Art, technology and society – Ars Electronica wants to bring all of this together and show the effects. In 2021 the festival took place from September 8th to 12th under the motto “A New Digital Deal”.
What is missing: In the fast-paced world of technology, there is often the time to rearrange the many news and backgrounds. At the weekend we want to take it, follow the sidewalks away from the current, try different perspectives and make nuances audible.
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At the opening, Gerfried Stocker, the longstanding artistic director of the festival, deepened the motto: A New Digitial Deal. It’s about finding procedures and rules that we can get or keep in control of how we live together digitally and whether the internet will contribute to a fairer world. Which “we” he means exactly and what the other side would be, one would have liked to know, because the partners of the festival cover Austrian society broadly and European institutions are also well represented. But of course an opening ceremony is not the place for such deep deliberations.
Media art in times of the pandemic
Providing an overview of the state of media art – that is the aim of the festival and it is regularly redeemed. The so-called themed exhibition is housed in the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) and is fed by the submissions to the Prix Ars Electronica, the European STARTS competition and exhibits from the cooperation partners.
For the first time, the visitor is able to fully grasp the works. Usually one is overwhelmed by the abundance and diversity of the offer and leaves the field with the certainty that many important things and perhaps even the best have been overlooked. But Corona has changed the format of the event. The JKU is just one garden among 86 others in the world. The “garden format” was invented last year when the program in Linz was reduced to a minimum due to the pandemic. What used to be pressed in the halls, corridors and cellars of the disused mail distribution center is now distributed all over the world. A remarkable response to the changed situation and we are excited to see what will remain of it after the pandemic.
The selection is worth seeing. Many exhibits manage to combine current topics, new technologies and aesthetic approaches with wit. Typical for example “How to Strand Astronauts on the Moon” by Halsey Burgund (US) and Francesca Panetta (UK): We see Richard Nixon’s televised speech, which he never gave, in case the moon astronauts did not return. The wording of the speech prepared at the time is rendered into the mouth of the then president by means of a deep fake. The visitor sees the speech on an old tube television with the image and sound quality of the time and sits in the typical cocktail chairs of the 1960s. When it comes to the media, conspiracy theories, criticism of technology – no matter from which angle one approaches, the visitor can immerse himself in the most varied of association angles.
Or “Made to Measure – I is a Search Engine” by Laokoon, a label under which Hans Block (DE), Moritz Riesewieck (DE), and Cosima Terrasse (FR) dedicate themselves to artistic and cross-media projects on digitality and society. Here a well-known topic is dealt with, namely what the internet companies know about us. But the pedagogical forefinger is not lifted to educate the helpless user about how the evil data octopus is plundering him. Instead, a gripping, highly informative experiment is carried out. Laocoon takes a specific person, a woman, and tries to recreate that person’s life with an actress. You can see how more and more precise personality traits are revealed and how the actress penetrates deeper and deeper into the role. If the observer does not follow the action on the big screen, but on the screens in the gallery, he interacts with the software and notices how it is in turn observing him.
The winning works of art in the competition are, as always, in the “OK”, the open cultural center in the Linz shopping area. The winners of the individual competition categories are shown here. In the meantime, half of the categories are shown every two years, a restriction that is due to coping with the sharp rise in the number of submissions as well as the expansion of the prize categories themselves. This year, the categories “Computer Animation”, “Artificial Intelligence & Life Art “and” Digital Musics & Sound Art “. There is also the annual STARTS competition (Science + Technology + Arts), an initiative of the European Union with prize money of 2 x 20,000 euros.
Focus on content
It is noticeable that leading Twitter hashtags such as gender, racism, trans or climate are strongly represented. Whether the dominance of the submissions is the reason for this, because many artists orientate themselves on the zeitgeist themes and the powerful, or the selection process of the jury, which this time had to meet online and thus lost an important group dynamic element, remains open here.
Animation, like digital music, is one of the oldest categories. The time in which unknown visual experiences could be admired through technical innovations is over since computer-generated image productions have become a matter of course in Hollywood. In this respect, the content comes to the fore. The film “When the sea sends forth a forest” by Guangli Liu (CN) received the Golden Nica. It deals with the Chinese in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period. It is a forgotten fate, because they were brutally persecuted and killed, amazingly, because Mao’s China also called itself communist. There are hardly any image recordings and so Liu managed by integrating the few film documents together with propaganda films in a computer game animation. The narrator tells in the first person the fate of a family in the turmoil of that time.
Also the Bulgarian Veneta Androva uses computer game technology in her work “AIVA”. She tells of the painter AIVA, a robot with “artificial female intelligence” whose works of art generate high income for the gallery owner who created them. The created figure caricatures the cliché of the male artistic genius. She lets her muse, a naked man of course, pose until she is gripped by inspiration when the penis struggled so powerfully against gravity in the handstand. Well, the result is a bunch of chalkboard-like dick pictures. The whole thing makes the viewer smile incessantly, especially whether the narrative voice in the typical intonation of a female museum guide and the swirl of “International Art English” that goes into one ear as smoothly as it comes out of the other.
You can’t describe it “OPERA” by Erick Oh (US), a visually stunning opus, which illustrates the whole world and the course of this world and its people in a single moving image. You don’t want to detach yourself even after the third time, you would discover more details the fourth or fifth time that reveal power, religion, classes, racism, war and terror.
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