Ars Electronica 2011 - Art - Domus
Ars Electronica 2011
 

Ars Electronica 2011

In Linz, an exploration of the future of interactivity starts by delving into the origins of life.

 

Art / Stefania Garassini

Breaking technology down to uncover its most elementary rules and dissecting matter to analyse its microscopic particles—with technology playing an increasing part in our lives, this parallel sounds quite reasonable and is the best way to sum up the theme of Ars Electronica 2011. This festival has been held in Linz since 1979 and is now a worldwide draw for those working with creative technology. This year, it centred on the origin of the universe with the title "Origin. Where it all begins" and was organised in collaboration with CERN in Geneva. The talks may have addressed the most complex areas of quantum physics, astrophysics and the philosophy of knowledge while completely ignoring the theological-philosophical approach—speakers included Paul Davies, Derrick de Kerckhove, Joichi Ito and Humberto Maturana—but the most interesting reflection lay in the interconnection between the origins of life and technological devices. A warm reception was given to the two artists who received the Golden Nicas for interactive art, Julian Olivier and Danja Vasiliev. Their Newstweek is a device that looks just like an electric socket but can alter the contents of the news websites viewed nearby. The pair describe themselves as "critical engineers" because—as they explain—"The most transformative language today is Engineering...we want to blow it right up so that people can understand what to expect." A statement in pure hacker style if ever there was one—push the machine until it gives in and does what you want—which is, after all, the attitude behind the development of information technology for the masses and that is where it all began, with pioneering work on graphic interfaces, videogames, personal computers, the Internet and virtual reality.

Top: <i>Tunnel</i> by Rejane Cantoni and Leonardo Crescenti.<br />
Above: <i>Six-Forty by Four-Eighty,</i> by  Jamie Zigelbaum and Marcelo Coelho interprets the touchscreen principle with handy magnetic pixels that can be arrayed however the user wishes. One touch is all it takes to change a pixel’s color or to copy onto another.

Top: Tunnel by Rejane Cantoni and Leonardo Crescenti.
Above: Six-Forty by Four-Eighty, by Jamie Zigelbaum and Marcelo Coelho interprets the touchscreen principle with handy magnetic pixels that can be arrayed however the user wishes. One touch is all it takes to change a pixel’s color or to copy onto another.


In the Wii and iPhone era, true interaction is that which pinpoints what lies behind the outer appearance of commonly used tools. It is surely no coincidence that there were very few screens to be seen in Linz. This omnipresent and tell-tale sign of our screenager era, to use Douglas Rushkoff's definition, was replaced by very 'physical' devices that require some effort to activate.

<i>Huis Clos</i> by Fabrizio Lamoncha, Ioan Ovidiu Cernei and Maša Jazbek: 'By knocking on the house you interact with the ego inside of it. With the project we are exploring the basic understanding that humans have a free will.'

Huis Clos by Fabrizio Lamoncha, Ioan Ovidiu Cernei and Maša Jazbek: "By knocking on the house you interact with the ego inside of it. With the project we are exploring the basic understanding that humans have a free will."

An example of this is Rejane Cantoni and Leonardo Crescenti's Tunnel at the "Cyberarts" exhibition in the OK Center, in which the interaction requires people to walk briskly inside a metal structure that is constantly changing according to the weight and movement of those inside. Six-Forty by Four-Eighty, by Jamie Zigelbaum and Marcelo Coehlo, reflects, instead, on a touch-screen concept that turns immaterial pixels into as many magnetic cubes with coloured screens that can be physically moved around a panel and their colour changed by touching. The result is a work of huge visual impact in which the action of touching is detached from all practical uses and translates into pure aesthetic search for the best colour combination. Interaction for its own sake, unlike environments where every touch of a screen produces consequences based on an action-reaction pattern that has come to characterise our relationship with technology.

 
If interactive art still has a meaning today, it is that of investigating this space of unpredictability, which basically characterises all genuine interaction.
 
<i>Squeezer,</i> by Fabrizio Lamoncha, Ioan Ovidiu Cernei and Maša Jazbec

Squeezer, by Fabrizio Lamoncha, Ioan Ovidiu Cernei and Maša Jazbec


Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, always among the most fascinating exponents of electronic art worldwide, organised an exhibition on this entitled Uselessness. The Useful Useless, presenting works by their students at the Interface Lab of the University of Linz. Fabrizio Lamoncha, Ioan Ovidiu Cernei and Masa Jazbek's Squeezer is a small bag placed under a television that alters the voice of the person speaking when it is squeezed hard. The same team developed Huis Clos, a small timber house which gives an answering knock when you knock on its roof, but only after a slight delay, a moment of uncertainty and deferral—not every action necessarily corresponds to an equal and opposite reaction.

<i>Face to Facebook</i> by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico who built up a database of a million Facebook profiles and then analysed them using facial-recognition software.

Face to Facebook by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico who built up a database of a million Facebook profiles and then analysed them using facial-recognition software.


If interactive art still has a meaning today, it is that of investigating this space of unpredictability, which basically characterises all genuine interaction. Alternatively, many works seen at Ars Electronica 2011 focus on the mechanisms inside the work, as in the Particles installation by Daito Manabe and Motoi Ishibashi, a spiral rail construction dotted with lights spinning at great speed, and The Particle by Spain's Alex Posada, a kinetic sculpture consisting of rings of multicolour LEDs that produce beautiful luminous shapes, a metaphor for the short-lived order that emerged from primeval chaos. Some works focusing on the Web aim to reveal disquieting features of the most popular services. One example is Face to Facebook by Italy's Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico who built up a database of a million Facebook profiles and then analysed them using facial-recognition software. They deduced the individuals' traits from the pictures and put the data on a < a href="http://lovelyfaces.com" target="_blank">website in order to arrange hypothetical encounters. This provocative work received an award of distinction in the interactive art category and is a reminder that when we add our profile to the reassuring pages of the most popular social network we are actually irreparably relinquishing control of it.

<i>The Particle</i> by Alex Posada, a kinetic sculpture that serves as a metaphor for the short-lived order that emerged from primeval chaos.

The Particle by Alex Posada, a kinetic sculpture that serves as a metaphor for the short-lived order that emerged from primeval chaos.


On the subject of exploring the future of interactivity, mention must also go to the robotics sphere, an area of remarkable technological innovation to which Ars Electronica has devoted ample space again this year, especially in the exhibition at the Ars Electronica Center, the only European museum entirely devoted to technology and which hosted a large under-19 section of the festival, among other things. The Robotinity section featured an interactive tail (SiliFulin by Ryota Kuwakubo) and a prototype human-looking telephone that conveys the emotions of the person at the other end of the line. Telenoid is the name of the prototype and it stems from the latest research by Iroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist who has created a perfect robotic copy of himself. In Linz, he presented a performance, Sayonara, in which an android interacted with a real woman. Despite the former's incredible realism, it was impossible to confuse the two so complete human replicas are still a long way off.

<i>Sayonara,</i> by Iroshi Ishiguro, a performance in which an android interacted with a real woman.

Sayonara, by Iroshi Ishiguro, a performance in which an android interacted with a real woman.


The debatable prospects of hybrid art are not entirely convincing, although Linz featured many works in competition, with the award going to the May the Horse Live in me, in which the artist Marion Laval-Jeantet of the French group Art Orienté Objet is injected with horse blood, treated to prevent rejection. This does not seem the most productive path to explore the relationship between art, science and technology which, as seen in Linz, goes way back and has very different aims.

<i>May the Horse Live in Me, </i> in which artist Marion Laval-Jeantet injected herself with horse blood, treated to prevent rejection.

May the Horse Live in Me, in which artist Marion Laval-Jeantet injected herself with horse blood, treated to prevent rejection.


States of Design 01: Visualization
 

States of Design 01: Visualization

In a new series, the design curator of MoMA reflects on the status of central design disciplines today. The first installment reflects on the currency of visualization design.

 

Design / Paola Antonelli

Architecture needs to interact

If architectural practice kept pace with interaction design, what new visions of the world might appear?

 

Op-ed / Molly Wright Steenson,Fred Scharmen

Open Source Design 05: The Esperanto of objects

Thomas Lommée's OpenStructures project explores the possibility of a modular construction system in which everyone designs for everyone on the basis of a shared geometrical grid.

 

Design / Thomas Lommée

States of Design 04: Critical Design
 

States of Design 04: Critical Design

Attacking the dogmas of contemporary consumer culture, Critical Design undermines the default notion of design as an affirmative, commercially-oriented practice that shies away from thorny ethical issues.

 

Design / Paola Antonelli