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by Dominique Moulon [ November 2009 ]
The oldest festival dedicated to art, technology and society is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary with the opening of a new Ars Electronica Center. The theme of the symposium for this 2009 edition, organised once again by Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf, hinges on the notion of “Human Nature”.

spacerGeminoid the android

Geminoid HI-1

Hiroshi Ishiguro,
“Geminoid HI-1”, 2006,
Source: Rubra.
spacerThe main gallery of the new Ars Electronica Center regroups a few mini laboratories with pedagogical functions among which is the RoboLab, where the model “HI-1”, of the “Geminoid” series is exposed. This latter was conceived in the image of the Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from the University of Osaka and is surrounded by young people who vainly attempt to put it on the spot by bombarding it with questions about cinema and music. It has an answer for everything. So the next day I decided to try my luck by asking it questions about the dreams it may have had or the existence of god. But it seemed to be much less loquacious than the day before. Nevertheless I have to admit that a strange feeling overcame me whenever I lock eyes with it. It seemed to breathe, move its head and blink its eyes. It is even difficult to distinguish the creator from the clone in photos. But it was in climbing upstairs that I realised that it was a fake, in the purest tradition of the automatons of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because it’s a human that controls it, there is no question here of artificial intelligence but of “human presence”.

spacer“Device Art”


Ryota Kuwakubo,
“Nicodama”, 2009.
spacerLevel 1 of the Ars Electronica Center is partly reserved for the typically Japanese practice of what is known as Device Art. Hiroo Iwata, professor at the University of Tsukuba, defines this artistic form as a convergence of art, technology and design while pointing out that the works produced can be played with and are often sold commercially. Ryota Kuwakubo is among the few artists exposing with two pieces, one of which can be played with and the other which could be marketed. The first is called “LoopScape” and appears in the form of a cylindrical screen comprised of electro luminescent diodes on which two players can confront one another. The players are therefore obliged to turn around the installation to follow their own ships. But they must beware because the missiles they launch can turn against them. The second, entitled “Nicodama”, is made of two half spheres inter-connected by an infrared interface that represent two ocular globes that have the capacity to blink to random rhythms. When the artist places them on an ordinary chair, he humanises it as it then seems to be observing us.

spacerEdunia the plantimal

Natural History of the Enigma

Eduardo Kac,
“Natural History of the Enigma”,
spacerThe highly anticipated Golden Nica in Hybrid Art went to the American artist Eduardo Kac this year for his “Natural History of the Enigma” whose principal element is a flower that does not exist in nature. Resulting from genetic manipulations, it is none other than a hybrid between a petunia and the artist himself. Edunia is the name of this “Plantimal” that expresses Eduardo Kac’s genes in the red veins of the pink petals. In these genes the artist isolated those that authorise the identification of foreign bodies and states that, “It is precisely that which identifies and rejects the other that I integrate into the other”. The symbolic reach of this work is evident because life here crosses the species barrier. This petunia is visually similar in every way to any other flower of the same species, but there is not a single one of its cells that hasn’t been affected by the artist’s genes. It is precisely this invisible singularity that makes it so special.
spacerAn art of the environment


Lawrence Malstaf,
“Shrink”, 2009,
Source: Rubra.
spacerThe no less awaited Golden Nica in Interactive Art was attributed to Lawrence Malstaf for his installation ”Nemo Observatorium”. The Belgian artist also gave a performance entitled ”Shrink” during the Gala Ceremony evening. His installation allows visitors to the Cyberart exhibition to generate a whirlwind comprised of a multitude of styrene balls by switching on fans. Sitting on the imposing armchair that lords over the Center of a transparent cylindrical installation, the observer appears to be in the eye of a cyclone, isolated from the external world by the incessant flow of moving particles, contemplating the artificial phenomenon of which they are the demiurge. Isolation is again a question during Lawrence Malstaf’s performance in the Brucknerhaus auditorium. The three performers, of which he is one, slip in between two plastic films before the air is sucked out. The public thus finds itself confronted with bodies in suspension, shrink wrapped in this period of growing fears of bacteria and other viruses that are impacting our daily behaviour.

spacerIn the line of sight

In the Line of Sight

Daniel Sauter
& Fabian Winkler,
“In the Line of Sight”,
spacerIn the Line of Sight” is an installation whose elegant plasticity seduces as much as it intrigues. This installation groups a hundred odd pocket flashlights attached to microphone stands. They are all controlled digitally and their position in space makes it possible to reconstruct video sequences on the facing wall. The image that results is inevitably entirely fuzzy and it is impossible to distinguish any form whatsoever in this assemblage of shadow and light. It is also a specialty to recognize movements referred to as “suspect” within video sequences acquired previously under conditions that are at times extreme, with images that are at the same time, of low resolution. As for the spectators, they have the possibility of penetrating the light in the line of sight of these flashlights designed by the renowned gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson. Tracked in this way, they participate by their movements in the story that unfolds before their eyes in the passages between shadow and light.

spacerIn silence, or almost

Jens Brand, “Red Psi Donkey”, 2008.

Jens Brand,
“Red Psi Donkey”,
spacerThere are many contemporary artists that work following the lead of the German Jens Brand on the notion of perception. This latter received a honorary mention in Interactive Art for his audiovisual installation called “Red Psi Donkey”. This involves a mechanism that generates inaudible sound waves that an “acoustic camera” transforms into the image of a red donkey. But there’s a catch. Any human presence interfering with the sound space causes a deterioration of this ephemeral representation. So if we consider the projection of this red donkey as the result of an artistic process, the visitor is the cause of its temporary deterioration. In other words, this work can only achieve an ideal state when it is undisturbed by any viewer, in silence or almost. We are reminded then of all the curators around the world who withhold their most vulnerable works from the public for fear they will be damaged. Or like the scene from Fellini’s “Roma” where ancient frescoes disappear before the eyes of those who discover them.

spacerIn levitation


Evelina Domnitch
& Dmitry Gelfand,
“Sonolevitation”, 2007.
spacerEvelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, whose collective research consists of exploring physical phenomenon for artistic ends, are among the regular participants of the festival. Their performance entitled “Sonolevitation” won them a honourable mention in Hybrid Art. It exploits a phenomenon known to physics under the name acoustic levitation that makes it possible for objects to “float” in space by subjecting them to sonic waves. During the performance Evelina Domnitch gently manipulates fragments of gold. Placed in the sonic wave field with tweezers, these fragments of precious metal seem to escape gravity by turning on themselves, more or less quickly according to their different heights, all the while bumping in to one another. The waves, processed in real time by Dmitry Gelfand, progressively invade the sound space while the viewer’s attention is focused on the levitating fragments. As for the use of gold, it refers to the evocation in painting of a divine space where even bodies escape terrestrial attraction.

spacerIn great number


Antoine Schmitt
& Jean-Jacques Birgé,
“Nabaz'mob”, 2006.
spacerLastly, Antoine Schmitt and Jean-Jacques Birgé received distinction in the Digital Music category for their “Nabaz'mob” performance, which brings together a hundred rabbits communicating with each other. The two artists know these Nabaztag rabbits well having one conceived their interactivity behaviour and the other designed their sound. There is something disturbing in this gathering of rabbits who slowly move their ears and light up. They respond to the artist’s promptings with a delay as long as ten seconds. So out of this relative synchronicity a partially controlled flow emerges with the allure of a sonic maelstrom. This opera for a hundred intelligent rabbits was first performed in May 2006 when the spectators came with their own Nabaztags. More recently other rabbits met at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the form of an installation that reinforced the disquieting aspect of a large number of these Nabaztag rabbits playing together, or almost together.

Written by Dominique Moulon for "Images Magazine" and translated by Geoffrey Finch for "newmediaart.eu", this article is also available in French on "nouveauxmedias.net".