Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

u19 Freestyle Computing
Martin Pieper

As a jury member you sit for several days in a dark room at ORF’s Upper Austrian Regional Studio, immersed in over a thousand entries from young people under the age of 19. You then begin to wonder what they have in common and how they differ: primary school classes and students taking their A levels, individual contenders and project groups, web designers and game programmers, young men and sadly—once again—not as many women. Are these over thousand entries a representative cross section of freestyle computing by young people in Austria? The sheer number seems to answer the question in the affirmative. Yet the fact that the computer or—to put it more broadly—digital technology has so strongly invaded the daily lives of young people, makes us hope that there are at least another thousand creative minds out there working on ideas of their own. Though the “freestyle” principle that originally engendered the title could, by all means, have a greater impact on the entries. But then again, maybe the prize-winners of 2003 do not so much reveal what we can expect in the future from programmers, robot builders, web designers and artists, but reflect what the entrants believe is expected from digital projects today. At any rate, this year’s outstanding works often cross borders, be it technically, in matters related to interface design or areas of application.

Programming web pages, filling them with content and putting them in a structure accessible to users can now be found across all age groups. And this year again, content as a criterion for quality has been underestimated. Indeed even for school kids, the “beautiful” homepage has become more or less the norm, but it alone does not suffice for an award. One work we found convincing was i2—What is a great page? by Anna Obermeier, Alexandra Voglreiter and Katharina Krummel. This project was realized by a group of girls between the ages of eleven and thirteen, who allow us a look at their lives while also using the Internet to connect across national borders. Dominik Dorn’s lyrix.at, one of two entries presenting song texts (the other was www.songtexte.com), offers quite practical contents and a lively community, packaged attractively. And Georg Gruber at inflex.org explores the customary interfaces of websites.

In the entertainment industry, computer games have long had a status equal to movies and music. As regards graphics, appearance and marketing costs, u19 contributors can hardly compete with these elaborate games, with their large project development teams, high specialization and several years’ lead time. Yet a fun game and a “good idea” cannot be bought, even with lots of money. This fact was demonstrated, for instance, by the many retrogame entries that surprised us in 2003: e.g., the innovative revival of a good old text adventure such as acknowledged in Thomas Hainscho’s School’s Out for Rosh Hodesh Adar II. The project :.be A bee.: by fourteen-year-old pupils Armin Ronacher and Nikolaus Mikschofsky revolves, it is true, around cute little bees, but is a fantastic and complex economic simulation too.

Computer graphics are also well represented. It is a field which chiefly attracts primary school classes who engage themselves with commitment and zest. Instead of crayons and felt pens, mice and graphics programs have taken over drawing lessons. Loosely speaking, the older the entrants, the more animated the images. And in the end it was a 3-D animated film which grabbed the Golden Nica: the jury found Rubberduck by Georg Sochurek not only convincing due to its technical ingenuity but above all because of its pensive story. How the filmmaker succeeds in turning a lifeless object like a “rubber duck” into a surface for the projection of the viewer’s emotions is astonishing. In their perfection, the script, editing and soundtrack come very close to what were most obviously the film’s American models. One of the youngest participants in the u19 competition, seven-year-old David Hackl, was able to demonstrate with his animation The Fly—which lasts only a few seconds—that less is often more. With respect to Flash animation, we found Manuel Fallmann’s space adventure system interrupted and its imagery, so well versed in comics, very compelling. A lovely exception is also the work Leap into the Unknown by HS Steinerkirchen, a secondary modern school: a mixture of real-life shots and digital “overpaints” of the footage gives the classic boy-meets-girl story a new twist. Sound Images created by pupils from the college preparatory school Borg 3 in Vienna, and Movement by pupils from the secondary school HBLA for Artistic Design in Linz can both be regarded as operating at the boundary between web page, graphics and animation: with audible graphics, moving language and visible sounds.

The jury was especially taken by unconventional solutions combining high-tech features with low-tech ones. It was along these lines and with a certain do-it-yourself mentality that Tobias Schererbauer, Matthäus König and Sebastian Schreiner developed The Studio and the Green Box. Also visual aids for people with disabilities (Acoustic Reading Aids for the Visually Impaired by Franz Wengler and Christof Haidinger) and even medical devices (The Listhesis Analysis Device by Sigrun Astrid Fugger and Martin Leonhartsberger) placed among the u19 prizewinners.

And if a jury may wish for something, then please, submit more electronic music to u19 again next time: for even jury members like to dance.

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