Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

One step toward Community

Declan McCullagh

Although the .net category is open to nearly all categories of Web sites and Internet projects, the jury this year decided to highlight ones that encourage interaction in a way that could not take place without the Net. We looked for works that connect people in novel ways and encourage interactivity and collaboration. The winners highlight the evolving, organic nature of the Internet in a way that coincides with the theme of this year's Prix Ars Electronica competition. They also suggest the emergence of new social formations and social values-like open-source software and a near-universal dislike of unsolicited bulk e-mail-that are specific to network communications.

Linus Torvalds: Linux

Linux might appear to be an unlikely pick for a top prize in the .net category. After all, an operating system doesn't appear to neatly fall into the usual categories of art.

But Linux is an example of a work that advances the development of the Net in a novel way. The .net jury sought out pieces that are community building, self organizing, distributed, impossible without the Net, and have grown beyond the original design of the artist. During our deliberations, Linux emerged as an unparalleled example of a work that meets precisely those criteria: It has birthed an aesthetic showing how something can be built on the Net through an intentional, but not necessarily direct, description. As an open-source project, Linux relies on the contributions of thousands of volunteer programmers who collaborate online in a group effort that has created a remarkably robust operating system. The effort is steered-but not directed-by Linus Torvalds. We felt the community that has assembled around this anarchic effort demonstrates how strong an aesthetic can be in bringing a community, assets, ideas and attention together.

Willy Henshall / Matt Moller: Res Rocket

What creates new forms of expression that distinguish the Web from previous media? Simple: Works that can only exist in a networked environment that lets people collaborate and organize in unprecedented - and unpredictable - ways.

"Res Rocket", an application that allows musicians to jam live online, could not succeed without the Net. Previously musicians had to be physically together to create new music on the fly. With "Res Rocket", geographically dispersed artists can meet and play together, build on their compositions, and save the result at any level of quality desired, including studio-quality sound.

The system allows remote musicians to connect with others, who they may or may not already know, to improvise together. "Res Rocket"'s network opens up a vast new set of connective possibilities for a form of creation that is found everywhere humans are found. Dispersed musical talents have already begun to find like minds through the "Rocket" network, and a commercial CD has been produced. Thanks to "Res Rocket", musical collaboration is no longer limited by geography.

Jean-Marc Philippe: KEO

The breadth of this project is dizzying in scope. KEO is a work by French artist Jean-Marc Philippe that collects short text messages and encodes them onto CDs. Eventually they will be rocketed into space aboard a small satellite designed to circle the earth for 50,000 years. As the artist says on his Website, "It is also a distance in time that is so vertiginous and mind-boggling that it compels us to abandon our normal point of reference and puts us all on an equal footing, forcing us to reach down into our imaginations or deep convictions."

This kind of global collaboration could not easily have taken place without the Net. Anyone on the planet with a connection can simply add their 6,000-character text to the ever-growing database that's designed to exist over a time span best described as archeological. By reminding us of humanity's limitations, it brings us together in a way that few other Web sites can.

Mark Napier: Shredder

Since the early days of the Web, Web artists and designers have experimented with the inherent deconstructive capabilities of HTML. The Shredder automates this experimentation. Type in any Web address, and its source is automatically 'shredded' into form art. The Shredder serves as a kind of metaform art generator. It's fascinating to see a familiar commercial, government, or personal site indiscriminately exploded into its composite elements, arranged differently but still 'live' in its links. The Shredder reminds us that anyone can affect the networked media environment in ways that would be impossible with traditional media.

Help B92-Coalition: Free B92

The B92 radio station and Web site Free B92 is a a collaboration of institutions and individuals who share the belief that cultural and social dignity can survive as long as we have a free dialogue and understand the art of technology to create a virtual space for free voice. After NATO began bombing Belgrade in the spring of 1999, police commandeered the B92 studio and installed a puppet station manager. The original staff quit, and instead of B92's alternative programming, the state-controlled
station began to air Balkan folk music and Serbian state news.

The displaced journalists were forced to turn to the Web, which allowed their news to reach a global audience. "The 'shelter' which the Internet can provide for all of those whose communication with others has been hampered and restricted has proved to be an extremely important area for preserving freedom and creating room to fight for freedom," says Veran Matic, editor of B92.

Martin Wattenberg / Joon Yu: Map of the Market

Map of the Market is a Java-based Web site that's not just beautiful - it's also entirely functional. The site graphically illustrates recent changes in the US stock market through the use of color and shape. An all-green image is usually a welcome one: It means tthe values of the hundreds of included companies have gone up. Brighter images show a sharper increase, and bigger shapes represent higher valuations.

Fumio Matsumoto / Shohei Matsukawa: Ginga

If you've ever yearned for better ways to visualize data, "Ginga" may help. It stands for Global Information Network as Genomorphic Architecture, and provides a way to browse nine 3D worlds that let you navigate through Internet resources. Like other winners, this encourages collaboration. Participants can communicate with other avatars and exchange archives. Some of the variables that are visually represented using VRML and other browser plug-ins include density, depth, size, and the relationships between the information in the "Ginga" database. According to the "Ginga" site: "Web resources are
reconfigured with cyberspatial codes into "Ginga" and appear as any of the following nine main Worlds; Nebula, Ring, Network, Forest, Strata, Text, Image, Polyphony, and Cemetery. Users can explore these Worlds with avatars (incarnations) which are personalized and controlled by user's preferences."

Nick Philip: Nowhere.com

Anybody who's used the Net for more than a few days has furrowed his brow over spam, the always unsolicited and nearly always annoying practice of sending bulk commercial e-mail. But instead of hastily deleting it, why not celebrate it as a cultural phenomenon?

Nowhere.com does that by offering a visual representation of the growth of this Internet irritant. Many spammers use the "Nowhere.com" domain as a fake return address, to which irate recipients often reply. Now, when these e-mail messages flow into "nowhere.com"'s inbox, they are forwarded to 12 busy fax machines at Tokyo's Intercommunications Center. Below is an equal number of overflowing trash cans, an apt physical representation of the final digital destination. "Confronted with 57,000 feet of thermal garbage, Nowhere instantly lets you experience, touch, hear and smell a small part of this incredibly vast media landscape, at the same time making a tongue in cheek nod to the fact that the more things change the more they stay the same," creator Nick Philip says.

Joanna Berzowska: Computational Expressionism

"Computational Expressionism" explores the process of using a computer to draw in a way that redefines the concepts of line and composition for the digital medium. It takes advantage of the Java programming language to create an interactive experience that lets participants explore concepts; the Web site responds to user inputs such as position, speed, direction, and order.

The work evolves as a combination of computergenerated images and human expression. "'Computational Expressionism' sustains the spirit of these artists by seeking out the natural expressive language of computers, to spawn an eloquent freedom, a vernacular of individual style and a level of visceral understanding of the medium," says the artist.

David P. Anderson: SETI

SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The theme of the recent box office hit, Contact, the SETI project has captured the hearts of people all over the world since it was conceived. The SETI project is an organization which scans the skies with radio telescopes in search of signals that might be the indication of intelligent life on other planets. This process involves the use of huge computers to analyze the tens of gigabytes of data which come streaming off of the radio telescopes each day.
Because of funding limitations SETI can not buy enough computer time to run in-depth analyses on all of this data.

Enter "SETI@home". The SETI@home project solves this mind-boggling task of analyzing the data by distributing small pieces of the data to volunteers via the Internet. The volunteers run a screen saver which crunches the data using the extra CPU power on their computers. This distributed effort has allowed the SETI project to collect the equivalent of an immense supercomputer to direct at this task. The screen saver is beautifully designed showing a graphical representation of the analysis taking place. The web page features an in depth explanation of the theory behind the analysis and the project, as well as a list of volunteers and the highest peaks found.

Various groups have used the idea of distributed processing in the past, but the SETI@home project wins the prize for its ability to allow anyone to participate directly in a project of such cosmic scale.

CAAD-Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule
Zürich: Phase(x)3

"Phase(x)3" is an open source experiment. It involves a large group of architecture students who form an author's collective. They interact and communicate through the exchange and the mutual reinterpretation of their 3D computer models. It is a project of CAAD, a department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. "Phase(x)3" shows the potential of collaborative workspaces. In "Phase(x)3 " the results of one phase and one author are taken as the starting point for the work in the next phase by a different author. As authors can choose which model they want to work with, the whole body of works can be viewed as an organism where, as in an evolutionary system, only the fittest works survive. "Phase(x)3" can explicitly replace single authorship with collective authorship, because all relations between works, authors and timeline are recorded in a database and can be rendered and evaluated. "Phase(x)3" thus
implies a new cultural model of distributed credits and copyrights, a precondition for networked society.

Daniel Julià Lundgren: ReAcT

The piece "ReAcT" from Daniel Julià Lundgren is a nice example of online instruments. By typing words and moving the position of the mouse, the music and animation will get more intense. The interface design is intuitive and appealing. "ReAcT" belongs to a growing genre on line which one could call "form art." By this we mean web art based on pure design or which exploits technical or symbolic possibilities inherent in the medium, for example playing with/ on features borrowed from icons, display sets or interfaces that have become quasi clichés of the medium. "ReAcT" is more fun than most (as well as being very nimble and passably interactive) in that it adds pertinent musical accompaniment to its fetching arabesques.

Christa Sommerer / Laurent Mignonneau: Verbarium

"Verbarium" is in line with previous, although not necessarily web-based work by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau. It too, brings out the growth patterns of plants and organic simulations via the interactive behaviour of users. You type on the left side of the split screen a word or a sentence that will translate on the right side into a 3-D shape. Your words superpose themselves without erasing previously entered material. Running the mouse on the self-generating drawings can call up the words that have generated them. The attractiveness of this piece comes both from its design values and from the poetry of the relationships between words and shapes, meaning and feeling in a virtual but shared environment. The knot-based leitmotiv reminds us, of course, that we are dealing with an artpiece made for the networks.

Ramana Rao: Hyperbolic Java Tree

A navigation tool based on Ramana Rao's original Java application, the Hyperbolic Java Tree is a code and a script that allow keywords to be arranged in flexible configurations along complex branchings of tree structures, all available by click and drag in a smooth continuously dynamic display, all also acting as triggers to other actors and events on screen. Once again, there seems to be magic in store for the Web. The invention of the Hyperbolic Java Tree opens up truly exciting avenues not only for indexes and search engines, but also for interactive and connective design. The imagination of connectivity is beginning to set in and inspire architectures that are beautiful, whether they be classified as art or not. Hyperbolic Java Tree also brings to mind dreams of connectivity that allow concepts and conversations to organize themselves in smoothly accessible thematic arrangements. It is an example of the art of intelligence.

Eric Loyer: Lair of the Marrow Monkey

If multi-media is capable of poetic élan, Lair of the Marrow Monkey is an example of that. The words of the Lair are set to sound and type that respond to smooth interplay with the surfer. Design values are high, not only for visual but also for audio effects, which blend voice and sound in interesting and surprising combinations. An attractive and webworthy calligram, would Apollinaire say were he to be judge among us.

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