• Essay

  • October 17th, 2014 10.17.2014

    What It Takes to Change: Ars Electronica 2014


    By Dominique Moulon

    The artistic directors of the Ars Electronica Festival, Christine Schöpf and Gerfried Stocker opted this year for change, by investing in Linz differently and in terms of theme. Regarding art as a catalyst, they invite us again to reconsider the world, this time to better foresee the future.

    Faces by the Thousands

    Leonardo da Vinci advised that observing soiled spots on walls could represent “strange faces”. This is precisely what facial recognition specialists are asking of machines today. Evidence through images can be found at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, where members of the Korean duo Shinseungback Kimyonghun have assembled a few faces recognized by algorithms scrutinizing clouds. The most surprising is that we also see some possible incarnations without technology. These same artists have exhibited other faces off-site, at the mall, which one would think was concealed by a thick mist. But the reality is quite different—these are the collected portraits of film actors. The blur evokes the same allusion to photography in a painterly way, like that obtained by Gerhard Richter, but more analogous.

    Voices Rising

    Ei Wada is a regular at Ars Electronica. This year, he presented an installation in one of the chapels adjoining the choir of the Cathedral of Linz entitled Flying Records, which consists of six tape recorders that demonstrate high fidelity analogue sounds from the past. Their mechanisms have been somewhat enhanced by digital components dedicated to controlling the elevation of six helium-filled balloons that retain the tapes. The idea behind this work is relatively simple—the balloons “stretch” sounds up, while the recorders rewind them downwards. The clatter of tape punctuating the sounds of the artist’s voice, recorded on each band, are part of an entirely ethereal music of comings and goings. It seems to escape gravity, just like the gas contained in the balloons. The audience is silent as they listen to this music, like sacred overtones in a site that is equally sacred.

    The Art of Transparency

    The Golden Nica for Interactive Art was awarded this year to Paolo Cirio for his project that can be seen online here. Here, the names of 200,000 shell companies are communicated from data found by the artist from a government server off the Cayman Islands. Within the space of the Cyberart exhibition, as with the project site, which places itself at the intersection of conceptual art, investigative journalism, and the world of business. The piece issues certificates dedicated to usurping the identities of offshore companies. It is a provocation aimed at denouncing tax evasion, usually reserved for the powerful and recommended by well-informed experts, by making it democratic. But it is also for the spectators at the Offenes Kulturhaus to use, by carefully choosing the names of companies they could hack into, to in turn no longer pay taxes. Meanwhile, Cirio admits to having been pressured to remove the names of the companies who do not appreciate this digital practice of contemporary art in the least. Using the methods and codes of the company in an artistic context, Cirio reveals what is usually not accessible to us. And yet today, there are very few multinationals that do not have a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.

    An Aesthetic of Balance

    A robotics piece by Jacob Tonski, who was also awarded a distinction in Interactive Art, is entitled Balance From Within. The work comes in the form of a sofa, literally floating in the space, through a mechanism that holds it from inside, balancing on one foot. The furniture is Victorian and symbolizes, according to the artist, human relationships that exist between those who sit there. There are indeed a lot of decisions that have been made in such circumstances, where the balance of relations is a matter of listening, effort, and even concession. Balance has always been one of the most universal values, in religion and in economy, or in ethical practices. Looking back to the venue, where the engine of the machine makes noise symbolising effort while spectators enhance the work with their comments, the piece projects the viewer’s personal quests for balance. But can digital technologies, in this context a sofa in suspension, promote the balance of tensions between people?

    With Determination

    The Golden Nica for Computer Animation was awarded this year to a sequence entitled “Walking City”. Designed by Matt Pyke with a soundtrack by his brother, Simon Pyke, the universe of this work is extremely white. A character animated by Chris Perry of the Universal Everything studio, moves with determination to the rhythm of repetitive music that instantly draws us in. The subtitle of the piece, “Architecture + Evolution + Movement” provides some additional guidance. Architecture, as a tribute to the British architect Ron Herron from the Archigram Collective, who in 1964 initiated the concept of “Walking City” through an article he wrote. Evolution, because the materials composing the character moving rhythmically in the picture continue to hybridize from substructures to facade coverings or particles. Movement, because at no time do we imagine that this character can stop, so determined he seems in his walk. A walk that also evokes those who, equally determined, attract attention by moving to influence their / or our future. History is also being told with steps, towards cities or against states, at times solitary or collective.


    The Cyberart exhibition ends with a somewhat unexpected video sequence. It was made by Japanese artist and designer Daito Manabe, another one of the regulars at Ars Electronica, together with seven other creative collaborators or engineers. The piece is a reconstruction that uses sound and light to replicate a fragment of the Formula 1 race driven by Ayrton Senna in 1989 on the Suzuka circuit. Data from the era has been preserved for this work, entitled “Sound of Honda / Ayrton Senna” in 1989. The performance is given at night and digital technologies controlling the simultaneous movement of light and sound throughout the circuit make the invisible, visible. There is no car, no driver, and nothing is at stake—but the race is indeed held there. Extracted from the past, the data from this race brings back the machine and the speed, which summons the same type of movement depicted in Italian Futurism. Sports, over time, have become a subject for many contemporary artists—like Philippe Parreno or Harun Farocki—making use of both video and digital supports.

    Acoustic Visions

    Moving from one body of buildings to another, without leaving the Offenes Kulturhaus, you enter the solo exhibition devoted to the sound artist Bill Fontana. Through the appropriation of architectural monuments and other engineering feats, Fontana recently focused on San Francisco’s iconic bridge. Placing a camera accompanied by a sound-capturing device in the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge, the artist extracts what he terms a “sound vision”. However, the shot is static, though there are many audio-visual events that punctuate the image. Among those, we notice the subsequent clacking of vehicles using the bridge to cross the bay. Not to mention the sombre and distant sounds of foghorns and their obvious musicality. These same events, whether they are contained in the image or come from somewhere else, live together in this piece. All of it, simply because of its repetitiveness, participates in keeping the audience in a state of waiting, yet with no real suspense. The tension inherent in the non-mobile frame seems to be “softened” by the multitude of micro-events.

    From Within

    Finally, there is the Höhenrausch exhibition where notably one finds the robotic installation Ninety Six by Nils Völker. The title tells us little about the nature of the work, but still shows us the number of its components or modules: uniformly blue grey plastic bags usually used for holding household waste. They fully cover the back wall of the work’s environment. Alternately, they inflate and deflate making waves that give an organic feel to the area of ​​this piece of the Offenes Kulturhaus. As viewers, we do not face the work, but see it from the inside of the body that it is. Unconsciously, we adapt our breath to the rhythm of these artificial breaths, to the point that we are one with the work.


    Ars Electronica : http://www.aec.at
    Shinseungback Kimyonghun : http://ssbkyh.com
    Ei Wada : http://onpa.de
    Offenes Kulturhaus : http://www.ok-centrum.at
    Paolo Cirio : http://www.paolocirio.net
    Loophole For All: loophole4all.com
    Jacob Tonski : http://www.jacobtonski.com
    Universal Everything : http://www.universaleverything.com
    Daïto Manabe : http://daito.ws
    Bill Fontana : http://www.resoundings.org
    Nils Völker : http://www.nilsvoelker.com
    Prix Cube : http://www.prixcube.com