Ars Electronica

Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

A Question of Expectations or of Just Growing Up?

Hans Wu

What do grown-ups actually expect from young people? For a jury which has to evaluate four to nineteen-year-olds, this question should in deed be asked. This is especially true when the average age of the jury is way past nineteen. So how does an adult jury want to go about evaluating the workof a young entrant? Does it try to evaluate how near the youngster is to becoming an adult? Or does it deliberately search for those qualities which an adolescent will lose when he or she reaches adulthood?

A competition for the up-and-coming generation— and the u19 category of the Prix Ars Electronica must be seen as such—mainly takes the adult world as a standard of comparison. Moreover, to what extent adults view young people as the “professionals” of tomorrow can be seen in the growing number of e-business competitions for young talents. Even classic innovation contests judge young people’s works primarily by their ability to “pay-off” in the adult world.

Over the years, u19 juries have shown great appreciation of works which exhibit a professional working knowledge of technology; yet, in the end, final decisions have been determined by the search for what is described in the competition subheading: “Freestyle Computing”. It is matter of a working knowledge of technology that does not necessarily meet adult demands: experiments resulting from the pure instinct to play and solutions arrived at without pre-planning. Last year’s jury statement reflected such expectations: “If one wants to be pessimistic, one can interpret this technical obsession among such young people as a lack of imagination—without meaning to mourn the loss of an idealized potential of young people to be creative, cheeky and naive at the same time.” Of course, these too are expectations— expectations which seek those potentials in young people which adults may have lost long ago. These two kinds of “grown-up” expectations—both those on the lookout for a young and yet already adult professionalism and for a cheeky, naive and creative potential—have been consciously avoided by the jury. Just the same, precisely these expectations were more than satisfied this year. After a preliminary examination of the entries it was clear that the quality of this year’s submissions would cause no problems with regard to selecting the twelve Honorary Mentions. And ultimately the jury awarded these to:

The Schweinöster sisters (born 1996 and 1992) for their first explorative attempts on a computer and the huge amount of Digital Paintings they unabashedly produced.

Marian Kogler (born 1991) who out of curiosity created Topix, a program which converts images into sounds.

René Weirather (born 1991) for his many little programs—we were particularly taken by the one producing nonsense texts.

Martin Kucera (born 1988) whose enthusiasm for film led him to implement a very professional web community.

Dominik Jais (born 1986) for his 3D graphics and his interactive solution for designing work clothes.

The pupils of the college preparatory school BG XIX in Vienna who explored the textual

qualities of SMS messages in an animated film.

Lucas Reeh alias DJ Sky (born 1986) for his idea to render his homework assignment acoustically: he arranged the sounds made by his printer when it printed out an essay for German class into a piece of music.

The web site by “Projekt Dezentrale Medien” for their online presentation of the worlds in which young second generation Austrians live.

Georg Gruber and Stephan Hamberger (born 1984 and 1987) for their personal web sites which are testimony of their special exploration of web interfaces.

Raphael Murr (born 1987) for his computer game Overcast and the fact that he went online to put together a team to create it.

Manuel Fallmann (born 1985) for his Flash film o Fortuna, his outstanding editing and dramaturgy particularly impressed the jury.

The Awards of Distinction

The two Awards of Distinction differ from each other mainly in how they were made: while the Flash animation minials was a group effort, the animated film Arena exemplifies a solo “bedroom production”.

In minials, sofa23 (a group including Milo Tesselaar, Markus Murschitz, Ulrich Reiterer und Jona Hoier), Mathias Scherz und Stefan Bermann displayed a refreshing approach to linking music and visuals interactively. As a consequence, the user’s camera perspective can be augmented by and combined with figures and the respective sound patterns. The jury found the idea, the design as well as its implementation convincing. It also appreciated how the combined effort of the group could be felt in the work or, to put it more simply, it could feel how much fun they had had.

Whereas sofa23 produced the greater part of their work outdoors in a park, Philipp Luftensteiner took an entirely different course. Once he had decided he wanted to make a 3D film on his own, he had to master the technology: “So that was how I came to spend the loveliest days of the year (the summer holidays) in my room, intensively studying manuals and tutorials”, as he himself put it in his project description. The outcome of these summer holidays spent in his room is the short 3D film Arena, and it is remarkably well crafted. Philipp Luftensteiner recounts the story of two fighting robots. Through an unexpected turn of events, this so popular computer-game theme is satirized.

The Golden Nica

This year’s Golden Nica goes to a work that astonished the jury more than any other and lived up to the title “Freestyle Computing” best of all. Yet the idea of actually awarding the main prize to this work was much disputed. Karola Hummer made drawings on a standard school pocket calculator using means which were not actually conceived for doing so. It took her up to 200 hours per drawing. Essentially, a wonderfully “useless” activity which completely captivated the entire jury. The jurors unanimously felt that her unusual approach and “misuse” of technology should be rated highly. Yet the images themselves fell short of the aesthetic demands of some of the jurors, especially in comparison with the visually impressive works that ultimately received Awards of Distinction. But then in her description of her project, the “artist” directed the jury’s attention more toward the process as a whole than toward just the output: “It goes without saying that I don’t consider myself an artist, on the contrary, in contemporary terms, I see myself as an ‘anti-artist’: I don’t aim at provoking or shocking and have taken a route diametrically opposed to modern art, for I don’t seek abstraction. The abstraction which occurs is preconditioned by the technology I use (a screen with about 23000 dots), and I strive for maximum reality with my modest means. If art links ideas and technology, then my pictures are, at least, modest artistic expression.”

The jury greatly enjoyed the contestant’s deliberate use of limited possibilities despite the fact that there would have been easier ways to create drawings on a pocket calculator. As the prizewinner herself put it: “I draw using mathematical functions from analytical geometry. I never use the cursor, but instead calculate each line, enter the function in the Y-Editor of my TI-92 calculator and then let it be graphed on the screen.”

A jury member summed up the final decision as follows: “At any other competition for young people, Karola would not have made it as far as she did because of the apparent uselessness of her work. Only at Prix Ars Electronica are other qualities like these acknowledged.” What the jury could not have known when they made their decision: in a radio interview, Karola Hummer, who had spent years creating hundreds of mathematical functions for her passion, revealed that she was going to have to repeat her math exams. But then that is a question of entirely different expectations.

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