content or personal existence, or the socio-political situations, or people’s potential. (2) They build shared systems, even if short-lived and for small groups, over heroic individual creations. We rated systems above content. (3) They show the expanded use of networks, connecting the physical and virtual, inviting the emotional and tangible involvement of people. (4) Their collaborative environment inspires people’s imagination, encouraging engagement to use the systems creatively. (5) We could anticipate that unseen possibilities would emerge in the actual process. In short, we valued the various systems that made innumerable “invisibles” visible.

Golden Nica

The Road Movie
exonemo (JP)

The Road Movie was conceived for the Moblab (http://moblab.org), the process-based mobile art project, where young German and Japanese artists traveled by bus through Japan from October 18 to November 6, 2005. By installing five webcams in the bus, surrounding sceneries from the bus were captured every five minutes, automatically producing files in the form of “origami” paper, available for anybody to download, print out and fold to produce his/her own miniature bus reflecting the landscapes. Even remote visitors could get The Road Movie in the shape of a bus from any point during its journey. Far-off locations could thus suddenly appear right in one’s own living room. The whole process of the project—capturing the images from remote locations, sending them to the server for streaming the origami files, file link from the Google Map—was only made possible by the current Web technology. The Road Movie affords many layers—the bus physically on the move or at each location, the files on the web, and miniature buses in personal spaces globally. The project inspired people’s imagination to play creatively. There was feedback from online users, and during the journey host centers and schools organized origami workshops and installations. The bus functioned as a mirror or reflector of the whole journey day and night, including local people’s involvements. By connecting the physical and virtual, private and public, global and local, inside and outside, work and leisure in quite a unique way, The Road Movie opened up a new dimension of interaction in the connected “public spaces.”


Tsunami Harddisk Detector
Michael Stadler (AT)

The Tsunami Harddisk Detector is a softwareonly solution for tsunami detection utilizing existing computer hardware to detect possible tsunamis. “The computers (nodes) participating in the project connect to a P2P (Peer-to-Peer) network, thereby establishing a distributed computing platform with high reliability. A few of the participating computers act as supernodes, thereby performing data analysis on their attached nodes. In case of emergency, the supernodes inform their attached nodes instantly. Hence, if you decide to participate and install the client software, you will be automatically warned about potential tsunamis”. Technically it is using software to monitor the vibration of the internal components of the harddrives. This project can be seen as a pure scientific approach. On the other hand, if one has a closer look, it offers some points that reveal artistic methodology that can be seen as visionary for the net. It is one of the only projects in the submissions dealing with more than the web as “the” service of the Internet. It combines two existing things (P2P networking, acceleration measurement in harddrives) in a new way to create new usefulness. It is not working point-to-point. It works if a critical mass of nodes are participating in the network. From the point of view of a single node, if one provides data and bandwidth the user will get a warning if necessary. One single node cannot fulfill the task, on the other hand one single node missing can not stop the task. It is net.

Wayne Clements (UK)

un_wiki gets quotes from Wikipedia the freeencyclopedia's Deletion Log (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Log&type=delete). The deletion log is the last stop on the way of destruction of entries or parts of entries that violated one of the three rules of the wikipedia policy : “Neutral point of view”, “Verifiabilty” and “No Original Research” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Deletion_policy).

This sounds very unspectacular and, at a first glance, it is. But if one looks at it for more than a short moment, waiting for 10 or 15 messages that get fetched by un_wiki frequently, the impression is completely different. This stream of messages that share the attribute of unpopularity in the collaborative administrated space of wikipedia show the dark side, show what cannot be seen on wikipedia. It shows a stream of beginnings of articles that do not reflect a neutral point of view, or are not useable by the wiki-standard. Though there is a very open policy only administrators of wikipedia can delete articles. un_wiki touches a sore spot of wikipedia in a very simple, uncommented way. It not only shows the articles that are deleted now, but also provides an archive of deleted entries. With a very simple transformation of an existing datastream to a human-readable form, the items that are and have been declared waste by the Wikipedia administrators, become visible again.

Honorary Mentions

dun.AV—Danube Panorama Project
Michael Aschauer (AT)

In the field of image organization and travel logging we found the dun.AV –Danube Panorama Project to be relevant on a visual and metaphoric scale. As a big long river the Danube has been the connecting channel and at the same time the separating line geographically and historically. Based on the desire to build the bigger panorama out of single insignificant moments and maybe even hold it, this project moves between the special and the general view. It deals with time and place and thus with translocation and being on the way. You are able to scroll back and forward in the chain of (maybe) lived-through moments (at least from the camera) and the project archives them in almost endless time stripes. By using this method, the project challenges the existing notion of “panorama” with decentralized, continuously moving perspectives (=anti-perspective), finally by connecting the different political, social and cultural areas in one line.

Gavin Baily, Tom Corby (UK)

cyclone.soc is trying to visualize the emotional turbulences in discussions by organizing them to shifting torrents and morphing labyrinthic, spiralling structures. The project brings together two contemporary phenomena: (1) severe weather; the project uses weather data that charts the emergence and progress of hurricanes. (2) the polarized nature of debate that occurs in certain online newsgroup forums. It maps textual conversation taken from the political and religious newsgroups to the isobars of a dynamic, interactive weather visualization of hurricanes—whose complex structures are used to visualize the conversational churn and eddies of the newsgroup conversations.

Sandro Catallo, Markus Cremers (DE)

Tank-FX links the virtual to real space. It processes a sound file, submitted by the user, through a real tank of 11x7 m of reinforced concrete in the German Town of Oberhausen. The resulting echo is re-provided to the user. By turning the unused old tank into a physical sound effecter available online, the work invites users to experiment freely.

Peter Edmunds (AU)

SwarmSketch is an attractive site generating the new socialites around a highly interactive drawing process. The sketch topic each week consists of randomly chosen search terms, and each user can contribute a small amount of line at each visit. It is especially nice to see these “images” being drawn from individuals, evolving into a big community. The result is not made of predefined patterns but of manual, personal input. Thus the results have their own quality of graphic line drawing and amazing resemblance with artistic outputs on this field. The social body of the many participants who are making the graphical decisions of dimming, emphasizing or adding lines are creating new types of online canvas. One can also get an overview of the whole sketch process and statistics of each piece, which, interestingly, remind us of how people react in society.

Hasan M. Elahi (US)
Tracking Transience

Tracking Transience is the live documentary of a real person, Elahi Hasan. His perspective is that of a “terrorist suspect” in our present surveillance society. He makes himself visible on the web at any time on a live base by proving his exact location. He sets himself up as a visible target to make a cynical comment on innocence and guilt. This work makes him a kind of target for global online spectators. Zooming in and out of Google earth map anybody can track his position down daily. By being alive online or being a tracked transience, Elahi shows us the intricate relation between spectator and target, the nation and the individual, surveillance and protection, voyeurism and exhibitionism and we cannot but be part of it.

COLORS Project
h.o (JP)

COLORS Project tries to approach the blogging activity worldwide on the level of linking it to emotional aspects. It presents joy (red person with raised arms), happiness, peace, anxiety, sorrow, anger “Figure Icons” around a symbolic worlds ball (with resemblance to St. Exupéry's Little Prince). Thus it tries to visualize “each day’s” emotional state of the globe by asking the user to define his/her emotional state of the day. It lets us see that, though what we feel today is just a small part of what goes on in the world, but that our mood might still show what color the world appears on that day. It turns peopleoriginated ambiguous emotions into the shared fantasy beyond locations and nations.

Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga (US)

Dentimundo sets up a strange level of Fact-Fictions-Instability—it’s a project that questions the trafficking at the USA-Mexican border. It’s a practical help to the US people seeking cheap solutions for their dental problems by offering a survey of Mexican dentists and services. By spotlighting the border area that has been regarded as the dangerous, dirty grey zone, the work discloses another layer of reality: medical tourism or temporary refuge from the US. The work brilliantly deals with the controversial fact that to get the white healthy teeth that symbolize the civilized nation, the Americans cross the border to Mexico. With its funny sound and humorous manner, the work critically cuts deep into the economical borders not only between the US and Mexico but also borders existing inside of each country.

AND-OR / Beat Suter, René Bauer (CH)

Streamfishing displays in real time the search items of a certain type of search engine, and in nice simplicity of realization and design just lets those words float by. The streaming topics that came out from users’ desire and interests, can be amazing, banal or even interest us. There are more or less words depending on the time of the day. If you search for your own item you might catch it in the stream of the others. Assisted by search engines, the work is not only the reflector the people’s thoughts but could be the shared collective accelerator of ideas.

Personal World Map
Roxana Torre (AR/NL)

The Personal World Map is a highly interesting visual presentation of the connection between geographical and financial reality—the global reality is determined not by physical distance but by transportation/flight prices. It transforms our previous perception of the stable, geographic surface of the globe, the size of countries and regions, their borderlines, spatial relations, and distances. The presentation enables us to visualize the effect of economic and time-based realities applied to this “stable” map. Dimensions are no longer simply spatial ones, and are not measured by meters any more. The remote, the unreachable, has to be seen through other parameters. A morphing effect, a sculptural plastification is occurring and keeps transforming the global surface. The world is not necessarily round any more.

Virtual Marathon Team
The Virtual Marathon (SG)

This work distances itself critically from the accelerating game industry and technology. Anybody can participate easily by using two fingers to “run” through the marathon courses on the Internet. No special skills are needed, the player just runs. The physical distance between the player and server determines the runner’s speed by shifting servers around the globe. The artists remind us that Internet is neither a flat nor smooth but a “textured” space, depending on the connecting conditions by visualizing the physical aspect of Internet. During the race, the runners start to compete with eagerness. This “Marathon” is virtual but at the same time, the runner experiences strong physical reactions by participating in this “ultimate online game”. Virtuality bites.

Christoph Wachter, Mathias Jud (CH)

Zone*Interdite is building up a practical, userparticipative information archive on military areas, which are excluded from general view. It tries to pass on what is really happening behind these fences. It also spies on the secret and politically hidden things. The image of the blank, white fields on maps has been altered. Whereas in former times this was more a problem of geographic situation combined with no exploitable resources, blank space now means that the relevant field is being kept „private” in an otherwise fully accessible environment. By trying to make the invisible visible, the work asks us to open up our perception of the hidden parts of our world.

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