Archive for the 'Prix Ars Electronica' Category

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 4

By Tim Causer, on 5 September 2011

Today was all about the Public Space Squared symposium at the Brucknerhaus, where a host of hugely interesting people spoke. Photographs of the day are available at the Ars Electronica Flickr stream, and recordings of all of the talks are being progressively added to their YouTube channel. The Digital Communities section of the session is available to watch here.

After an introduction from David Sasaki, one of the symposium’s conveners, we were given three superb presentations: Tunisian activist Lina Ben Mhenni described how the overthrow of Ben Ali was not a ‘Facebook Revolution’ or ‘Twitter Revolution’, as well as how the authorities used social media for their own purposes; Zeynep Tufekci discussed technology and collective action, and gave some findings from a survey taken on the ground in Tahrir Square; and Leila Nachawati spoke on citizen journalism and the vicious repression of their own people by the Syrian government.

After lunch came talks from the Digital Communities prize-winning projects, moderated by Beatrice Achelake, one of the jury members. The Golden Nica winner was the Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, represented by its president, Felipe Heusser; Alexandra Jönsson and Cliff Hammett discussed their Award of Distinction-winning x_msg; and then finally I spoke about Transcribe Bentham. It was a great privilege to be able to talk about TB before the audience.

The final session featured Hu Yong of Beijing University discussing use of the internet in China; Tan Siok Siok spoke about her forthcoming crowdsourced Twitter documentary; and Markus Beckedahl of Netzpolitik discussed digital resources and politics.  This was followed by an enlightening panel discussion, and a summary from Isaac Mao, the symposium’s other convener.

Rounding off the day was – at last! – a chance to see the Tesla Orchestra at the Ars Electronica Centre. In case you were wondering, yes, that is a man in a metal costume playing music with tens of thousands of volts of electricity, generated by the world’s largest Tesla coils.

On behalf of all at Transcribe Bentham, I would like to express gratitude to all at Ars Electronica for their welcome, travel and accommodation arrangements, and letting us attend and present our work. Thanks too to the Digital Communities jury for selecting Transcribe Bentham to receive an award in the Prix, particularly as it was such a hard decision to whittle a very competitive field down to three.

All that remains to say is Auf Wiedersein, Linz! It’s been an honour and pleasure.

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 3

By Tim Causer, on 4 September 2011

Apologies for being slightly late with this report of yesterday’s events, largely due to preparing for today’s presentation.

Saturday was another largely full day to look around, which began in the gothic splendour of Linz’s beautiful Mariendom, which can seat a staggering 20,000 people. Tucked away in a small room upstairs was a performance of the Android/Human Theatre presentation, Sayonara, in which an android attempts to comfort its dying mistress with poetry (made a little more atmospheric by the faint sound of someone singing Ave Maria in the cathedral as part of a wedding celebration).

I thought that the story didn’t quite work, but Sayonara is essentially an effective showcase for a startlingly realistic android actress. The illusion of her being human, with feelings, is held throughout the performance, and it’s only when the lights come up and focus on her that the android doesn’t look quite right.

Credit: Rubra, Ars Electronica 2011

From there, it was off to the Brucknerhaus to have a look at the Digital Communities exhibition, where it was nice to see a few people milling around. There I met Anna Masoner of ORF Radio  – always good to meet a fellow historian! – and went to record an interview for a programme she’s putting together on digital humanities, which should be broadcast later this year.

TB display panel, Brucknerhaus

Digital Communities Exhibition, Brucknerhaus, Linz

Digital Communities Exhibition, Brucknerhaus, Linz

After that, I felt like some light relief and went off to attend a few talks from scientists from CERN discussing their experiments. Fascinating, if more than a little mind-bending stuff.

The day was rounded off with an extremely pleasant dinner with those speaking at Sunday’s ‘Public Space Squared’ symposium, and good, old-fashioned, late-night panic while getting the TB presentation in order. More on that later!

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 2

By Tim Causer, on 2 September 2011

A full day today to explore the offerings at this year’s festival, which began in overcast fashion but later exploded into brilliant sunshine.

It seemed natural to begin at Ars Electronica’s bustling HQ, sited on the other side of the Danube from where I’m staying. Exhibits included computer games programmed by under-19s in the ‘Create Your World’ festival-within-the-festival, An installation describing the work of CERN and, the one I found particularly fascinating, the Robotinity gallery. This included all manner of things, from scuttling insect-like robots, to machinery which visualises letters by scanning brain activity, to the latest in prosthetics.

Standing out, though,were two outwardly different, though fundamentally similar robots. The first, a cuddly baby seal which reacts to being stroked by flicking its tail, opening its eyes, and generally being adorable. The second is a child like rubbery thing, answers almost any question you might ask it; when it cocks its head to one side and appears to focus its oddly knowing gaze on you, it’s very disconcerting.

From there, it was to the Offenes Kulturhaus, for the Cyberarts 2011 exhibits. Favourites here were a fog-generating machine able to create a cloud thick enough that you quite literally can’t see your hand in front of your face, and ‘Pigeon D’Or’, in which pigeons were fed with an entirely harmless bacterial culture so that their excrement becomes a disinfectant. Wonders never cease.

The last part of the day – and undoubtedly the highlight – was attending the Ars Electronica Gala at the Brucknerhaus on behalf of the Bentham Project. The Gala began and ended with two stunning performances. First was Alex Roman’s film ‘The Third and the Seventh’ (an Award of Distinction winner), which was utterly spellbinding (made even more powerful by the Michael Nyman soundtrack); and the evening was rounded off by members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra giving a world premiere performance of Ralph Schutti’s ‘Beautiful Music for a Beautiful Beast’, written to honour the Large Hadron Collider.

In between was the main purpose of the evening: the presenting of the winning entries in the seven categories of the Prix Ars Electronica with their Golden Nicas. There were some very inspiring projects on show. The Digital Communities winner – the category in which we received our Award of Distinction – was the Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (Smart Citizen Foundation), a non-profit organisation which promotes transparency and accountability in South American politics; elsewhere the Choke Point Project, who are attempting to map the internet’s nodes of control in order to prevent governments from simply switching off the internet at times of civil disobedience, as we saw earlier this year in Egypt. Others were more challenging: in May the Horse Live in Me, the artist was gradually immunised with horse blood, before being injected with a full vial without going into anaphylactic shock, the animal and human blood joining together.

It was a genuine honour to attend the Gala. I now just have one question: can I come every year?

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 1

By Tim Causer, on 1 September 2011

Greetings all from Linz, a beautiful city by the shores of the Danube which is home to the Ars Electronica, whose gleaming home is at the centre of this annual festival of digital art, technology and culture.

The Ars Electronica Centre, Linz

I arrived early this afternoon, somewhat tired after the travelling, but have had a brief look around at what’s going on down at the Brucknerhaus. After collecting my artist’s pass, I came across the Interface Cultures exhibition on the theme of ‘unuselessness’: exhibits include a faux-Russian roulette game which plays random pieces of video, and a ‘squeezer’, which can be attached to a television or any audio device – the harder you squeeze, the higher the pitch of the audio becomes. My personal favourite, however, is QMusiQ, which the artist describes as ‘digital cow music’ played by eight Simmentals.

Just round the corner is the Digital Communities exhibition, featuring all the winning projects and those given an honorary mention in that category of this year’s Prix Ars Electronica. The exhibition takes the form of text and images, describing in detail the diverse range of projects recognised – including our very own Transcribe Bentham! Sadly, photography is not allowed inside the Bruckherhaus, but hopefully some official photographs will appear on the Ars Electronica Flickr feed. There are also four internet-connected computers nearby, so anyone inspired to have a look at the projects can get stuck in.

Tomorrow is set to be very exciting. I’ll have more time to visit the various exhibitions and events, and in the evening is one of the festival highlights: the Ars Electronica Gala, recognising and presenting awards to the winning porjects. I’ll be representing the Bentham Project there, and have been ironing my shirt and polishing my cufflinks in anticipation.

More to follow tomorrow!