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