Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich


N o r m a n F i l z / P e t e r S c h ö b e r

The notion that our kids are growing lonely and limited sitting in front of machines may now be dropped completely: if anything surpassed the quality of the entries for the U19/Freestyle Computing category of the Prix Ars Electronica, then it was only the sheer quantity of them ...

“You’ve created a great Web site? You’ve produced your own CD-Rom? Your class has presented itself on the Internet? You’ve invented cool sounds? Or you have done something else really wild with your computer?” It was with catch phrases like these that the Prix Ars Electronica invited the cybergeneration of the millennium to take part in the competition Cybergeneration U19/Freestyle Computing, announced for the first time this year in conjunction with the Prix Ars Electronica.

The success was simply overwhelming: over 540 elaborate works trickled in steadily as a reaction to the efforts on the part of ORF and the Austrian Postal Bank (P.S.K.), which went into action in the print and broadcasting media on behalf of the contest newcomer in conjunction with the Prix Ars Electronica. And anyone familiar with the youth branch, who knows that the number of entries for prize competitions dwindles rapidly as soon as more is required than merely scribbling an answer on a postcard, would have to be impressed: for the youngsters of the year 2000 this competition is right on target. It is crystal clear that every discussion of the computer and the Internet is superfluous here, because our kids have long since learned to get along quite well with their digital friends.

It was a wise decision on the part of the competition organizers that no strict categories were predefined. The original ideas and creative implementations that the youngsters came up with (the youngest participant is three, the youngest award winner is eight years old!) in terms of computer animation, music, games, service, graphics and many others, clearly shows the eagerness with which the opportunity was taken to plunge into an open test of strengths. Although there were a few works in which the firmly guiding hand of an ambitious teacher or well-intentioned father could be recognized – which was very unpopular with the jury – on the whole the young contestants took every advantage of an opportunity to show us old fogies what you can really do with interactive media ...

The greatest problem for the jury – which was much envied by the other Prix Ars Electronica jury teams for this opportunity to deal with so much freshness and exuberance – was not the problem of finding enough works worthy of distinction, but on the contrary, the burdensome process of elimination, through which even very good entries had to be dropped, however reluctantly, to reach the ridiculously tiny number of 18 distinguished works. The process was made somewhat easier by giving preference to creativity in form and contents over entries based on purely technical possibilities and skill. On the other hand, however, the jury was then burdened with the responsibility of comparing the enthusiastic and touching ideas of brilliant grammar school children (10 % of the entrants were under the age of 11) with strokes of genius on the part of 18- year-olds and doing justice to all of them. For three days, about ten hours each day, the jury viewed, hotly debated and eliminated, until on Sunday, May 24th, the 18 distinguished works had been decided.

Golden Nica

The U19 “trophy”, the Golden Nica with the enviable prize of a multimedia Pentium PC and free Internet access for a year, was awarded to Valerian Wurzer, Michael Mossburger and Florian Nehonsky, eighth year students at the college preparatory school BRG 6, Marchettigasse Vienna. They called their wellconceived, multi-dimensional project Titanic – without ever having seen the actual box-office hit, by the way – and were very convincing in the way they combined the new medium of the computer with the form, style and aesthetics of silent movies, to which the rendering concept was consciously and humorously adapted. This entry was based on the idea of providing a counterpoint to the exorbitantly expensive Hollywood media spectacle and criticizing the visual treatment of a catastrophe for the amusement of the masses, and the “Anonymen Titaniker” (“Anonymous Titanicans”) were highly successful in achieving this objective in a very amusing and parodying way.

Awards of Distinction

In addition to the Golden Nica, two Awards of Distinction, along with the not insignificant prize of a multimedia Pentium PC worth ATS 50.000 (approx. US$ 4000) each, were also awarded. From among the many music pieces by highly creative young people, Midi-Paint by Leonhard Huber, 18, of Wiener Neustadt,was selected, because it was one of the few works with a genuinely interactive character. His idea of transforming drawings into musical sounds, not only as they are being created but also as finished works,was realized in Visual Basic. Even though linking form and sound is not new, the connection with the computer especially invites experimentation and playfulness. In addition, the Midi-Paint screen interface is especially good and clearly organized. This project suggests a considerable potential for development, especially if the participant adapts it for Internet use.

One of the most impressive works in the competition is the Referate-Fundus – http://www.fundus.org by the 18-year-old Stephan Mitterndorfer from Bad Goisern: already over 2,500 essays and seminar papers have been collected in an Access database and can be downloaded by interested kids. This archive already has 1000 hits a day and it is continuously growing, as essays, reports and seminar papers keep trickling steadily in per e-mail. Since U19/Freestyle Computing consciously intends to address controversial topics too, another reason for distinguishing Referate-Fundus is that it is highly probable this project will trigger a pedagogical discussion about how much sense it makes to serve ready-made works to school students and college students on a platter, so to speak.

Honorary Mentions

The jury also distinguished 15 Honorary Mentions indicating the broad diversity and the enormous age differences among the entrants. In the form of a C64 installation, the project 38911 Basic Bytes Free by Kathrin Meralla and Paul Swoboda (18) critically reflects on the carrier medium.

Only eight years old, Verena Holzknecht is one of the youngest contestants. Her project Nachthimmel (“Night Sky”) is a simple computer graphic, but for her age it is a considerable individual achievement.

In comparison, the second distinguished graphic Lego Dogs by Helmut Klinger is a clever and ironic exploration of pop culture, especially when one takes the entrant’s age into consideration.

The Virtuelle Blindenstock (“Virtual Blind-man’s Cane”) is a technical secondary school project making use of technical skill especially for social purposes.

The project 100 Jahre Pinzgau Bahn (“100 Years of the Pinzgau Railway”) is an example of successful Web presentations of tourist regions and companies by school classes. Here too, the age of the participants (13 years) calls for considerable respect. In light of the abundance of works entered in this field, one could say that there is certainly a trend developing and young people are becoming increasingly involved in a local Web reality.

Generation 1.x by Markus Strahlhofer (17) is by far the most professionally made online game of all the entries of this type, and its successful graphic implementation is particularly striking.

With their 3.A-Klassen CD, the 9-year-old grammar school students of the grammar school Vereinsgasse, Vienna, have made an impressive debut on the Web.

Lost Poem (Doris Mätzler, 17 and Jürgen Bereuter, 18) and Life in the 90ies is full of kindness by Thomas Oberhofer (19) are impressive individual self-portraits on the Internet.

Like the winner, the computer animation Evolution is striking because of its high quality and also because of the tremendous graphical implementation.

Nightmare on Rainberg by students of the Gymnasium Rainberg is a successful short film, skillfully linking real sequences and story with computer animations and special effects, which cleverly clones Hollywood genre films such as Mars Attack or Men in Black at the same time. Script, camera and storyline are all well executed.

The idea of programming a screensaver in ASCII led to an Honorary Mention for Der Traum des Computers (“The Computer’s Dream”) by Gottfried Haider (13).

Well by Peter Plessas (18) is another successful music piece which was distinguished representatively for other music pieces.

The robot simulator New Mouse by Martin Ankerl (18) is one of the most elaborate entries from a technical point of view, and in addition, the documentation and presentation were exemplary.

The fact that other excellent works, such as the Audio CD Sound Club 2.0 by the 15-year-old DJ Benedikt Schalk from Schwechat, for instance, were not included in the final list, that in many sections and age groups it was only possible to select one work representing many others that would have deserved recognition as well, all this should motivate responsible authorities and potential sponsors to provide young people with other opportunities for presenting their creativity.

Since we all know that one does not learn for school and its respectively current requirements, but for the future (which is indeed digital), it would be especially important for the schools to integrate handling the computer and the Internet to a far greater and more serious extent. At the same time, though, there are a number of youngsters, to whom the schools will not be able to teach much more, because they already take the Internet for granted as a medium of communication. As it said in the text accompanying the class project by the 3.A class of the Vereinsgasse grammar school: “When the principle gets stuck, she sends for Takuya ...”

With this successful introduction of Cybergeneration U19/Freestyle Computing, the Ars Electronica has set a significant signpost for the way in which this competition could develop in the next few years and is already looking forward with anticipation to the coming trends that the youngsters will set for themselves. At least this will hopefully have contributed to dispelling the commonly held prejudice that kids just sit in front of the computer shooting at little figures and withdrawing from life around them. Exactly the opposite is true, as may be clearly seen in entries such as Life in the 90ies is full of kindness, Referate- Fundus and Virtueller Blindenstock: they make use of the medium for creative self-representation, for communicating subjects that are important to them and communication in general, ranging all the way to touchingly human and socially aware support endeavors ...

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