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Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Simplifying the World...

Sirikit Amann, Christopher Lindinger, Angelika Plank, Robert Glashüttner, Irmgard Oberhauser

… or Using Creativity to Turn a Racing Car, Which Requires a Driver’s License, into a Mountain Bike, Which doesn’t

Time and again, it is the range and diversity of u19 that make it the most versatile category of the Prix Ars Electronica. Here, as we know, young artists are not just producing artistic works as they move along exciting paths towards adulthood, but are taking off in all conceivable directions with the aid of digital technology—in other words, they are “freestyle computing”. And so this year’s entries use a correspondingly large number of languages: in an array of projects ranging from the so popular animations and videos submitted each year, to image processing and websites, and extensive experiments in robotics, to software for complex applications, networks and games. More than 800 projects were submitted in 2008 to the category u19 and sorting through them was, indeed, a very timeconsuming undertaking. But at a certain point, the jury’s favorite phase begins: when we have to work our way towards a joint decision for the Golden Nica, as well as the Awards of Distinction and Honorary Mentions. And once again, the consistently high quality of the entries astonished us. Above all, we enjoyed the achievements of the three-to-ten-year-olds, even if it was not always clear to what extent the input for these works by the competition’s youngest participants had been influenced by parents or other adults, and whether this should be allowed or not. Though from childhood to beginning adulthood, what ultimately counts is the early and matter-of-course confrontation with the many versatile tools of the new media, as well as the development of an interdisciplinary media competence that includes essential technical aspects, and a keen sense of the aesthetic und artistic. All this is not only important to foster and promote contemporary cultural curiosity but is also decisive for discovering creative and diversified occupational fields.

With every long-term project, there are moments when you have to pause to reflect and check whether your idea is bearing fruit. You have to ask yourself whether you have made the right choices and establish important milestones. You have to determine whether prognoses were correct and chart new courses of action.

From the start, u19 was deliberately conceived as the Prix Ars Electronica’s most open category. Anything can be presented—it just has to somehow fit the context of new media. At no time was the idea to create a “gee-that’s-cute” category; rather the idea was to give the creative implementations of contestants under the age of nineteen a professional platform. Over the years, young people in Austria have responded to the opportunity offered by u19 with zeal and a great deal of acceptance. If we examine the structure of the participants, we see that many of the entrants submit works every year until they reach the age limit. And precisely because of the continuity displayed in their digital projects, certain developments and changes in the new media community can be identified. A number of major trends observable in u19 are also found in the “adult world”. For example, work structures have gradually changed: so-called all-rounders are increasingly being replaced by team-oriented, specialized collaboration. Teamwork dominates, whether the projects are done at school or in the participants’ spare time. And this is true even though the jury has singled out a larger number of individual works in 2008. Command of a specific technology is in itself no longer enough. The “wow effect” of earlier years has vanished. Crossover projects, ones mixing the known with the unexpected, are what now arouse enthusiasm. Though one trend has accompanied u19 since the start: breaking software down to fit one’s own personal needs. The challenge involved here means simplifying the world or using creativity to, for example, turn a racing car, which requires a driver’s license, into a mountain bike, which doesn’t—a vehicle that will enable you to arrive with all accuracy at your destination.

From the descriptions submitted with the projects, we are able to infer that the feedback, which we always give to these young creators, has often been taken to heart. Our tips are reflected in their new entries.

With LB-Soft 12, Michael Löw-Beer has over the past years consistently expanded and adapted his assortment of software products, games and other useful and fun gimmicks to fit his user profile. The jury found it impressive how his collection of software (which he writes himself) has grown. He has not compiled it as an end in itself or as a technical finger exercise, but as a reflection on implementations in the field of applications.

The volume of submissions related to the field of robotics and potential applications has also steadily increased. This year’s top fifteen projects include Robo, a work by Christopher Sax. He built the prototype for it himself, a prototype that gets by almost without using any of the standard components of a robot kit. The function of the robot is to detect a light source and move straight towards it.

An Honorary Mention goes to Lanpe by Konrad Swietek, Daniel Kaltenbrunner and Dominik Aumayr, who all attend the HTL Perg, a technical secondary school. In a work that demonstrates a playful approach to communication, information transfer (= action) and reaction is made visible in the form of three lights inside a small box. With Lanpe, incoming mail, for example, becomes a discernible event when a specific light goes on. Here the user does not always have to sit at a computer to stay informed. The jury found the intention of making information transfer accessible in a low-tech product—and as such, to criticize the media—worthy of acknowledgment.

Emanuel Jöbstl’s work eEx—Network Discovery, which has received one of the two Awards of Distinction, pursues a similar course. Though, it should be mentioned here that it is rather uncommon for a programming project to win a Distinction, in other words, for it to place in the top three. The jury found this work particularly compelling because—by making networks and their interconnectedness visible—a fundamental aspect of interaction with the new media becomes clear. On the one hand, graphics are used to show which computer is communicating via which connection(s), and this enables us to register data streams more efficiently. On the other hand, it reveals the (perhaps not always intentional) transparency of communication channels.

Computer games are a genre that never fails to surprise the jury. A number of classic games are submitted each year in one variation or another. Jump’n’run (platform) games are among the most popular.

With littleRunner, Andreas Gerstmayr modifies a 2D jump ’n’ run game by means of a game editor that he has written himself. A character resembling the Linux mascot is maneuvered through adventure worlds. And although the idea for the game is not completely new, in the form presented here it has lost none of its appeal, and succeeded in fascinating the jury.

WithRoller Coaster 360, Stefan Toller, Marc Heiss and Florian Reichelt and their hobby gameprogrammer team, Northwind Entertainment, developed a 3-D computer game for Xbox 360 and Windows. These roller-coaster freaks have outdone themselves by adding a few elements to an already suspenseful ride: the player has to quickly get past obstacles and enemies without flying off the track in a curve. A wonderful sense of humor merges with good programming and the—hopefully—fine skills of the player. This extremely fun game has won an Honorary Mention.

What happens when children become involved in urban planning? They digitally revise and redraft reality. Why can’t the city be colorful, complex and cheerful? 23 kids from an afterschool care center, the Schülerhort Wilten in Innsbruck, show that a city can handle colors. The muster machen mutig Projekt m3 reveals how the children see their immediate environment and their visions for it. To give their fantasies a little reality, the project has been awarded an Honorary Mention.

With the web project Gewand und Glaube, 60 pupils from the HBLA, a secondary school for artistic design, address a sensitive and difficult topic. An intercultural network forms the basis of this project, a project that goes beyond the realm of knowledge to embrace both tolerance and critical debate. It demonstrates how visual implementation, and discussions of content and a difficult topic are not mutually exclusive. In its complexity, this project deserves to rank among the best fifteen projects.

In recent years, the majority of the entries have been from young people who have displayed a great commitment to animation.

One very early portfolio caught the jury’s attention: Max and Simon Menschhorn, eight and ten years old, have taken great care in creating a wonderful stop-motion animation, Der vergessene Schatz. With it they have taken the muchcherished Lego animation to a new level: water is credibly simulated with transparent plastic foil. Later, against the backdrop of a blue plastic box, a small figure dives down into the depths of the make-believe water and recovers the legendary treasure chest. This and the many other fine details in the brothers’ animation were why the jury awarded the Distinction in kind for entrants under the age of ten to this work.

A work by Simon Groihofer triggered a particularly long discussion. His bizarre, surreal and unsettling animation—entitled fischtraum:(a—is based on his and his sister’s dreams. The story begins with a little girl who goes down a long corridor to a room where a woman is sitting. She asks, in a polite but gruesome tone, whether the girl already knows her aunt, who is sitting in the wardrobe. Both the perspective and camerawork in fischtraum:(a are excellent. It is obvious that Simon gave everything much thought and implemented the animation with care. The jury debated for a long time whether this entry should rank among the top three—the only reason it didn’t was the extraordinary quality of this year’s competition.

Powerful, stylish and, in content, very much with its finger on the pulse of youth culture is a dramatic love story set in the emo scene: A Beautiful Lie, made by two young filmmakers, Chucky Fuchs and Nina Kutschera. With its succinct style and comic-like scenes, that match the music perfectly, this animated film is remarkably entrancing. Another work to receive an Honorary Mention is Tarek Khalifa’s Mr. Orange. The story has the many features of a slapstick parody. The jury found the visuals particularly exhilarating, especially with regard to the design of the characters and the extensive use of bold colors.

The jury was also charmed by the enormous volume of works submitted by Selina Fanninger (14). With fine flowing lines, she conjures up wispy, playful beings and objects on paper and the screen. She uses them to design her website Koyangi, where she also presents a portfolio with many of her drawings. The care she uses in implementing them, as well as their artistic expression, quickly led to a unanimous decision: the Distinction in kind for entrants between 10 and 14 goes to Selina.

For the most part, contributions in the category u19 focus on the children’s own world of experience. Young people rarely look at their own small universe with “the eye of a researcher”, and, if so, they often alienate it in comic or cartoon style. Hence, one of this year’s two Awards of Distinctions astonished the jury by superimposing interior and exterior views. Susanne Legerer’s uterus=raum=universum impressively fuses ultrasound images of her own uterus with images of the universe made by the Hubble Telescope. The conscious deceleration of visual and acoustic stimuli intensifies the effect of a work that is exceptional in so many ways.

Two entries—Susanne Thurner’s Homesick and Susanne Legerer’s uterus=raum=universum—sparked a long debate about the Golden Nica. Both works would have deserved the prize, but according to the regulations, it could only be awarded to one of them. The jury was quick to see that both projects were extraordinary and each in their own way were exemplary for developments observed in entries over the past years. The one work represents the artistic, analytical and well-considered dimension, one that extends its feelers into the field of art; the other captivates via the power of immediate emotions, i.e., how this talented artistic young woman feels completely vulnerable, moved and dumbfounded. Ultimately we decided to award the Golden Nica to Homesick because it is so emboldening, because its aesthetic vocabulary is so persuasive, because it is not a clone of other animated stories, and because it is so darn good.

In the canon of elite media artists, u19 has achieved an impressive status precisely because the works of these young people are so outstanding. And they are outstanding because they do not claim to be art, even if this is—in their diverse implementations—to a great degree exactly what they are.

All the same, it has never been the prime objective of u19 to single out works of art. u19 was, is and will continue to be the reflection of a young media-indulgent society, one that jumps at the chance to construct its own spaces in between adult worlds. By doing so, it maintains the freedom and independence required for creative individuals to evolve.

 
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