Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

That's what used to be called Talent

Milan Knizak

There were about 900 entries for the Computer Graphics section of this year's Prix Ars Electronica. An initial perusal of all these images left the jury feeling at first disappointed by the frequent lack of originality and the similarity of the entries. This may have been due to the recent inundation of programs on the market: thus the works of different artists display a high degree of similarity, of which colouring is just one example. It may also be the reason why many of the entries create the impression of being classical pictures depicting predominantly informal themes. This is particularly true of the entries from Germany. Furthermore, there was a continual crop of works exemplifying classical computer graphics in its - by now - familiar forms. A further group of entries drew its inspiration from the resources which 3D has to offer.

The overwhelming majority of the entries can be described in terms of these three groups; within these groups the entries certainly show signs of skill and ability. Yet after a while, the observer is pressed to escape the onset of boredom.

One has the feeling that the entries exude a sense of tiredness. I am referring here to a "tiredness of creativity", since there is no doubt that the actual number of hours spent in front of the computer screen is hardly in question. But the impression remains that the artists were almost afraid to go beyond the limits imposed by computers, something which reinforces my conviction that Computer Graphics instill in the first stages of infancy.

True artistic endeavours in the field are still few and far between. After all, art begins at the point where we stop thinking purely in terms of technology, where technology simply acts as a means of transporting messages. Art surely begins at the point where it is creative feeling, explicit or not, which acts as the primary driving force in a given creative process, over and above other contributory factors.

Consequently, a number of questions were raised in the jury as well as by the organisers: was it not the case that computer graphics had outlived itself? Would it not be better if this category were removed and replaced by another for future Prix Ars Electronica? At first I too subscribed to this point of view. When, however, it came to the stage that only a small number of slides remained in the projector, images which we looked at over and over again until the final three emerged at last, I began not to be so sure. The laws of mathematical logic came to my aid here; the logical opposition to the statement "all of the windows are closed" being also expressed in the statement "at least one of the windows is open".

With this window, this closed window, though I should say: through this closed window I was able to see a new and, I suppose, afresh lease on life for Computer Graphics and for this category in the competition.

The jury's decision to award Andrew Witkin and Michael Kass the Golden Nica was unanimous, an interesting fact when one considers the completely diverse nature of the jury itself, made up, as it was, by scientists, computer experts, artists working with computers and artists from other fields.

It is all the more surprising that a jury representing so many different disciplines was able to spontaneously agree on this year's winner. It is precisely in this kind of spontaneity that I see a path, a glimmer of hope for the future. With all due respect to the possibilities computers have to offer us, they are still not yet perfect. The means they put at our disposal ate still extremely limited.

But perhaps the problem lies not so much in the imperfection of the machines, or the humans who use them, as in the relationship between the two parties , themselves. Perhaps we should try to overcome the differences between these phenomena, i.e., try to remove human nature from humans and machine-like qualities from machines. Clearly we are talking about creating a partnership, if not a symbiosis, where both computer and man might then share equal chances. Both would be courageous, neurotic, weak and vain, irrational and whatever else to the same degree.

I am in favour of the relationship between machines and human beings becoming dearer and more transparent, a relationship without fear, mystification or the overtones of superiority or power. A relationship as is to be found in a mature marriage, marked by love, bereft of painful argument, in which mutual understanding becomes indelibly etched into its structure with the passage of time. The marriage of human beings and the computer is still in its early days, yet we (I refer to the jury and the organisers) are already contemplating a divorce.

It is certainly interesting to note from which fields this year's winners of the Ars Electronica have been recruited.

Golden Nica

Andrew Witkin and Michael Kass come from a scientific background. Nevertheless, their graphic "RD Texture Buttons" is a completely new breakthrough in aesthetics. The technical experts present in the commission were of the opinion that their results were due to the new programs which the authors themselves bad developed. One might be tempted to believe that this was sheer chance. Sheer chance? - this I refuse to believe. Firstly, I think that they were able to move about at a certain level without let or hindrance and, just as freely, let themselves be drawn towards and over each particular area. Secondly, I believe that rational chance can only flourish in a soil which has been carefully prepared in advance by ourselves. For that very reason a new program can also incorporate the seed of a new, convincing sense of aesthetics (which at the same time heralds a new sense of ethics) through the medium of an extremely simple composition, just as is the case in the winners' graphic.

The runners up come first and foremost from an arts background. One of them (Mark Wilson) is already part of the older generation, yet at the same time precisely his works "18 G 90" appear to be modern. I think that the reason for this is that he regards the computer not so much as a principal stimulus, but as an intelligent medium with clearly defined possibilities, allowing one to express and portray things in a way that was previously impossible.

Some of these remarks apply equally to the work " Ha Ha 7a"of the second author, Stewart McSherry. We are in no way surprised to discover from his biography that be has worked with glass; rather, we become more aware that the search or rather, his search, to create fragility and in corporeality is far more impressively realised via the computer than working with glass. We return by way of conclusion to the major point that the choice of means at an artist's disposal is probably secondary when compared with the fundamental axiom that what really counts is the intensity of the message or statement relayed by the chosen medium. That's what used to be called talent.

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