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Nothing Would Ever Be the Same
The 30th Anniversary of Ars Electronica
2009 is not only Linz’s year to serve asEuropean Capital of Culture. It also has very special significance inconjunction with Ars Electronica. The Internet is a direct descendant of theARPANET that was developed 40 years ago; Ars Electronica made its debut 30years ago; it’s been 20 years since the Iron Curtain fell and Tim Berners-Leedesigned the World Wide Web at CERN in Geneva. We celebrate the birth of thedigital future. Nothing would ever be the same.
In this timeline, Linz’s mostsignificant milestone is 1979. With the founding of Ars Electronica, a festivalfor art, technology and society, this city became an early adopter in a newtechnical epoch. This move would trigger an earth-shaking process ofdevelopment and change that would proceed at unprecedented speed. For Linz,this opened up the chance to create a higher profile image for itself between Austria’stwo great cultural centers, Vienna and Salzburg. “The Future: All Aboard!”became Linz’s new slogan in 1998—literally words of welcome to bus and streetcarpassengers, but, in a larger sense, a mission statement for an entire city.
The Ars Electronica Festival establishedin 1979 was organized by the Brucknerhaus and the ORF—Austrian BroadcastingCompany’s Upper Austria Regional Studio. Herbert W. Franke, Hubert Bognermayr,Ulli A. Rützel and I were involved in the original conception. Ars Electronicacommenced on September 18 with the Linzer Klangwolke (Cloud of Sound), aclassical open-air event featuring Bruckner’s 8th Symphony visualized withlights and lasers. The ORF called upon locals to put their radios in theirwindows to let the music resound throughout the entire city. And 100,000 peoplecame to experience the first Klangwolke live in Donaupark. The result was areverberation heard ’round the world.
The 1980 Klangwolke was visualized byOtto Piene of MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies; Blue Star Linz featureda helium-filled sculpture. In 1982 in Linz, Piene organized the SkyartConference, an international conclave of media artists including CharlotteMoorman, Nam June Paik, Bazon Brock, Jürgen Claus, Tom van Sant and BerndKracke. Several projects were produced with the express aim of creating afollowing for Ars Electronica among the general public in Linz—for example,Klaus Schulze’s Linzer Steel Symphony that entailed steel workers and voestalpinemachinery in the Brucknerhaus in 1980, and Georgio Battistelli’s Steel Operaperformed before an audience of 10,000 on Hauptplatz in 1982.
Isao Tomita’s Universum got anenthusiastic reception from a crowd of more than 60,000 in Donaupark. Its’production was made possible by a $1 million grant from Japan’s Casio Corp.During these years, the scientific and artistic focus was on staging exhibitions,commissioning works of art and holding symposia on the emergence of computerculture. In 1984 in the Brucknerhaus, scholar and media artist Peter Weibelproduced the multimedia opera The Artistic Will, a hymn to electricity (“thelight bulb is the new human sun”). Over the ensuing years, Weibel, as festival consultant,together with Regina Patsch and Gottfried Hattinger, were the driving forcesdetermining the festival’s orientation. From 1991 on, responsibility for the festivalwas turned over to a board of directors with Karl Gerbel, myself and Peter Weibelas chairman of the artistic advisory council.
In 1987, ORF took the next step on thebasis of an idea I proposed: launching the Prix Ars Electronica as aninternational competition in the computer arts featuring three categories:computer animation, computer music and computer graphics. The prize’s mostnoteworthy features: the Golden Nica statuette as its symbol, a millionAustrian schillings (72,672 euros) in prize money for the artists, and a jury comprisedof world-renowned experts.
From 1987 to 2003, the ORF’s ChristineSchöpf was in charge of the organization of the competition and the juryselection process. Her strong commitment and people skills in dealing with theartists contributed decisively to the Prix Ars Electronica’s successfuldevelopment. The first sponsor of the Prix Ars Electronica was Siemens AG. From2004 on, Festival and Prix were organized jointly by the Ars Electronica Centerand the ORF.
Since 1987—thus, over the last 22 years—42,245works have been submitted and evaluated by the juries. The Prix Ars Electronicafunctions not only as a trendsetter in the individual categories; many of thecompetition’s entrants, jurors and prizewinners also go on to become part ofArs Electronica’s extensive international network. A fortuitous happenstance:the first Golden Nica in Computer Animation went to Luxo Jr. by John Lasseter,then a member of the staff of a small animation studio; today he is probablyHollywood’s most successful animated filmmaker (Toy Story, Find Nemo, Cars,Wall-E and Up). In 2009, the Prix Ars Electronica encompasses seven categoriesthat reflect the development of digital media. Ars Electronica’s activities inthe late 1980s and ’90s focused on the strategic triangle of art, technologyand society in accordance with the dominant technological themes of thisperiod.
1989 In the Network of Systems, in 1990Digital Dreams-Virtual Worlds: participants included Marvin Minsky, WilliamGibson, Laron Lannier, Timothy Leary and Bruce Sterling.
1991 Out of Control, a criticalencounter with technological development starring, among others, JeanBaudrillard, Hans Morawec and Elfriede Jelinek. 1992 Endo & Nano, 1993Genetic Art—Artificial Life, 1994 Intelligent Ambience, 1995 Information Myth—andin this year, the Ars Electronica Award for Innovation was given to TimBerners-Lee for the development of the World Wide Web, the birth of a new era.Nothing would ever be the same.
This was also the beginning of a new erafor Ars Electronica. Mayor Franz Dobusch began considering a cultural use for aplanned building adjacent to the Nibelungen Bridge in Urfahr. Many proposalswere submitted; the City of Linz eventually decided on the construction of theArs Electronica Center as a Museum of the Future. Thus, Ars Electronica was toget its own facility.
Director of Cultural Affairs SiegbertJanko and I, the originators of the concept, were put in charge of projectcontent; Edouard Bannwart (Art+Com , Berlin) conducted a feasibility study; theArs Electronica Center opened in 1996.
Gerfried Stocker, a 31-year-old mediaartist was appointed artistic director; Horst Hörtner was named director of theFuturelab R&D laboratory; each still serve in his respective capacity.Financial director since July 1, 2009 is Diethard Schwarzmair; he is in chargeof the business end and is also responsible for running for the Futurelab. TheAEC was set up as a corporation with a board of directors; it is wholly owned bythe City of Linz. Ars Electronica thus has a solid legal and financial footing.Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf share responsibility for planning theFestival program.
The Ars Electronica Center sees itselfas an educational facility. The most important aspect of its mission is toraise consciousness of the digital transformation that is making an impact onall areas of our life: education, career, the economy and, above all,communications. Gerfried Stocker has succeeded in imparting a fresh new impetusto the Festival and to making the facility an international hub for mediaartists from all over the world. Ars Electronica’s annual themes look to thefuture: 1999 LifeScience, 2000 Next Sex, 2001 Takeover—Who’s Doing the Art ofTomorrow, 2002 Unplugged—Art as the Scene of Global Conflicts, 2003 Code— TheLanguage of Our Time, 2004 TimeShift, 2006 Simplicity, 2007 Goodbye Privacy, 2008A New Cultural Economy and, now, 2009 Human Nature.
The Futurelab has become a veryinnovative, high-profile and extremely successful R&D facility that notonly develops infrastructure for the Museum of the Future itself, but alsoworks on projects worldwide (USA, China, Japan, Berlin, Madrid, Lisbon, etc.)either as sole proprietor or together with partners. One of the Futurlab’s chiefareas of emphasis is music visualization; in this area, important commissions havecome from the Brucknerhaus, Germany’s WDR and the eArts Festival in Shanghai,to name just a few. Gerfried Stocker has continually expanded Ars
Electronica’s regional, national and,above all, international network. Numerous cultural institutions in Linzcollaborate with Ars Electronica—the Brucknerhaus, the Lentos Art Museum, theOK Center for Contemporary Art, the Linz Art University, the ORF, Architekturforum,Stadtwerkstadt, Times Up et al.
The Ars Electronica Center also played akey role in the preparations for Linz’s stint as European Capital of Culture.For the AEC itself, 2009 has also represented a giant step forward: thearchitectural expansion of the Ars Electronica Center. Treusch Architecturecreated the design that dovetailed nicely with the pre-existing structure. OnJanuary 2, 2009 the new Museum of the Future made its debut. The 4,000 squaremeters of new space brought the facility’s total to 6,500. The entire ensembleis enwrapped in a glass shell—a 5,100 m2 LED façade.
The AEC also got a reorientation withrespect to its content. “New Views of Humankind” goes boldly forward on a paththat brings artists and scientists even closer together. The BrainLab focusesprimarily on the neuro-anatomy of the eye; BioLab provides visitors withglimpses into the human body and lets them experiment with DNA; the FabLabpresents possibilities for the handicrafts of the future—a design is created ona computer screen, and a 3D laser printer transforms the data into a realobject; and, finally, the RoboLab offers insights into the world of robotics.As an enterprise, Ars Electronica had a staff of 190 in July 2009—onethird full-timeemployees; two-thirds part-time.
As its major contribution to the 2009European Capital of Culture year, the AEC is collaborating with voestalpine toproduce “80+1,” a virtual round-the-world journey to shed light on the mostpressing issues now facing humankind.
The festival that premiered in 1979 with a budget ofonly 120,000 euros has developed over the course of 30 years into aglobe-spanning network of artists, scientists, and technicians representing allfields having to do with digital media. Over this time span, Ars Electronicahas achieved sustainable synergy as the Ars Electronica Cluster whosecomponents include the Festival, the Prix Ars Electronica, the Ars ElectronicaCenter, the Futurelab, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Media.Art.Research aswell as cultural and scholarly institutions in Linz, Austria and abroad. Inthis configuration, Ars Electronica is nicely positioned to face the challengesof the coming decade that will bring a quantum leap in the digitization ofeveryday life, and in the wake of which nothing will ever be the same again.
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