Ars Electronica

Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

Jury Statement

Peter Weibel

The Prix Ars Electronica 92 Jury for the categories Computer Graphics (with some 880 entries by 350 artists) and Computer Animation (with about 140 works by 114 artists) found itself confronted with several dilemmas at one time.

In the first place, despite the numerous entries from 43 countries, there were scarcely any excellent pieces, not to mention breathtaking ones. So, the first decision taken was to search for tendencies and criteria rather than for persons.

In the second place, there was a huge number of industrially produced (and almost taylorized) computer animations of high technical standard compared to only a few personalized production forms of computer animations. Here the jury tried to emphasize the art character of the Prix by voting for individuals and small teams. This led to the fact that the best industrially produced animation, namely "Terminator 2" by Industrial Light & Magic, was taken out of the competition and given a Jury's Special Award as the optimum demonstration of state-of-the-art computer generated special visual effects.

There was no money award, because the jury was conscious of the fact that the qualified knowledge of all persons involved would not have been sufficient to create this work without the millions of dollars in machine and manpower that only industry can afford. In this respect, certain aspects of top performance computer simulation are impossible to achieve in the personal area of operation, the historical field of artistic creativity; they can only be done with the far higher and unevenly distributed funding of military or scientific research or in the entertainment business under the aspect of a potential mass distribution of the products and the profits expected.

The use of computer graphics and animation in industrial feature movies from Hollywood and for amusement parks (such as in "Suboceanic Shuttle") does not only popularize computer animation, but also pushes its capabilities to a maximum level and therefore advances the whole genre. Consequently, the jury members felt they could not close their eyes to these works and had to grant a prize albeit outside the competition, to the best example in this category, in order to remain true to the title Ars Electronica, that is, to the artistic dimension of the Prix.

This attitude, in the third place, led to the decision that, of the three dominating groups of entries, namely commercially produced computer cartoons, scientific visualization and personal computer art, only two were to be given the awards, while the third, the cartoons, was relegated to the Honorary Mentions. This is new in the history of Prix Ars Electronica, where, over the years, exactly those computer generated cartoons were awarded prizes. Here, too, the jury wanted to establish guidelines. Even if, all over the world, great enterprises produce whole series of computerized animated cartoons, especially for television, the jury does not want to say "This is the future of the use of computers in moving pictures", nor "Go on making cartoons on the computer". So, for the first time a very popular branch of computer animation, animated cartoons, was denied an award in order to stress the importance of moving towards a computer-specific work of art.

With this, the fundamental criterion of the jury's decision has been touched: computer specificity. We were searching for works that really did rely on the computer from the conception to the technique and could be produced only with that tool, and therefore delivered images that were impossible to produce before the invention of the computer and - in the best cases - even unimaginable. These criteria can obviously not be met by cartoons because for decades we have witnessed the development of their special effects.

"Not Knot", directed by Charlie Gunn and Delle Maxwell (University of Minnesota), on the other hand, is such an example of the unimaginable that is rendered imaginable and visible by the computer. It is only secondary that "Not Knot" also proves to be an outstanding example for the scientific visualization of abstract theories and that the jury wants that direction of research and application of computer animation to get more attention and tribute.

"Not Knot" takes us into hyperbolic space, brought to life by the computer. We learn about the world of knots and the complementary spaces surrounding them. Some fundamental propositions of newer mathematics prove that most of the knot complements show the structure of hyperbolic geometry, a geometry in which the sum of the angles in a triangle is always smaller than 180° and that contains so much space that a hemispheric swimming-pool with a diameter of 25 meters would contain 23 times the normal volume of our planet. The video shows how the geometry of the knot complex, i.e., the space around the knot, moves into hyperbolic space, and then we experience what it is like to "fly" through hyperbolic space. The animation goes far beyond the Euclidian geometry of our schooldays. We see a space curved in itself, as it is sometimes researched in modern theories about the development of the universe.

The "Not Knot" tape, by the way, also fits well into the general topic of this year's Ars Electronica, namely "The World from Within - Endophysics and Nanotechnology". It shows the difference between the view of the outsider who - when looking at a scene as a distant observer - will see a static image, and the image of motion that an insider, an inner observer will see. For the inside observer of a cone, light rays move in straight lines, while the external observer will notice that the rays are curved around the conus point.

Other animations, too, showed aspects of the world of inner observation, such as perspective distortion, for instance "Liquid Television" by Linda Jones, Xoas, 1991, and "Unfilled" (from "Memory Palace", 1992) by Karl Sims, the winner of the Prix Ars Electronica 1992. For Karl Sims, too, the above mentioned criteria of the jury decision apply, computer specificity on the one hand and an award for a tendency on the other.

Karl Sims has won the Golden Nica of Prix Ars Electronica for the second time (first time in 1991) more for the direction he chose to take than for his individual works. His images are not only generated by the computer, they cannot be created other than by the computer and they are even unimaginable without the computer. Even if the "Memory Palace" (1992) contains some astonishing sequences, the jury found "Primordial Dance" (1991) path-breaking, because it opens a new dimension of computer art where new types of programs directly create the images, so that the process of the program is the creation of the work itself.

This "genetic art", where the program almost takes over the part of the artist and makes independent decisions, simulates being alive. In the 1960s, Aristid Lindenmayer, a theoretical biologist developed his "L-Systems" (or "Lindenmayer Systems"), which allowed for the description of the growth of plants in the language of mathematics. Mathematical models and formulas of growth processes are also the basis of Sims' computer animation. The shapes, textures and movements within the computer images are subject to a constant development influenced by the mathematical growth processes of the formulas. The algorithmic beauty of plants and their growth is simulated in an abstract manner. "Primordial Dance" is a virtual laboratory where genetic algorithms create an uninterrupted play of colors and shapes. This work, too, rather proves the beauty of scientific simulation and in this respect it is a close relative of "Not Knot". A similar degree of abstraction and a comparable concept distinguishes also the computer graphics winners. There, too, we are dealing with scientific artists (or artistic scientists) who develop those custom programs necessary for the creation of their images.

The visualization of what would not be visible or even imaginable without the computer - the common factor of the Prix Ars Electronica 92 winners - is what distinguishes also the other award winners. "Digitaline" (Bériou, 1991) is a kind of chamber music etude or rather parody of "Not Knot" and other scientific visualizations. Hence the slightly ironical undertone of the headlines and texts that are well matched by the imagery. Remember that the word "digit" does not only mean "any number between 0 and 9", but also "finger". The animation takes advantage of this double sense and treats the fingers as numbers, as digital digits. The animation shows the beauty of fingers that tangle into knots, bent lines and other perplex figures. The fingers both retrace and represent a digital line. The absolutely realistic representation of the fingers and the really impossible, transreal, unreal distortion of the digits (that is possible because the digits are treated as digits, as digital lines) create a stunning image that can be produced only by the computer, but that also reveals the function of the body in the techno-transformed telematic world of today.

The Distinction-winning animation about Arp from the series "L'Art en jeu " by Cécile Babiole (1991) is also set in a zero-gravitation space and shows the transformations a body may undergo there. The animation clearly points out how much Arp's aesthetic of organic shapes owes to the interrelation of 2D-figures and signs on the one hand and 3D-objects and bodies on the other hand. The almost labyrinthical interchange of 2D and 3D, of area and space through which the bodies fall, takes ideal advantage of the computer's capacities in order to introduce us to the nucleus of a modern aesthetics and its derivation, the transition from the problem of2D representation to that of 3D.
The jury's concerns about computer art being used for explaining another historical art form and thus reducing itself to a secondary role were therefore dropped, also because Cécile Babiole revealed herself as a promising talent with another work, namely "Les Xons" (1991).

Thus the selection of winners clearly sets new focuses. The hitherto successful populistic use of the computer in visual areas, e.g. computer cartoons, moved out of the first rank. The jury concentrated on personalized computer expression in an explicitly artistic or scientific setting and favored steps towards new computer dimensions.

By the way, also the national relations were reflected in the decision. As one might expect, the computer is given most attention in the USA, and it became obvious that the nation that cares most about computer technology in Europe is certainly France. So we hope that the jury not only delivered an adequate picture of the status quo of computer animation respectively graphics, but that it actively supported the new technical, scientific and artistic developments in the creation of images, new conceptual ideas and new expressive techniques by its decision.

© Ars Electronica Linz GmbH,