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ARS Electronica Center

We recently left our Frankfurt studio for a visit to Austria -- our first return to our hometown, Linz, in 18 months. What drew us was the chance to visit the Ars Electronica Center.

Linz has a strong tradition involving the confluence of technology and the arts. Ars Electronica, a festival in celebration of art, technology, and society, was founded by ORF (the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) and the Bruckner House. Now eighteen years old, globally famous, and wielding a healthy annual budget, the Ars Electronica Center (AEC) attracts many of the world´s most interesting, most innovative media artists. (Howard Rheingold gave a presentation there in 1994; Station Rose performed the "Gunafa Show" there in 1989, and produced an Ars Electronica "best of" CD-ROM in 1994.)

This year, ORF and the town of Linz opened the AEC where the Nibelungen Bridge crosses the Danube: "A museum of the future," Horst Hoertner,the museum´s technical director, observes: "It won´t replace the festival; the idea is to give the general public a year-round, hands-on experience of modern electronic technology."

"To understand the significance of Ars Electronica Center in the new world of interactive art and intelligent systems, it is instructive to hyperlink to the old world, to the sound of the Creation Chant of the Navajo in the southwestern United States, which sings of ´the emergence place in blue water,´" writes Professor Roy Ascott, co-author of the AEC project study, "and then to zap back to this new place of emergence beside the blue Danube."

picture of aec´s entranceEntering the building, you first encounter the sun-ensplendoured Login Gateway. On the same floor you´ll find the "Telematic Garden," one of the "artists-in-residence" projects, in which Internet users around the world can steer a robot arm as it attends a circular terrarium -- planting seeds, watering -- and watch the garden as it grows.

One-half floor up we were invited to fly over a 3D simulation of Upper Austria. That was a good moment: hanging in the air over the Danube, flying over a cybersimulation of your childhood playgrounds, the Head-Mounted Display resonating in your skull.

The second floor is "Cyber City." Here, the city of Linz is reduced to its functional parts, and you can try your hand at urban planning.

Third floor:"Knowledge Net" lets teachers and students develop new models for learning through global networks, distance learning, teleworking, and multimedia conferencing. Knowledge Net includes a hands-on kids´ corner, where very young humans can experiment with multimedia computers. Another area focuses on telematic art installations, with a rare-music section whose interactive software lets you perform virtual banjo solos over a gritty blues riff.

"SKY," on the top floor, is an Internet café by day and a rentable meeting place by night. There, overlooking the Danube, we fulfilled our duties as hosts of the Frankfurt Conference.

Vertically traversing the Center´s five floors by elevator is quite a trip. Standing on a videoscreen that covers the elevator´s floor, you get both the reality and the illusion of moving through space: perspective projections morph as each floor is reached, then passed. (Later, arising once more, the elevator´s videofloor gave us the sensation of being about to fly through the Center´s roof.)

The basement level is an extensive virtual-reality area. One of this area´s great experiences is the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment. With interactive liquid walls, the CAVE is the world´s most sophisticated VR installation for scientific and artistic projects. It was developed in 1992 at the University of Illinois. Specifically interactive stereo computer graphics are projected onto the walls and the floor of this cubical (3m square) room. The user is equipped with stereo glasses to experience three-dimensionality and to see his "playmates" in the CAVE. A wandlike input device enables interaction and navigation. Graphics in the room may be moved, altered, thrown, turned and manipulated with the help of the wand.

Our CAVE test drive impressed us with its wonderful potential. What´s currently there amounts to little more then demo tech, with minimal sound enhancements. What might artists do with this technology? Imagine the great new spaces that could be created. Artists-in-Residence projects are planned here in the future; we must admit that we´d love to create a Station Rose Room in the CAVE.

Our trip to and through the AEC left us with the feeling of being at home at the same time in both real life and cyberspace.


spoon said:

The art world still runs on art that weighs and takes space. The reproducibility of digital art makes it difficult to value. So, if you follow that old model of art as owned matter, it looks one way. If you follow the more recent non-proprietary model of art, then it is the experience rather than the ownership that matters. Following the experience side leads us into the making side. This is something I am covering in my current SF report, how we are all helping to erase the lines around who can make art, and whether or not it needs to be called art, if it's not "sold" in the same way.

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You can access the Ars Electronica Database with all the festival´s projects over the years on their archives page.

This year´s Ars Electronica Festival, called "Flesh Factor," will run from 8 to 13 September.

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"Flesh Factor is about the role of the individual in technological surroundings, and about how humans accommodate to technology," says general manager Gerfried Stocker.

Also in Frankfurt:

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Leaving their studio in Frankfurt proves worth the trip for Jammers Station Rose as they explore the new year-round Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria.

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