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by Dominique Moulon [ November 2010 ]
The most recent edition of the Ars Elctronica Festival dedicated to art, technology and society, mainly took place in a former tobacco processing plant in Linz, the scope of which impressed all participants. Theoreticians, researchers and artists from around the world met there for a few days to participate in a think-tank, initiated once again by Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf that aimed at "repairing" what is still possible to repair, starting with the environment.

spacerWhen the city sleeps

City Sleep Light

Antoine Schmitt,
"City Sleep Light",
spacerArs Electronica, is a multitude of conferences, performances and exhibitions, but it is also participation in other events like the Media Facades Festival. So it was on its invitation that the French artist Antoine Schmitt took control of the entire network of LEDs of the Ars Electronica Centre using data taken from the Internet on economics and the weather during the day. As the city dozes off, the building begins to pulse in rhythms that translate the activity of the day now ended. But at the same time there were also other buildings that were transformed into night-lights, similar to those that betray the temporary somnolence of our portable computers, waiting to be re-awakened. With "City Sleep Light", the artist created a correlation through light between one of the architectural monuments of the city and the activity or emotional state of its inhabitants, at the same time as he established a relationship between cities connected by distant "breathing".

spacerKinetic art in the digital age

Framework f5X5X5

"Framework f5X5X5", 2009.
Source Natalia Kolesova.
spacerA good number of the most pertinent works at the Ars Electronica Festival were to be found at the CyberArts exhibition, which among others presented the "Framework f5X5X5" installation by members of the LAb[au] collective. Their description of it is very precise: - "Framework is a kinetic light sculpture constituted of 5 horizontal and vertical square elements, establishing a grid of 5X5X5". The luminous pixels that compose this matrix describe and re-describe shapes in relative obscurity. They ceaselessly assume poses that are held for only a few seconds. It is autonomous and reacts to the approach of visitors when it is in interactive mode. At times, some of the frames seem to "hesitate" between two positions. They are then taken by a slight trembling that literally breathes life into the whole of the frame. Perfection is boring and it is precisely this type of practically imperceptible imperfection that often contributes, in a very large sense, to the overall beauty of a work.

spacerReinvented body movements

The EyeWriter

Zachary Lieberman,
James Powderly,
Tony Quan,
Evan Roth,
Chris Sugrue and
Theo Watson,
"The EyeWriter",
spacerThe prize for interactive art was awarded this year to a collaborative project called "The EyeWriter" that enabled the Californian graffiti artist Tony Quan to once again express himself from his hospital bed. Known under the name Tempt One, he marked the world of graffiti in the 1980's and 1990's before being totally paralysed by an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. All that remained to him as a possible form of communication were the movements of his eyes. Lead by Zachary Lieberman, artists and programmers developed an open source system of eye tracking. This device, which cost only fifty or so dollars to manufacture, nothing compared to the current commercial offers that are well beyond reach, enabled Tony to rediscover the pleasures his artistic practices brought him. When members of the Graffiti Research Lab later projected his graffiti in real time in the urban space of Los Angeles he exclaimed: "That was the first time I've drawn anything since 2003! It feels like taking a breath after being held under water for five minutes".

spacerUnidentified communicating object

Chapter I : The Discovery

Félix Luque Sánchez,
"Chapter I : The Discovery",
spacerFélix Luque Sánchez' installation "Chapter I: The Discovery" focuses on a Platonic solid called a dodecahedron. This polyhedron was already a subject of fascination at the time of the Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli, who was working on his Divina Proportione. The spectators on the second floor of the CyberArts exhibition discover first of all a few video presentations of the mysterious object - inside, outside, in nature and in an industrial setting. Are there several of them? Do they move around? Its edges are intermittently illuminated at the same time as the sounds that follow one upon the other, forming a repetitive kind of music. Fiction or reality? The piece that is next to the installation partially responds to this question because it is the real object that is presented. It is similar to those in the video, but it reacts to spectators who come too close to it. What might be interpreted as a language, through the light as well as the sound, then becomes chaotic. But nothing else happens. The object continues to glow in the darkness as soon as the intruder or threat has passed.

spacerAn aesthetic of repetition

216 prepared dc-motors  / filler wire 1.0mm"

"216 prepared dc-motors
/ filler wire 1.0mm",
spacerThe title of the sound installation "216 prepared dc-motors / filler wire 1.0mm" by Zimoun is extremely precise. The use of the word prepared is enough to indicate the proximity of its author to the sound works of John Cage who considered randomness to be an essential component of his work. From a distance, the work of the Swiss artist looks like a translucent veil animated by minute quiverings all along its surface. Coming closer you perceive the sound it generates, which evokes rain or hail. Close up, we ascertain that the repetition of objects, like sounds, often sublimates them. And then there is this line, which day after day is being made on the wall. It is a line that is appearing through the overlapping of the 216 marks being traced by the 216 metallic wires a millimetre in diameter each time they rotate. Inexistent when the work was set up and variable according to the curvatures of the elements that are drawing it, it alone will remain once the 216 motors have stopped working and the musical sound of mechanical rain has ceased. It is the final visual trace of an interrupted sonic flow.

spacerThe blackest black in the world


Frederik De Wilde,
"Hostage", 2010.
spacerQuite a few works at Ars Electronica are only documented on video for technical reasons or because they are in progress. This is the case with the piece entitled "Hostage" conceived by Frederik De Wilde. For the moment it is just a small-sized square prototype, but the material it is made of is very special because it was created on a nanometric scale in collaboration with researchers from Rice University in Houston. Its distinctive feature resides in the fact that it absorbs practically all light rays. They are held in hostage by the work, which is comprised of an assemblage of carbon nanotubes whose reflection index is exceptionally weak. So a sculpture covered with such a material would only reveal its silhouette, regardless of the lighting. But the work by the Belgian artist for the moment boils down to the title he has given to the black square. One inevitably thinks of Kasimir Malevitch, but more especially of Yves Klein who at another time, benefitted from the research of a chemist to lay claim to a decidedly mysterious blue.

spacerPhotographic instants

Nine Eyes of Google Street View

Jon Rafman,
"Nine Eyes of Google Street View", 2009.
spacerMany states initiated photographic missions to document their territories and populations through images before Google, in 2007, began to roam the world with countless vehicles. The database destined to supply Street View thus offers a typology that ranges from urban landscapes to social photography and visual art images. Google's vehicles don't have embedded photographers in them, but they go everywhere governments allow them. And that is where Jon Rafman steps in by making a selection of photos that he has called "Nine Eyes of Google Street View". He substitutes the "I was there" of the photographer for the "I have chosen" of the art collector. As for the images themselves, we easily forget that they were taken by the machines of a gigantic infrastructure. But a recurring problem of digital technology is already made manifest – that of archiving this multitude of photographic moments before they are replaced by robots that generate and classify them automatically.

spacerOn the inclusion of merchants


Pomodoro Bolzano,
"Tomato", 2003.
spacerIt is also because the future of emerging practices depends on their penetration into the market that Ars Electronica has decided this year to offer the possibility of presenting a few objects and installations to potential collectors at the Black Box gallery from Copenhagen and the Brunnhofer from Linz. One of these that caught our eye consists of cherry tomatoes imprisoned in silicon cubes made by members of the Pomodoro Bolzano collective. With time, the surface of their skin becomes covered in gold leaf, as though prepared for eternity. There is also a very ordinary light bulb, except for its surface, that the artist Benjamin Zuber has covered with black paint. But beware because it's intensely hot as it is plugged in. The meter, which is an integral part of this installation entitled "Verbraucher", thus allows the public to measure the energy that is being wasted. There is much food for thought in this edition of Ars Electronica that indeed suggests it is time to repair our environment.

Written for "Digital MCD" and translated by Geoffrey Finch.