A View from the Trendy End

a review of
Ars Electronica - Facing the Future
edited by Timothy Druckrey with Ars Electronica
0-262-04176-6, MIT Press, 1999
Copyright © Paul Brown 2000
All Rights Reserved

This review was written for fineArt forum. http://www.fineartforum.org

Hannes Leopoldseder, who with Herbert W Franke and Hubert Bognermayr, was one of the founders of Ars Electronica outlines their intention in his foreword to this new book from MIT Press:

“The purpose of Ars Electronica is not to take stock of the past, it is oriented instead to the development of tomorrow. Thus this event for electronic arts and new experience assumes a character of incalculability, of risk, and of daring to try something new. At the same time however, Ars Electronic poses a challenge to artist, technicians, cultural critics, and ultimately to the public encountering new forms of expression in art”.

He is describing the first event which opened on 18 September 1979 in conjunction with the International Bruchner Festival in Linz, Austria.

During the ensuing 20 years Ars Electronica established its reputation at the fashionable end of the new media arts spectrum. I have long been disenchanted by it’s americocentric focus and the distressing fact that the Prix Ars Electronica has been awarded more than once to a product of the Hollywood propaganda factory. Doesn’t ars mean art? Europe, in the post Soviet era, stand as a major bulwark resisting US ambitions for global domination and world government and it’s sad when a leading European arts festival rewards mediocre US film productions just because they have clever special effects.

In recent years the Prix has been awarded to Linus Torvalds (for his authorship of the Linux operating system) and the film Titanic. So I’m left wondering how soon they plan to award it to Bill Gates and suspect they are waiting to coincide this accolade with his election as President of the World. Goodonya Ars.

Then in 1994 AE stopped one of the few truly arts focussed categories of the prix Computergraphic that had an eminent pedigree of contestants and replaced it with a trendy internet interactive/world-wide-webbish focussed one.

For these reasons I have never felt motivated to make the expensive trip to attend the event itself and have so missed the self congratulatory symposia that accompany and predate the Prix. A pity really because they have tackled some of the important topics of this emergent field and just about everybody who’s anybody has contributed at one time or another.

But now I have been rescued by this new publication which contains many of the contributions from these first 20 years of Ars Electronica. As one would expect the index reads like a who’s who of the key thinkers and creatives of the late 20th century. Richard Dawkins, Marvin Minsky, Chris Langton and Hans Moravec rub shoulder with Miguel de Landa, Stelarc, Sadie Plant and Roy Ascott. As you might imagine it makes for an intriguing and stimulating read.

The 76 contributions are split into three categories: history; theory; and practice with introductions by the Ars people and editor Druckrey. It creates a hefty 449-page volume of small print that I suspect will become an essential reference for anyone who is seriously interested in the amazing convergence of art and technology in the two closing decades of the century of modernism.

The book is the first in a new series called Electronic Culture: History / Theory / Practice to be edited by Druckrey. I look forward to future volumes and commend this first one to you. As a reader of fineArt forum you should ensure this book is in your local or institutional library if not in your own.

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