Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Hybridity – The Signature of our Age

Scott deLahunta, Jens Hauser, Golan Levin, Sandrine von Klot, Elaine Ng

Any etymological search for the origins of the word “hybrid” leads to its definition as a crossbreeding between subspecies or species of animals or plants. In more recent times, cultural thinkers and critical theorists have developed the persuasive position that hybridity and hybridization is an effective means of characterizing the interdependencies and relationships produced by forms of cultural mixing and migration within the context of shifting globaborders. So, given the currency of the term hybrid in its oldest and most recent manifestations – from which perspective does one understand the establishment of the new category of Hybrid Art in the context of the Prix Ars?

The best perspective may simply be the context of Ars Electronica itself. Being dedicated since 1979 to a “critical discussion and reflection upon media culture at the interstices of art, technology and society,” one might observe that Ars Electronica has always been interested in hybridity. The concept was highlighted at the Ars Electronica Festival in 2005 with its theme Hybrid – living in paradox. The Festival statement suggested that hybridity “is the signature of our age, emblematic of the casualness with which we have already established ourselves in real, physical habitats as well as in digital, virtual domains, of the way that dealing with and reconfiguring cultural differences has been a matter taken completely for granted, and of the disturbingly routine nature of the way we play with the building blocks of life”. This text demonstrates tendencies towards a hybrid intermediality involving interchanging levels of “informing matter,” both biological and cultural; no longer based on the notion of universal code but on the combination of more specific and contextualized codes.

Another development also gives insight into Ars Electronica's decision to establish the new category called Hybrid Art. In recent years, Ars Electronica began considering a fresh mandate for the Interactive Art category: a clearer set of criteria that returned to concepts of real-time, direct interaction and emphasized the role of the interface. Such a reaffirmation of the terms of interactive art would likely disqualify numerous submissions that previously had been effectively challenging and consequently extending this more orthodox description of interactive art. At least in part, Hybrid Art was a proposed solution for art works that would, under this re-definition, not qualify as “interactive,” and also those works that would not find a place in other categories such as Net Art, Digital Musics and Computer Animation.

Jury Process

The new Hybrid Art category received over 450 entries – a quantity roughly on par with the Prix Ars competition’s most established categories. From this number alone, one might conclude that artists have been thinking beyond the competition’s divisions for some time. While there was initial discussion about our criteria for Hybrid Art as a jury panel, the task of reviewing the submissions helped us approach this question. Clusters began to emerge quickly. These reflected the diverse range of works overall, which included many that would have (or in some cases, had previously) fallen in-between or outside other categories of the Prix Ars Electronica. Not surprisingly, there were some submissions that conceivably fit well into other categories, but all artists knowingly decided to submit their work to the Hybrid Art category. With all entries, we tried to understand the works’ “hybrid-ness” as a reflection of the artists’ intention. Generally, we considered each cluster to be indicative of a possible direction for Hybrid Art. We believe this diversity is reflected in our selection.

One cluster of submissions that emerged during our survey was a collection of artworks that we came to refer to as “data translation art.” In 1996, the artist Jim Campbell gave a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) in which he presented a “Formula for Computer Art” that can be interpreted today as a critique of artworks that map an arbitrary input (e.g. wind, Internet activity, stock prices, etc.) to an arbitrary output (e.g. moving images, heat generators, robotic actuators, etc.). Submissions that implemented these basic connections without a significant layering and weaving together of concept, implementation and context were quickly rejected.

There were also many mechatronic artworks involving varying degrees of programming, ranging from scripted (i.e. animatronic) to autonomous, to more “intelligent” or “responsive.” These, furthermore, varied from earnest formal studies to ironic social operators. We felt strongly that this work deserved a home in the Hybrid Art category and were glad to note the incorporation of mechatronic techniques into projects such as Cloaca and Nothing Happens. There were no prizewinning artworks this year that might be identified as “primarily robotic,” but (noting excellent past works such as D’Andrea et al.'s Robotic Chair) we believe this field holds much potential.

A small number of submissions brought our attention to the creation of experience through senses beyond image and sound, e.g. smell, touch, etc. By engaging more of our senses, it could be argued that these works have a strong hybrid nature, and in the end, we selected Cloaca in part for its specific use of olfaction in the context of a powerful conceptual and material realization. While these multi-sensory works point towards an expansion of the parameters for experiencing art, another cluster surfaced in which a full range of senses is traditionally recognized to be constitutive of the work itself – in the body of the actor or dancer performing on stage. While none of these performances made it into our final selection, several linked image, gesture and movement in real-time through various computer-based interfaces – which by definition also qualifies them for the Interactive Art category.

The most significant new direction presented itself in a guise that might arguably be considered performance-based. However, the living organic entities at the core of this work are microscopically small and, while growing interactively, they do not primarily focus on the transmission of information. These entities create new relationships between the physical medium (which cannot be induced from any single technically defined medium) and its mediation and mediatization. In this group of works and working conditions (and especially in the case of the Golden Nica) we have selected, the boundaries between art and science are blurred. If we can make one generalization about the new Hybrid Art category, it is a shift in the interests of “new media” artists, beyond the information technologies of the networked computer, and towards materials technologies – biological, chemical, mechanical, and (undoubtedly soon) nanotechnological. The creative processes involved often rely on the highly technical capacity for probing materials that are somewhere between living and non-living; materials that are sustained in their living states; demystified and transported the discourses that inform the current condition of contemporary art. These artworks draw from the original etymological meaning of the term Hybrid, while simultaneously producing new cultural experiences and ontological understandings through “rematerialization, de-image-ing, performativity and hybrid intermediality”. When considering the notion of “informing matter,” it is no longer relevant to think this only through the vector of transmission and transformation of information as data – as exemplified in Campell's “Formula for Computer Art” – but rather to view “in-forming phenomena” and the possible transformation of the category of new media to include a transition from silicon to carbon-based information carriers.

Golden Nica

SymbioticA: The Art and Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, University of Western Australia, Perth (represented by its co-founder and Artistic Director Oron Catts)

SymbioticA is an artistic laboratory, co-founded by Professor Miranda Grounds, Professor Stuart Bunt as its scientific director, and Oron Catts as its artistic director. The laboratory is dedicated to the research, pedagogy and critique of life sciences in relation to the arts. Since 2000, it has enabled artists to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department on an ongoing basis and to pursue curiosity-based explorations while complying with scientific regulations. Uniquely housed within the School of Anatomy & Human Biology at the University of Western Australia in Perth, SymbioticA offers a “new means of artistic inquiry, one in which artists actively use the tools and technologies of science, not just to comment about them, but also to explore their possibilities.” The jury recognizes SymbioticA’s exceptional achievement as a collaborative structure which, since its creation, has provided access to more then 40 resident artists that wish to work with wet biology lab techniques. It became clear to the jury that many of the submissions to the Hybrid category relied on the type of resources which are nurtured and provided at SymbioticA – to the extent that the Lab has since become a model for other institution-embedded structures, including Ectopia in Lisbon and the newly initiated BioArts Initiative at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy. Artists presently working with biological forms confront limitations of access to technology, very much analogous to the experiences of computer artists active in the late 1960s. The necessary resources are financially still prohibitive, with access restrictive and mainly obtained through institution-scale investments. Without institutional support for the critical and imaginative practices, the field is limited to singular and isolated attempts to employ new techniques. SymbioticA represents an outstanding example of how an artistic research community effectively identifies new fields of engagement towards systemically meaningful art forms.

Most crucial is SymbioticA’s efforts to maintain the relationships between artists and scientists in balance – a task that absorbs much creative energy from the core artists running the structure Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, from the Tissue Culture & Art project. Besides welcoming other artists, dealing with the obligatory ethics approvals and health and safety related issues, the core team of artists also offer classes in “Biological Arts” for undergraduate students, as well as the unique specialized “Biological Arts Masters program”. Outside the academic setting, it organizes workshops for artists including activities such as DNA extraction and fingerprinting, genetic engineering and basic tissue-engineering techniques, whose aim is to both democratize knowledge about life sciences and to enable anyone to set up home labs.

This award is intended to provide SymbioticA both recognition and support for the Lab's existence, to help in creating and producing new artworks. SymbioticA points to new directions for the field of New Media art – to go beyond "plug and play" strategies and to open the horizon for new forms of art which demand time, equipment, skills and philosophical awareness of the issues at stake. The jury believes that these changing factors in terms of duration, transdisciplinary fusion and the questioning of the centrality of data are crucial in the category of Hybrid Art.

Awards of Distinction

After awarding the Golden Nica to a structure that enables unique work to emerge from the interstices between art and the life sciences, the jury gave the Awards of Distinction to the unusual and powerful works of two very different artists, both of whom have dedicated their lives to the creative manifestation of new ways of thinking and dreaming.

Our Awards of Distinction go to Cloaca (2000-2007, studies since 1997) by Wim Delvoye and the various Biological Habitats of Zbigniew Oksiuta. As a pairing, these projects present both numerous contrasts and fascinating similarities. One, as framed within the context of a contemporary arts culture (i.e. gallery, market, etc.), is both ironic and a fully realized artwork; the other is conceptually and manifestly more open-ended. One explores the inner space of the body, while the other probes the outer spaces our own bodies may eventually inhabit. Both works have been developed as the result of singular creative visions, over a long period of time, in collaboration with “unexpected” types of scientists (e.g. gastroenterologists, botanists). Most significantly, both works are iconoclastic and futuristic in the extreme – and prior to the new Hybrid Art category there would not have been an opportunity for the Prix Ars Electronica to adequately recognize them.

Wim Delvoye

Wim Delvoye’s Cloacaseries is a group of organo-kinetic installations developed over the last decade. These works are, both technically and conceptually, masterpieces of hybrid art on all levels. The objective of Cloaca is to duplicate the human digestive system with the sole purpose of generating feces. Fed twice daily, this absurd “shitting machine” consists of a sequence of connected glass receptacles, each containing a specific biochemical composition in which an intestinal micro-climate of bacterial flora is maintained, thereby replicating the various stages of digestion. Cloaca is designed as a laboratory of materialized processuality, with an assembly line of stainless steel elements, flasks of enzymes kept constantly at “body” temperature, peristaltic pumps that transfer the ripening concoction through silicone intestines and internal electrical circuits that run the machine’s control software. Through a relentlessly single-minded attempt to perfect the verisimilitude of its output, Delvoye has, to date, produced seven fully-functional revisions of this “generative artwork” over the last ten years – the two most recent to be unveiled in September 2007 in Luxembourg.

Thoroughly hybridizing human and machine, Delvoye’s transpecies mechanism emphasizes that “life” is actually a continuum. While the artwork has obvious parallels to anatomic studies of human dissection, its materialized fetishization of transparency operates as a critique of visiocentrism, and of the trust in visual evidence in general. Indeed, the artwork need not be “seen”. Although the installation is certainly visually spectacular, another principal impact of Cloaca comes from “off-screen” effects that our perceptual system is not accustomed to differentiate: the use of smell as a central parameter of art appreciation. Unlike a polysemic image, Cloaca’s “linear alphabet of jars” successively gives rise to effects that do not represent, but viscerally generate, presence.

Apart from its obvious organo-mechanical qualities, Cloaca exemplifies hybridity in many other ways. One is the manner in which his machines have been developed – that is, iteratively refined over many years, outside of any institutional “sciart” program, with the help of gastroenterologists, scientists, engineers and plumbers that the artist contracted. In adopting the posture of what Delvoye himself calls a Yellow Page Artist – constantly looking for the best specialists to implement his ideas – he deliberately integrates his process with strategies of corporate power. Delvoye further hybridizes the Cloaca project by engaging in the capitalist system as he offers the machines’ “end-products” to the global commodity market, to be traded by investors and speculators. That Cloaca functions as a true industrial production line not only serves as a metaphor for the art market, it also probes the logic according to which each artist, working under countless influences and predecessors, fashions his or her own worlds and methods towards a personal, idiosyncratic and original product.

Biological Habitat: Breeding Spaces Technology,
Made in Space

Zbigniew Oksiuta
Based on recent developments especially in the
fields of biology and biochemistry, current physical and spatial living conditions will be questioned beyond the known structures, forms and norms. Against this backdrop, in the intersecting field between art, architecture, computing and the life sciences, Zbigniew Oksiuta develops projects of biological habitat that examine “principles of life as possibilities to develop a new kind of biological future in the biosphere and in space.” As the clarity of a fixed space typology is today continually distorted and blurred and the initial form of a building becomes unimportant in comparison with its performance (vis-à-vis the spatial variations and flows within it), Oksiuta seeks to develop a universal code, a generative theory of shape, according to the technology that unites materials, technique and form. While the actual prototypes are still quite “primitive”, the future biological spatial entities should adopt, transform and synthesize matter and energy from its surroundings by biological means and control all functions and events by internal information. Oksiuta's architecture projects examine the relation between the containment and the contained. He seeks to develop techniques of fluid form creation (morphogenesis) versus common principles of accumulating and solidifying formerly dynamic processes. Therefore it is logical that Oksiuta searches for shapes and materials that would adapt to extreme conditions such as underwater or zero gravity space. Instead of imposing simulated geometrical concepts on a material, Oksiuta’s gelatine architecture structures and “isopycnic” systems use direct material systems (a mix of liquids and solids) for calculating form, thus inverting the direction of thought. The relationship between simulation and materiality itself is the subject: his technology principles imply the creation of spatial forms in the state of weightlessness, the use of biological polymers as construction material, and the production of biological
containers as pneumatic forms.

Honorary Mentions

Latent Figure Protocol
Paul Vanouse

Instead of choosing the path of “visualization art” which often uses the technique of gel-electrophoresis to create abstract “DNA portraits,” in Latent Figure Protocol Vanouse utilizes these DNA sequencing technologies not simply to stage images of a sequence of DNA in a gel (like a DNA fingerprint), but rather DNA sequences in a gel that are specifically chosen to create a quasiphotographic representation of another subject, such as the copyright symbol. The jury acknowledges this performative biotech art installation for its refined subversive potential in displaying biotechnologies in relation to their philosophical, political and economic parameters.

Autoinducer_Ph-1 (cross cultural chemistry)
Andy Gracie, Brian Lee Yung Rowe

Autoinducer_Ph-1 is a "cross cultural chemistry" installation that stages traditional Asian rice cultivation techniques in the context of the machinic nature of ecologies. With its pond-like structures, electronics, laboratory and hydroponics equipment, the performative piece connects the organic protagonists of the installation to a synthetic software-based "bacteria" that interacts with them in its assumed roles of symbiont and parasite. Autoinducer_Ph-1 creates a functioning symbiosis between a real (organic) ecosystem and a synthetic (virtual) one, establishing a uniquely “hybrid” bi-directional feedback.

Camera Lucida: Sonochemical Observatory
Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand

The Camera Lucida: Sonochemical Observatory transforms sound energy into light through an unusual physical/chemical phenomenon known as sonoluminescence. The work requires the viewer to undergo a period of adjustment to the dark “before a corridor of luminescent details is unlocked.” Enabling, as it does, the direct experience of sound and light as interchangeable matter, this artwork is highly qualified for the Hybrid Art category.

public conVENience

Tabaimo’s reinvents a traditional Japanese woodblock genre originating in the 17th century, commonly referred to as ukiyo-e to create digital animations, which explore contemporary Japanese social ills and communal nostalgia through satire and architectural spaces. In public con-VENience, Tabaimo presents a room encompassing three-channel installation, set in a public bathroom. A fluttering moth with camera shutter eyes offer viewers the voyeuristic perspective of surreal, unexpected activities. Here, Tabaimo explores the uncanny resonance of public spaces where anonymity and intimacy collide.

Unreflective Mirror
Masaki Fujihata

The latest work by an established master of media art may be the first “augmented reality” artwork for which the requisite pair of goggles does not seem like an intrusive, conceptually superfluous encumbrance. Unreflective Mirror presents an unusually convincing hybrid space – two identical worlds, one containing the viewer, and an astonishingly identical one from which the viewer has apparently been all but deleted. In its minimal but seamless implementation, the project forges a new link between interactive and conceptual arts.

Beatriz da Costa with Cina Hazegh and Kevin

In PigeonBlog, homing pigeons are equipped with custom-built miniature air pollution sensing devices. This information is transmitted to an online server, where it is compiled and plotted in real-time into Google’s popular mapping environment. The project effectively prompts public awareness about a topic that has serious health, environmental and political consequences, however, lacks public action and commitment to change. By employing non-human agents in a tactical media strategy of “grass roots data gathering”, PigeonBlog builds bridges between scientific research agendas and activist-oriented citizen concerns.

Nothing Happens
Nurit Bar-Shai

This elegant project hybridizes Net.Art and mechatronic installation art in a manner that recalls Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana’s well-known Telegarden (1996). The difference is its studied pointlessness – there is no teleology, no desire to demonstrate the marvellous social potential of telerobotics to a lay audience. Nothing Happens hermetic and absurd ends bring Goldberg and Santarromana’s musings about “telepistemology” into sharp focus, and in so doing develops a pure and mature concept.

Five Pieces of Evidence
Raqs Media Collective

The Raqs Media Collective is a three-member group (Jeebesh Bagchi, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Monica Narula) that has operated in New Delhi since 1992. Raqs’ interdisciplinary art practice integrates image, sound, sculpture, found objects, performance and technology with networking, publishing, distribution and curation, offering work which straddles different affective and aesthetic registers. Consistent themes in their art include notions of personal and social histories, modernity and the urban experience, and operations of power and property, all of which are well illustrated in Five Pieces of Evidence.

Exploding Camera
Julien Maire

In his most recent work Exploding Camera Julien Maire refers to a suicide bomb attack two days before September 11, in which an exploding camera was used to kill anti-Taliban warrior Ahmad Shah Massoud. In his work, Maire disassembles a video camera with the exception of the light sensor, which remains untouched. Connected to a video projector, the camera emits specks of light, which spread throughout the space creating incoherent, explosive effects. Through the deconstruction and rediscovery of audiovisual media, Maire seeks to develop specialized media for specific subject matter. The exhibition space is converted into an experimental film studio of “dysfunctional,” live media operations.

Day Of The Figurines
Blast Theory

In 2003, Blast Theory received the Golden Nica for Interactive Art for their city-wide locative and mobile media game/artwork, Can You See Me Now. The Day of the Figurines game/artwork continues their investigation of mobile media, but inverts the use of new devices to focus on the highly ubiquitous piece of technology: the mobile phone. While there is a degree of “classic” interactivity in the work, the jury viewed the work as a new direction for both their practice as well as how stabilized and ubiquitous media platforms are used for the development of works which foster new communities for media arts.

@c + Lia
Miguel Carvalhais / Pedro Tudela / Lia

For nearly a decade the Austrian generative artist Lia, in collaboration with the @c collective, has brought the hybridization of sound-responsive visuals and image-responsive sounds to an exceptionally high degree of aesthetic refinement. The jury awards an Honorary Mention to their collaboration, @c + Lia, not simply for a specific performance, but in recognition of their work’s overall quality and their long-term influence on audiovisual culture.

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