Talking about an event like Ars Electronica is far from easy, first of all due do its sheer size, Size about the multiplicity of possible activities (attending exhibitions, conferences, laboratories, performances, projections; resting and exchanging views at the meeting points; participating to a variety of parallel activities,), the creative sites whose boundaries fade one into another (video, cinema, dance, music, ininstallations, handcrafting, animation, sustainability, architecture, games, science, medicine, biology… and the wide extension of spaces across which the festival is articulated.
It is nonetheless true that out of the generous amount of works and meetings not everything is truly worth of mention. But everything in the festival is contributing to the special ambiance of those days and place. Yes because Ars Electronica , especially in a place the Tabakfabrik , the outstanding location of this year. For a few days it becomes a world, a lifestyle for all fans full-time immersed into it. Spaces and attendants are all together contributing to the great energy and richness capable of reaching a variety of people.
Ars Electronica is an event different from anything else. First of all for the prestige acquired during its long history (last years they celebrated the 30thanniversary) for the intense activity of the Center behind it and it is now the annual meeting point for artists, experts, and fans from all over the world. And also because it is a festival where everything is well cared and realized: it is enough recalling that every installation is attended by a person (most often the artist himself) who is there not only to avoid damages but also for providing explanations. But there is also another reason.
An issue frequently raised in the cultural research circles is how to educate people appreciating the new forms of art. A long debated issue somehow solved at Linz. Linz people actually goes to Ars Electronica: families with children, teenagers and even old people looking at installations and performances and attending conferences.
Maybe is due to their living in a town whose culture is linked to the Ars Electronica Center, so defining its identity, anyhow the result of this year, taking into account the numerous visitors from abroad, reached the number of 90,200. According to Festival organisers, what inspired curiosity from inhabitants was also the possibility of visiting the inside of a factory, they previously saw only from outside. It could be, bit the fact is that when looking at the works they did not behave as occasional onlookers.
The Linz cigarette factory, dismissed a year ago, has now become a symbol of the profound economic changes characterizing our age and going side by side with planetary emergencies. Appeals that this year were a Festival central issue: Repair. They don’t talk anymore of recycling but rather of repairing and using things up to their total exhaustion going countercurrent to the “race to arms” ongoing since a few years in the information technology and telephone markets.
And a sizeable part of Ars Electronica 2010 was denouncing exactly this and invited people to visit non biodegradable waste repositories, already out of use or close to (plastic bags, ampoules, engines, cathodic tube TV, in the Requiem for dying species exhibition). To get information about the long trips of wastes (visualised in Trash Track by the Italian architect Carlo Ratti) or their huge number (In.fondo.al.mar from David Boardman and Paolo Gerbaudo, or portraits Running the numbers of Chris Jordan) To observe and try alternative methods of transportation (electrical vehicles in the courtyard or bizarre projects of Proben exhibition). To find inspiration about how to restore and reuse objects and materials of any kind (stands of Platform21). Even to create musical bands like the Japanese Ei Wada which in its performance Braun Tube Jazz Band generates sounds from old TV screens simply by stroking them.
Repairing the environment: yes but not only. Repairing also our society as proposed byDas Mobile Ö1 Atelier with light and cheap houses well suited for emargencies like Haiti; Ralf Schmerberg with his movie Problema, a reflection on people’s perception of the big problems of our world; Mongsen Jacobsen, with his installation Power of mind 4 – Dissociative defense, which gives to a galvanic battery made from potatoes the task of cambating censorship.
And also to repair human body. Besides dedicating to shiatsu, craniosacral therapy, yoga, kinesiology and so on, an entire floor of Tabakfabrik, last Prix Ars Electronica assigned Golden Nica for the section Interactive Art to the project Eye Writer, of Zach Lieberman, Chris Sugrue and Theo Watson with participation of Graffiti Research Lab. A team of excellence who decided to create this system when graffiti artist became paralysed due to lateral amyotrophic sclerosis. An instrument allowing to continue designing would have been too costly, so Lieberman, Watson, Sugrue and GRLs started working around one of thewir own capitalising on the only mobile part left to the unlucky boy; his pupil.
Also Revital Cohen thought about disabile people with his Phantom Recorder, proposing a way for recording the perception phenomenom of phantom limb and projecting it on a possible prothesis.
But body can also be used as an interface as demonstrated by Soniua Cillari in her performance. An Italian artist based in Amsterdam, Sonia presented at Ars Electronica her As an artist I have to rest an exhausting performance of 90 minutes in which the artist laid on the ground and breathing through a tube generates a digital creature called Feather.
But body can also be enriched, for instance through Lighting Choreographer, the special suit of LEDs designed by Minoru Fujimoto, improving dancers expression through an interactive system. And modifiable as shown by Stelarc with the now famous Ear on Arm his last foly and Gold Nica from the section Hybrid Art. From this excentric performer we truly don’t know what to expect further. Now that he got an ear implanted onto his arm (and images from the surgical interavention became a photographic exhibition, signed Nina Sellars), with the goal of converting it into a receiver and transmitter.
Up to now the artist underwent two surgical interventions and suffered various complications. Other interventions nave been planned but between one and the next recovery periods are needed so that the overall time of this unusual project is prolonged. Stelarc was due attending Ars Electronica but due to a minor accident the public had to be satisfied with his avatar of Second Life. The ones wanting more details and not being too impressionable can go to the website of the artist.
Our attempts to replicate human body have become no longer impossible in the last few years. Two interesting panels were dedicated to robotics at Ars Electronica 2010 with the outstanding presence of ASIMO the hypersophisticated humanoid developed by Honda (visible in action at Deep Space of the Ars Electronica Center, in a presentation a bit too much Las Vegas style)
Starring guest and expert on how to move inside the Autrian festival was Professor Hiroshi Ishigur (visible at the beginning of Surrogates movie by Jonathan Mostow, with his clone Geminoid HI-1, installed last year at the Festival bar) His goal is that of creating more human interfaces for communicating with relatives, without the unpersonal aspect and touch of phones and computers. So, he presented this year his Telenoid whose stylish appearance aimed at identifying it to whom one chooses, seemed to scare children. A reduced version of Telenoid, to be called Elfoid, will be such to be handheld as a cell phone and fully portable.
But robotics are not always aimed at mimicking human body, as demonstrated by the delicious Oribotics of Matthew Gardiner. This Australian artist currently at Futurelab of Ars Electronica Center has been working for years on this project, creating mechanical, interactive origamis with materials always better suited with an increasingly precise and ergonomic functioning. And also the ever-present Golan Levin described some of his past robot creatures (like the witty Double Taker (Snout) based on studying human reaction and body expression.
And all of this was in fact simply a part of the wide Festival offer. Here we have no room for describing it in full. If the first reaction approaching the Tabakfabrik was some frustration due to the difficulty in finding works through the labyrinthic factory spaces, soon after people were finding a more serendipitous rhythm while exploring rooms, opening doors, climbing stairs, ending their days by ticking on the program (86 pages) all they could see in their day.
Three days was the time I needed to look around a bit everywhere. This is not to say that Festval ended there. Each day there was plenty of conferences, with the only defect of occurring in parallel in different spaces so obliging one to difficult choices (like for Prix Forum Digital Music & Sound Art overlapping with the second part of Media Facades Symposium, … a real pity)
It was then worth coming back to spaces already visited just to see what was going on, observing public, finding by chance some unique unannounced event (like when they turned on only once during Festival all the engines Dies irae – Remembering EB 180, as omage to the project of 1989 108 EB – Chamber Music for Four Motors and Service Personnel di Hubert Lepka e Lawine Torren), pausing for checking your e-mail ( free wi-fi all across the factory, obviously) close to the preferred installations (often in the large room dedicated to Cycloïd-E, of Swiss brothers Cod.Art: a marvellous horizontal swinging pendulum with arms producing an hypnotic sound)
As well as to revive the area under another point of view. Or under another point of hearing, as allowed by the Christina Kubisch‘s Electrical Walks, the historic project of the German sound artist that provides, to participants of his “walks”, some special headphones that can make audible the electromagnetic disturbances in which we are unconsciously absorbed.
Una settimana, quindi, all’insegna dell’arte. Arte dappertutto, arte anche dove non te l’aspettavi. Perfino sulle scale che conducevano ai piani alti di una delle sezioni dell’edificio, dove ci si imbatteva nella splendida installazione sonora Champs de fouilles (Excavations), di Martin Bédard, premiata con un Award of Distinction al Prix Ars Electronic. Una composizione che sembrava essere stata pensata appositamente per qual tipo di spazio anche se l’artista, in realtà, non si è dichiarato molto contento di vederla presentata in un luogo di passaggio, pieno di voci e porte che sbattevano. Dato che sembra fosse l’unico spazio disponibile, Bèdard ha chiuso un occhio con dignità, sperando che chi rimanesse colpito dalla sua musica poi trovasse il modo e il tempo di ascoltarla in situazioni più raccolte. E non si è sbagliato.
In merito agli spazi, la fabbrica a quanto pare non è stato un luogo così facile da gestire, perché ufficialmente schedato come edificio di interesse culturale. Il festival non era autorizzato quindi a toccare nulla. Ma, grazie all’ecoarredamento e alle pareti di cartone di PappLab (che per esempio hanno consentito di ricavare tante piccole sale cinematografiche, nello spazio dedicato al festival di animazione) e all’abilità degli organizzatori nella gestione dello spazio, alla fine queste difficoltà non sono apparse evidenti al pubblico e non hanno impedito che anzi le installazioni venissero perfino valorizzate dalla location (senza contare la possibilità di presentare ogni sera performance di mapping sulla facciata del magazzino della fabbrica e tra le quali si è distinta per il buon gusto il lavorO del collettivo turco Griduo).
Evidentissimo è stato per esempio il caso di Water-Earth, dell’islandese Finnbogi Pétursson, collocata al fondo di un’amplissima sala buia che permetteva di godere di tutta la sua bellezza solo da una certa distanza. L’aspetto più sorprendente di questa installazione è la sua semplicità: con pochi ingredienti (frequenze a 7,8 hertz, una vasca d’acqua e un proiettore di luce) l’artista è riuscito a creare un ambiente visivo e sonoro incredibilmente suggestivo che riesce davvero a trasmettere la pulsazione vitale della terra.
E la semplicità è anche uno dei punti di forza di Plant, eccellente opera di Akira Nakayasu, ancora una volta da inserire nel campo della robotica: una pianta che reagisce all’ombra muovendosi dolcemente come se la accarezzasse il vento. Deliziosa e poetica, di quelle opere che ti metteresti a casa. Così come erano davvero belle e interessanti altre tre installazioni: Ocean of light: Surface, di Squisoup, scultura tridimensionale dove luci e suoni fluiscono in modo interattivo e con estrema eleganza; Framework f5x5x5, di LAb[au], parete di geometrie mobili e luminose che con il loro movimento producono un suono estremamente gradevole; 216 prepared dc-motors / filler wire 1.0mm di Zimoun, giovane svizzero autodidatta che usa elementi meccanici per esaminare la creazione e la degenerazione dei pattern.
E, naturalmente, last but not least, la performance Rheo: 5 horizons del solito Ryoichi Kurokawa. L’artista giapponese, vincitore del Golden Nica nella categoria Digital Music & Sound Art, ha dimostrato la consueta capacità di manipolazione del paesaggio visivo e dei suoni naturali, così come nella nuova performance audiovisiva Inject, l’artista Canadese Herman Kolgen dimostra il suo ormai riconosciut talento nel coniugare una fotografia impressionante con una narrativa visiva e sonora che lascia con il fiato sospeso, ma senza mai ricadere nel cliché.
Una serata davvero indimenticabile che ha segnato in bellezza il termine del festival. La fabbrica in realtà è rimasta aperta ancora qualche giorno, ma conferenze e performance ormai erano terminate, quasi tutto era chiuso e molte delle opere erano già in viaggio verso il loro paese d’origine. Restavano i visitatori distratti dell’ultimo minuto (o quelli tratti in inganno dalle date ufficiali del festival, che effettivamente favorivano il malinteso), i nostalgici che ripercorrevano le sale un’ultima volta prima di partire, coloro che si incontravano per scambiarsi i dati di contatto e salutarsi. Senza dubbio con un arrivederci all’edizione dell’anno prossimo.