Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich
Communities in Transformation
Andreas Hirsch, André Lemos, Gunalan Nadarajan, Kathy Rae-Huffman, Steve Rogers
We met in a hot and dry Linz this April to look to forge a new combined category by bringing Net Vision into the Digital Communities field. Net Vision (2001–2006) had been concerned with the artists who used the net as an enabler for their expression. These artists have been continually engaged with using software and the net as an outlet for the expression of a concept. They have shown excellence in technical prowess, clear and relevant conceptual thinking with powerful often mesmerizingly beautiful results. Digital Communities, itself a fairly recent category (since 2004), has looked at the way that communities use the net to further a common aim, to create bonds between people, often to achieve very important goals. Digital communities are also at the very heart of the cultural expression of the world of digital artists, and therefore bringing together the two worlds has allowed us to look at a much broader picture. Combining the two has meant that we not only looked to work that furthered specific aims, but which had at its core an original concept that the vehicle of digital communities allowed them to give structure and voice to. In general, with one or two exceptions, the field was seen to be more representative of the world of communities than the world of digital art. As a jury we look forward to seeing more truly collaborative digital art works that can represent the communities from which they are born.
We needed to define clear criteria for ourselves. With a very wide field of entry to the category, we needed to have at least some clear standards that a work would need to be deemed possess:
Vibrancy and Vitality
For a community to be successful it must achieve both scale and engagement. Scale of course often means different things for different projects. In the same way as a village can be seen to have a vibrant community with relatively few people compared to the community in a city, so it is in the digital world. Scale is about the number of people engaged as compared with the potential and aim. Looking at vibrancy, we were looking to see that this was truly a living work for the people involved. With this in mind we often looked at how a community governed itself and at how it elicited contribution. We were more inclined to favour projects that clearly enabled the contributors to give direction to the work as a whole than those that were guided by a central core.
In a field that is becoming ever larger and in a world where there are very many commercial digital networks and communities, we were looking for those that were truly original. We were looking for those that existed due to the passion and energy of their contributors rather than those with a clear commercial potential.
Our third basic criteria was that the work had to make clear and valuable use of the net. Many valuable communities exist, but could do so with or without access to the digital world. These use the net as a convenient and simple communication tool rather than as the key enabler at the heart of the community.
There were several themes that came to the fore and that both united and occasionally divided our panel. The first theme we saw coming through strongly this year was that of language. English is becoming the language of the net, and, although this can be seen as uniting, in some ways it is divisive, causing a digital divide not between those who do or do not have access to the net but between those who can or cannot understand it. The richness of the net suffers as a result of large numbers of people being effectively excluded both from information and from the chance to contribute. Many entries addressed this issue this year and we were pleased to be able to acknowledge some of these in our selections.
Transience and transience of community was the theme that probably caused the most heated discussion within our deliberations. We have noted a growth in a number of works that challenge the very concept of what community means, works that exist purely due to coincidence of location or time and ones that disappear as quickly as they arise. Although we discussed this at length, we ultimately decided not to include any of these works within our selection. However, we believe that it is an important theme, which should continue to be explored and discussed in this category. The jury discussed the many works that are the true originators of this movement, but sadly none of these were entered for the competition this year.
Open standards and licensing models such as creative commons have continued to gain ground and are clearly at the center of many of the works. This goes along with the expansion of the number of communities that are looking to contribute to the common good. Projects often based on shared source code are continuing to grow and spread debate through the communities on the net and are slowly turning the idea of digital commons into reality.
The combination of digital networks with real-life events formed another kernel that we debated. We were concerned that the works we were looking at were not just records of these events or repositories for the information created in such an event when the thrust of the work was elsewhere. We were concerned that the events should either have been the result of an already successful community in digital space, or that they should have been used as a way of giving impetus to a digital work that had then gone on to develop further.
Our Golden Nica this year goes to a project that, despite only being recently started, already has a massive and vibrant community, which has developed its own systems both of production and governance to ensure that it continues to meet its laudable goals. Overmundo is a community that inspires creative expression to enrich its culture and enables and encourages social interaction. Overmundo hosts all types of artistic expression and commentary, through audio media, video, and visual and written media. This body of work forms a cultural database that the community can continually access and comment on, as well as an agenda for the real events taking place in Brazil’s cultural calendar.
Using a creative-commons license, the community has developed an extremely replicable model for creative digital communities. It has developed its own open-source voting system (“Overpoints”), which is used to rate the works and which ensures that the work published is always of the very highest quality and relevance. The NGO responsible for Overmundo has further impressed the jury with the way it intends to use the prize money from Prix Ars to seed further developments and to enable the creativity of the community to grow.
Awards of Distinction
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a community that has been setting the standard for community action and activism in the digital world for many years, needs little introduction. It is fair to say that without its work many of the projects viewed by the jury this year would not have been able to exist. Especially with the topic of this year’s festival being “goodbye privacy”, its work in the fields of privacy and freedom of speech is highly relevant. EFF has been creating awareness of the issues that lie at the very core of digital communities and has been fighting for them using the power it is able to raise through its own digital community of lawyers, analysts and technologists. The jury is very proud to be able to give EFF an Award of Distinction this year as a long overdue acknowledgement of the important work it has done and continues to do.
dotSUB is a community-subtitling work that puts its community to very relevant and valuable work through collective production. The community subtitles a wide range of video work currently available on the net, thus making it accessible to a much wider audience and bridging a growing divide in the digital world between those who do and do not understand the English language. The project does not seek to monetize the work of the community. However, if the original owner of the material seeks to monetize the work then the community is able to benefit from it.
We feel this project deserves an Award of Distinction because it addresses many issues that we have seen as relevant this year: the attention to multiple languages in the net, collective production, the growth of rich media material as part of community and the engagement of a community to the benefit of a much wider population. It achieves this in a way that is not only elegant but simple and intuitive both to use and to contribute to. The fact that the company does not try to restrict the material the community addresses, meaning that there is both Rocketboom and Spiderman, is to their credit as it adds to the vibrancy and engagement of its users.
Women on Web
This project addresses the highly political and often still taboo topic of abortion, both through offering support and information to women in need as well as online consultancy if required and ultimately access to a medical abortion if judged appropriate and safe. Women on Web uses a simple and powerful interface to present the stories of women who have had abortions and who have chosen to share their experiences of them. It presents stories in many languages and from women with many different backgrounds, thus providing an important support mechanism. It makes excellent use of the online medium, both in terms of its execution and more critically in the way it uses the power of the net to forge connections between people in a meaningful way.
Started through the Table of Free Voices, an event involving 100 social visionaries from around the world, dropping knowledge has gone on to become a vibrant community discussing topics of social consequence. It is one of many of this year’s projects that seeks to bring the real and virtual communities together and does it on a global scale. We saw this discursive approach to the generation of knowledge as being innovative and note that this is not seen as a one-off event but as an ongoing community, which plans to continue through both real and virtual media.
The issue of racism is one that continues to be a problem in many areas of the world with its messages often daubed in graffiti across our cityscapes. Rassismus streichen is a community based in Vienna that has made use of extremely replicable technologies to allow its volunteers to address the issue and for the community at large both to be made aware of the problem and of their own activities. In doing this Rassismus streichen aims to put pressure on the city government to take action. This is considered to be important because technically the activists painting out the racist and neo-Nazi slogans are themselves committing an offence. The way the project works, anyone in the community can use the site to locate and report graffiti through simple JPEGs, enabling the activists to address it.
Through its combination of accomplished media publishing, analysis of pan-European current affairs and grass-roots events, the community behind Café Babel goes a considerable way towards its stated goal of being the voice of the Euro generation. It is based upon a participatoryjournalism model and benefits from a vibrant and clearly passionate populace. Along with several other notable entries, this year it is starting to bind the real and the virtual for the benefit of both.
“New Poverty” is rapidly becoming an enormous problem even in rich countries. Among the core problems of most social initiatives is the actual and timely delivery of the help to the people who need it. In bringing together and coordinating a real community of volunteers who daily serve the food from the tables of the rich to the tables of the poor, the Wiener Tafel project goes far beyond many other well-meaning social projects. Here, talk about help is replaced by an effective volunteer help that would not be realistically possible without the clever use of ICT. These are the demands of Digital Community applied in the best sense of their meaning.
The mission of mySociety is “to be a charitable project which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. The second is to teach the public and voluntary sectors, through demonstration, how to most efficiently use the internet to improve lives.” It achieves these goals not only through the power of open-source development, but also by working with their own dedicated team to bring a powerful set of tools to open democracy.
As with several notable projects this year, Activism-Hacking-Artivism (AHA) represents the bringing together of the real and the virtual worlds. This represents an Italian “hacktivist” arts community, who use the power of the net to facilitate the proliferation of truly open mass media, such as video, radio, computer and written text, free of copyright or censorship. As a group, their work is not only around on the net, but by using the community thus created they have been able to stage exhibitions. To date there have been exhibitions in many Italian cities and since 2004 also in Germany. AHA focuses on the activities the Italian independent and counter-cultural media movement, with artists, hacktivists and theoreticians involved in Italian net culture.
OScar – reinvent mobility
This project started with the simple aim of creating an open-source blueprint for a car, looking for a simple and functional concept to spread mobility. When one thinks of the complexity involved, it was a massive undertaking – also when one looks at the need for the resulting vehicle to be both legal and practicable at the same time as being possible to build without the aid of large-scale specialist manufacturing plants. Going through the work done since the project started in 1999, one finds a dedicated community of extremely able contributors who are tackling the issues with real seriousness. This is a community that since last year has been open to contributions from everyone.
Herinnerdingen – things that remind us – is not only an extremely powerful emotional work but it also manages to be reflective and beautiful. It makes real use of the power of the net by allowing children who have suffered loss to find support and to realize that they are not alone in their grief. The extremely simple and absolutely intuitive interface to the stories allows the viewer to gain a small sense of this without having to be concerned about exploitation. Children are increasingly involved in networked communities, and through the terrible events at Virginia Tech we have seen that grief finds different outlets for people who have grown up together. Herinnerdingen allows children who would otherwise grieve alone to find a community in the world they are most comfortable with.
The Radia Network is a community of independent radio stations who have combined to facilitate an ongoing shared cultural initiative. The stations, based throughout Europe, share in weekly commissioned pieces that explore radio as an art form. Each station produces a piece in turn, which all of the partners then publish. The pieces do not seek to promote a common language, but to celebrate the diversity of the breadth of their contributors. It uses the possibilities opened up by the net to share the work and ideas not only of the stations but also of the artistic communities that themselves represent the audience of each contributor and then, through extension, of the whole.
Gothamberg is an extremely elegant work of community art that looks at the experiences and emotions generated by living in apartment blocks. It does not represent the one single block but uses the image of one block, Gothamberg, to represent the whole. The work grows through artists adding their memories and impressions to the work, the newest memories coming to the fore most easily but all being there somewhere in the shared work, allowing others to contribute to the existing tales. For us, this represented the most well thought-through example of community digital art submitted to this year’s Prix Ars Electronica. As a piece of work it brings some of the elegance and beauty of Net Art projects into a shared community art work.
Translate.org is a non-profit organization focusing on the localization, or translation, of open-source software into South Africa’s 11 official languages. It couples this with the translation of such tools as Creative Commons licenses, thus addressing both the problem of language, which is becoming more of an issue as English is adopted as the defacto language of computers, as well as helping the creative community. In addition to the translations of the software, Translate.org has created both fonts and a keyboard to truly aid the community of which they are a part.
The jury statement was written by Steve Rogers.