This year, the topic of Festival Ars Electronica, The Big Picture, has been an appeal to stop to reflect about the current state of humanity: a complex reality, composed by increasingly bigger and clearer points of convergence, for better or for worse.
Probably, the world will never be able to be the same again after the sudden changes of the last years and after the capitalist system has entered the current crisis. And, while many people are wondering about the future, others are actively working to redesign it.
Reinvention is practically becoming a necessity, also for institutions and cultural events, apparently, even for the most consolidated. The austerity map proposed by The Guardian shows this, including more and more theatres, orchestras or dance companies that disappear or that are subject to strict cuts due to the unsustainable economic situation. In many cases, trying to keep a format that has been oversized can cause disappointment and discontent, but finding the adequate balance between the expectations of the audience and the several factors that condition the survival of cultural events (especially the most important ones) increasingly requires juggling skills.
In this sense, this year’s festival has managed to become the representation of the chosen topic: in this edition, it appeared tired and weak, but it also accommodated many communities active in their desire for change, justice and a better distribution of resources.
The attention to the spotlights of rebellion that were lit up all over the world, found its explicit relief in a whole-day panel entitled Everyday Rebellion, where the Riahi brothers – authors of the homonymous transmedia platform that, apart from offering video documentation and free material for daily revolts, is producing a feature film – were invited. Accompanied by the experience of the Syrian-Spanish activist Leila Nachwati, Sherien Al-Hayek (member and activist of Syrian People Know Their Way -a community of young artists, designers, bloggers- and project winner of the Golden Nica in Digital Communities), Hexie Farma (a Chinese illustrator that makes fun of his country’s propaganda and censorship trough his comics) and the young Agnes Aistleitner (winner of the category u19 with the short film State of Revolution, dealing with the Egyptian spring), presented also their projects.
The afternoon continued with the presentation of projects not so directly political, but anyway focused in subverting the rules and finding spontaneous and free ways for doing daily operations, which go beyond certain restrictions imposed by inappropriate and obsolete economic and legal systems, such as copyright or patents. For instance, Golan Levin and Shawn Sims have designed a universal kit for a construction game that permits the combination of pieces of different brands, while the project Apertus invites users to make movies with professional open source and low cost equipment.
The presence of this rebel and creative spirit was palpable in several of the festival sections. In some cases, the works seemed to come under the field of design instead of art (in fact, the border is increasingly blurring, although it still exists). And some projects needed to go one step further to firmly impose their critical background, beyond the simple but fundamental intention of the author. This is the case, for instance, of Memopol-2 – Golden Nica for the Estonian artist Timo Toots’ interactive art – a machine with dystopian appearance able to show all the public data of a person from his or her ID card. More successful in its prompting scope seemed to be some of the works in the exhibition Out of control – What the Internet Knows about You, where, for example, the already well-known Julian Olier’s and Danja Vasiliev’s Newstweek could be experimented.
Among the honourable mentions in the Interactive Art category, there was also Occupy George, by the United States artists Ivan Cash and Andy Dao, who have put in effect in the USA one-dollar notes printed with CGI data that deal with the financial disparity between the 99% and the 1% of the world population. In the exhibition the public was handed the seals used by the authors of the project so as to add their message to the dollar bills.
This energy was transmitted even to the huge open-air event on Saturday night, that every year attracts thousands of local spectators and surprises them with special effects that could easily compete with Hollywood. Among the 3D figures created by the quadricopters, the bright dancers in white suits, the coloured fountains and huge screens, the emblematic face of Anonymous (maybe quite trivialized in that context) was projected on the surrounding buildings, while among the thousands of bright letters brought by the public to join the collective performance, some of them composed the sign “Free Pussy Riot” over the main deck of the Ars Electronica Center.
Beyond activism and critical art, the program of Ars Electronica offered works and performances to suit all tastes, with a special predilection to those with a high scientific component. Of special relevance were: the presence of Joe Davis (winner of Golden Nica in the category of Hybrid Art with his Bacterial Radio) and several of his works, the elegant installation Desire of Codes by the Japanese artist Seiko Mikami, the evocative Between | You | And | Me by the German sound artist Anke Eckardt (which in some aspects resembles Anthony McCall’s Light describig a cone of 1973 that was so suggestive to Gordon Matta Clark) and, especially, Moon Goose Analogue, a project by Agnes Meyer-Brandis inspired by the book of 1963 The Man on the Moon. Due to the lack of space we can’t describe in great detail this extremely poetic work and the great artistic ability to produce and to narrate it, but we invite the readers to discover it on her web site. Undoubtedly, the panel with a presentation by the artist helped us to understand and love it, while most of the Hybrid Art works shown (unfortunately!) in the white cube of the CyberArts 2012 exhibition kept a certain aura of mystery because of their complexity and, above all, due to the lack of exhaustive details that could have explained the election of exhibiting them exclusively as documentation.
Another very pleasant guest was Julius Von Bismarck, who won last year’s Collide@CERN prize, which gave him the opportunity to develop a project in collaboration with expert scientists. The result has been Versuch unter Kreisen, a fascinating and impressive kinetic sculpture composed by four lamps in circular constant movement that allow us to visualize the main laws of physics. During the festival, the work was installed in the Contemporary Art Centre OK, together with the other awarded works.
This year, the Campus Exhibition was devoted to the master of Sound Studies in the UdK-Berlin University. the Outstanding Klangbild Digi.flat 90-12 by Korinsky: a series of moving scanners displayer over the wall that, without their lids, created a suggestive aesthetic phenomenon. Of particular interest were also the steel sheets engraved (literally) to the sound of the bullets shot by a pneumatic machine, by Harald Christ, and Feld III by Julius Stahl, a white square adorned with needles animated by inaudible frequencies, with an aesthetic in Zimoun style.
Indeed, music, which in past editions had always filled the lighter spaces of the festival, devoted to entertainment, this year has had a main role. Apart from the big concerts offered each year and the night of intallation/performance in the Cathedral (in charge of Rupert Huber in this edition, the Ars Electronica devoted its last day to sound art, with the celebration of the awards of the homonymous category, the 25th anniversary of the Kunstradio, the availability of the strong sound system developed for the Klangwolke in the Donaupark and some projects developed in the University of Berlin. The quite reduced public in these events would probably have changed quantity by quality and, above all, would have appreciated much more some of the works at a lower volume. But, in any case, any initiative that elevates sound art to the level of visual arts should be accepted positively.
In this article we couldn’t describe many of the festival contents, but there’s no need to worry: both the catalogue in pdf and the complete archive of the previous editions, from 1987 to the present, can be found for free in the Web Site of Ars Electronica. The past, recent or distant, is not a problem anymore: the great online database of our times allows easily documenting and sharing it. The great unknown is the future, and from this point of view we can just keep waiting for it or, better, to try to shape it, with the means at our disposal and whatever the cost. And, probably, in 2013, Ars Electronica will have a lot to tell...
All the images come from the Ars Electronica Flickr.