Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Interactive Art Today: Between Tradition and Innovation

Masaki Fujihata, Karin Ohlenschläger, Ingvar Sjöberg, Joachim Sauter, Pamela Winfrey

Among the 609 projects in the category Interactive Art, a significant number of the works which were submitted this year reviewed the historical context of interactive art. Instead of devoting themselves unreservedly to future-oriented soft and hardware developments, many of this year’s projects deliberately concentrated on reflection. Recourse to simple, historical principles of interaction—which are illuminated, sometimes ironically and sometimes critically, from the perspective of today’s contexts—provide exciting insight into the conceptual development of interactive art.

As other jury members pointed out already in previous Prix Ars Electronica statements, since the end of the nineties, the interactive arts have entered a state of conceptual and formal maturity and moved into a large range of new fields and applications: from interactive sculpture to participatory “hactivism”; from body art to gene code interaction; and from local human-machine connections to global communication structures and processes.

Interactive arts started in the fifties in a performative context between the artist and his or her process-oriented project. Since the sixties, the performative context has also been between the artist and the audience. During the seventies, the exploration of interactive social relationships and behaviors appeared at the same time as research into and visualization of human-machine interactions. In the seventies video and sound synthesizers and computers started to play a key role in interactive arts. At that time, closed circuit video installations also allowed artists to integrate visitors' presence and behavior in a process-oriented environment. During the eighties, human-machine interactions developed through video installations and multimedia performance arts. The nineties were marked by the “Big Bang” of hardware and software interface design, as well as the development and new connections between human behavior and artificial life environments or virtual reality applications, in sculptures, installations or performative arts. Since the middle of the last decade, through the Internet, the interactive arts are shifting more and more from local and environmental human-machine interactions to a global community and system interactions. The concepts of complex system theory are applied to explore ecological, economic or social behaviour patterns and relationships. Innovative software development contributes to generate communication systems, which link local processes to global structures and functions.

In addition all of this has created a need for mapping and visualization of increasingly complex interrelations and interdependencies. So interactivity gets more and more involved with real-time database software and visualizations.

Although we agree that the interactive arts are still evolving into a huge range of applications, we would like to point out three important streams.

- Firstly, they are heading deeper into basic research related to natural and artificial living systems.

- Secondly, they are focused on participatory local and global communication systems and their social and political applications.

- Thirdly, the interactive arts are increasingly engaged with the critical approach concerning the ideological pattern of programming and the relationship between code, language, and behavior. In this context, the interactive arts have also reconnected to their origins in performing arts and environments.

One project stands out in particular here: the interactive installation The Messenger by Paul DeMarinis, winner of this year’s Golden Nica. This Internet driven work explores the archeology of interactive technology and connects a historical event with immense political and social references to our current global information challenges. Based on early proposals for the electrical telegraph made by the Catalan scientist, Francesc Salvá, this installation examines the metaphors encoded within information technology.

Hacking the increasingly private and commercial areas of public space, making it accessible once again for the citizens' self-expression and participation is one of the aims of Graffiti Research Lab who received a distinction. Repurposing ubiquitous commercial technologies, they are interested in taking back public space in order to challenge corporate culture and create new avenues of urban communication.

Another Distinction has been awarded to Zachary Lieberman’s performative installation drawn, which takes us back to one of the most simple and ancient expressions of creativity: painting. But in this case, this analog process is connected to a real time digital animation system. It brings a simple ink drawing to life, transformed into an animated organic character, and allows the user to interact, push, and move the drawing on the screen. This connection between low and high tech, manual and virtual means, user-friendly intuitive software and real time sound and image performance, makes drawn a multipurpose tool with a wide range of applications in the performing arts and education.

Hacking and reprogramming commercial video games is not only a question of fun but also of resistance. Joan Leandre proposes a critical approach to how the industry programs the games but also their users. Retroyou Nostal (g), by Joan Leandre, is a commercial flight simulator whose graphic interface and basic parameters for navigation, three-dimensional orientation, and instrument control functions have been modified. So, if users want to fly under these conditions, they have to reprogram their own experience, knowledge and perception of space, time and speed.

double helix swing (concept: Ursula Damm, programming: Christian Kessler, sound: Yunchul Kim) is an interactive real-time installation, which connects natural living systems and artificial life environments. The flight of mosquito swarms is registered by a camera, connected to a computer. A program transforms the movement of the mosquitoes into traces visualized on the screen. These traces are the nutrition of artificial live cells, which are able to evolve by the input of the double helix traces of the swarms and also by the input of the users' interactions. The user can program and modify the genetic code of these artificial creatures and their behavior and explore the complex relationship among biological, social, and technological systems.

SOBJECT, by Alberto Frigo, is an ongoing project in which he photographs every object his dominant hand uses. From a close-up perspective, these objects become a ready-made code representing both recurrent and unique life activities. The project started in 2003 and now holds a massive amount of quotidian images. By setting up digital cameras, registering the images in a classified database, and applying an almost obsessive devotion and dedication, he has built an extensive body of work that stretches the boundaries of documentation. Take part in his work at http://www.albertofrigo.net.

Ryota Kimura’s S.U.I. explores the relationship between convenience as articulated by services provided by a consumer society and the issues of privacy surrounding surveillance. S.U.I. (Surveillance Urban Intelligence), uses the personal information about time and place registered on Tokyo’s subway charge card and re-imagines the impact of future transportation systems. In this work, a computer reads and interprets information from these cards and allows the AI of the computer to draw its own conclusions. The AI mixes facts with fiction and takes an active part in making a narrative about our private histories. S.U.I. makes us aware of an important critical tipping point as “intelligent systems” move closer to our private lives.

In Occular Witness, Arijana Kajfes takes a firm grip on the immateriality of light by charting and documenting various methods of working with it as an artistic medium. Within the body of six models and an artist book, she examines both the physical abilities of light and its socio-cultural processes. Her work is part nature, part science, but also focuses on maintaining the free artistic interpretation of the studies – and in that way her work reaches a poetic depth. Occular Witness is an important project, revising and reviewing one of the most vital parts of information technology - light.

The Robotic Chair by Max Dean, Raffaello D’Andrea, and Matt Donovan, is a wooden chair that has the ability to fall apart and put itself back together. Utilizing a custom-made robot embedded in the chair seat and a vision system situated above the chair, the chair is able to locate its various parts and reconnect itself using a variety of docking components. When viewing this work, one cannot help seeing it as a metaphor for the process of living.

Techart Group’s Office Live, is a real-time interactive chain reaction installation that comments on office life. With the impetus provided by a gold fish, the four elements of the “office” are propelled into action by a single fax, creating a series of interrelated events. A computing network, RFID, sound and image sensors, and other sensor technologies were used to produce a dynamic real-time domino effect.

Vexations, by Yuko Mohri and Soichiro Mihara, is an installation based on a composition by Eric Satie. Over time, Satie’s work, originally designed to be played 840 times, repeatedly incorporates the ambient sounds from the exhibition space, allowing common frequencies to subtly morph the work into a new piece. This work points out the gossamer relational possibilities within classically composed music and recorded soundscapes.

Alvaro Cassinelli’s Khronos Projector is an exploration into a new technology. Cassinelli has succeeded in developing a new human-machine interface, a tactile spatio-temporal projection screen that allows the user to physically manipulate a deformable projection surface in order to effect time within the images themselves. This new screen could be used by artists and educators as well as having remarkable commercial applications.

Outerspace, by Andre Stubbe and Markus Lerner, is a beautifully wrought interactive robotic creature whose anthropomorphic behavior is based on curiosity. It is sensitive to light, motion, and especially contact, and behaves remarkably like a responsive living creature.

Alan Price’s Tartarus utilizes real time graphics and game engine technology to create the unlikely virtual character of an emotional old man in a nihilistic and absurd environment. The user accompanies the old man whose burden is a single chair. As you adventure through this world of naked stairways, and unwelcome rooms, more and more chairs begin to accumulate in a metaphoric homage to the Sisyphean task of being an individual.

Yunchul Kim constructed a sculpture-like tower of brushed copper pipes all joined to each other, called Hello world! (“Hello world” refers to a simple introductory computer program). These 300-meter long tubes function as temporary memory storage. Yunchul Kim sends modulated waves in which the sentence “hello world” is coded through the system. At the end, after traveling a half of a second through the pipes, the sound is decoded and sent to a monitor where the sentence is then displayed. The sound travelling through the pipes can be heard. Because it is a fragile memory, the sound of the space can disturb the message.

This statement has been prepared and edited by Pamela Winfrey and Karin Ohlenschläger with contributions from the other jury members: Ingvar Sjöberg, Joachim Sauter, Masaki Fujihata.

© Ars Electronica Linz GmbH, info@aec.at