Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

A Generation Takes Off. Hollywood in Children’s Playrooms

Sirikit Amann, Gerlinde Lang, Christopher Lindinger, Stefan Pirker, Tereza Szente

While other kids are still struggling to learn their ABC, this year’s entrants are already wizards at computers. Or at least that´s how it seems. Children begin exploring the possibilities of digital worlds earlier and earlier.

But what, you may ask, is so new about this? The fact that young people are experimenting with computer-aided tools is certainly not going to make headlines. This interest has already been turned into commercial products (learning games) for children’s playrooms. At one time we had thought it all began with the computer and that computer-enthusiasts under the age of nineteen first pondered all the awesome things they could do with this tool. Now things have reversed: ideas are central and only afterwards do young people begin to think about how they might implement them. The outcome is a mega mix of high-tech, low-tech and no-tech.

The jury viewed, judged and commented on almost 700 works. We continued to be awed by what goes on in young people’s heads. “Why isn’t there a short list? We can’t convey the entire range of their creativity if we are only allowed to honor fifteen works!” one jury member complained. In this heartfelt remark lies the enormous challenge for the jury. How can we compare works by children with those by young adults? What status should be accorded to animated images, and which to net communities? What is special within the ordinary? Creativity, wit, earnestness, thoroughness and many other qualities are all components in the digital universe of young people today.

In the meantime we have made our decisions. Nevertheless, the images are still circulating wildly in our minds. Pixel by pixel, they are converging into a gallery of colors, impressions, snapshots, soundscapes and graphic elements. They are as varied as the entries themselves. Yet what remains of the hundreds of works we viewed? The is fact that fifteen prizes or distinctions are not enough to do justice to the wealth of ideas.

There was Fantasy X, and a sweet-and-sour duck, Christmas cards from around the world, and a disinfection robot to combat athlete’s foot, adorable aliens and visual worlds reminiscent of Mirò, programs for a mobile emergency call system for seniors and for remote-controlled satellite receivers for ORF (Austrian Radio and Television), films on a grand scale and others made in kindergarten play corners, imaginative works such as computer casing in human form and some tiny devils as 3D bombers. We saw stop-motion and Flash-animated films, split screens (the hit of 2006), cutouts, collages, works in plasticine and clay, a great deal of Lego and Playmobil, an attempt to morph ideal beauty, first steps in bionics, crowded nurseries, photos of classes with their teachers, computer-based learning objects embedded in CMS, functioning net communities and ones still working towards this goal, visuals for music and sounds for visuals. But there were also critical, socio-political confrontations with the immediate future, with the working world and young people’s options. The search for identity was presented under the slogan “Heimat – Wo?” [Home—Where?] as well as in relation to gaining a foothold in a modern world rooted in tradition, embodied by hybrid dirndls. And then there were those uncategorizable products: some of them were coincidences; others, quite provoking; and still others, so offbeat that we would be delighted to be invited for an afternoon to one of these young wizard’s dens. So here they are, one by one ...

The Golden Nica

The Golden Nica 2006 goes to the animation Abenteuer Arbeitsweg by Ehrentraud Hager, Alexander Niederklapfer, David Wurm and Magdalena Wurm. Their work scored points for its great charm and precise timing. A father is on his way to work—normally this is not a particularly unnerving activity, but in this stop-motion project a great deal happens. All kinds of transportation are used to get from A to B. Scenes at train stations alternate with street traffic; much occurs simultaneously at different speeds. And no matter where one looks in this Lego world, everything is in motion; down to the smallest detail, everything has been meticulously worked out (the train station scenes are marvelous). Two years of work—for thirteen minutes of fun.

The first Award of Distinction goes to Faceology, a work submitted by Irene Kriechbaum. In a field experiment, she attempts to achieve “ideal beauty” by photographing and morphing faces, a mixture which she subsequently superimposes onto other natural faces until an unnaturally perfect and beautiful face emerges. The exactitude of this work impressed the jury so greatly that we selected it for this award.

Another Award of Distinction goes to Robogreiner, a four-member team (Ralph Aichhorn, Katharina Greul, Felix Gruber, Fabian Guschelbauer). Their project Robofisch demonstrates how much thought students give to issues concerning nature nowadays. This Robofisch is an electronic diver that can be used to take water samples. By making the vehicle resemble a fish, the students hoped to disturb the aquatic world as little as possible. This ecological niche is combined with “economics”: in implementing their project they drew on the notion of a “witch’s kitchen”, which meant they turned whatever was available into an improvised and inexpensive but innovative prototype (i.e., they used a marmalade jar as “vessel”). The entire work process was determined by a well-thought-out and theoretically sound concept. This enabled its realization, but also disclosed the problems involved, as well as the technical craftsmanship and intense brainwork needed to solve them.

The jury once again awarded a Distinction in kind for entrants under ten years of age. It was by no means easy to choose this year’s winner. There were so many good projects, that we decided to give the prize to a rather atypical one for this age group. It is neither cute nor nice, but thought provoking.

Trick und Politik by the 1c / GRG1 Stubenbastei is a cynical brew of question-and-answer sequences that examine socio-political issues visually. The work thrives on symbolic communication and primarily uses the signal value of deliberately selected motifs which in combination with pragmatic-functional meanings convey short messages related to political life and political problems in an intellectually entertaining and amusing fashion.

The jury had less difficulty picking the Distinction in kind for children between the ages of eleven and fourteen: With Wunderwelt Candy CAVE, eleven-year-old Julius Lugmayr satisfied the objectives of u19 – freestyle computing perfectly: a goldfish bowl as projection surface, two beamers, the dream of candy, all implemented in a film and voilà: a mobile Cave for playrooms. A fantastic interaction of hardware and software are used to produce augmented reality.

The Honorable Mentions

The Honorary Mentions reflect the range of this year’s entries. Whether Jiri Kuban presents a perfect visualization of the well-known song Ich kauf mir ´ne Rakete, or ten-year old Lisa Steiner designs a Kiwi Monster; a class at the Diehlgasse special education center delights the jury with the work Piep, or thirteen-year-old Nana Susanne Thurner gets under our skin with her black-and-white animated film War; Gabriel Freinbichler astounds us with his extremely lively net community www.donaufischer.at, or Stjepan Milicevic and Markus Weber amaze us with their PowerPoint presentation Die Fische und der Hai; Thomas Hainscho’s website turns out to be not just at random (http://www.zu-fall.net.ms), or “buff-zack-boing” rapped by the ThreeCees does not strike us as odd but as a fundamental component of Comic Life; a Winamp-Fernsteuerung by Dominik Amschl is more than just a useful tool, or ac_form by Emanuel Jauk represents a synthesis of manual and virtual musicmaking – one thing is certain: they all stand for energetic and creative ways of dealing with the possibilities offered by freestyle computing.

Once again, the list of entries and a pen lie before us. And we know: like every year, everything was/is possible. “It’s only a program. Just a few lines and colors. Nothing but a toy. Just cables and screws. And YOU!“

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