ARS ELECTRONICA FESTIVAL
Ars Electronica, hovering at the border between art and technology, is an internationally distinguished media arts festival—a platform whose focus, since its founding in 1979, has been on the future as it develops in the present.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calls it “the most important forum for digital art . . . synonymous for the most innovative developments in media culture.” For The New York Times it is the “Mecca for Internet artists, computer music composers, and others working in the digital field.” Ars Electronica, in Linz, Austria, is the internationally renowned festival for art, technology, and society.
The story behind the media art festival’s success begins in 1979. In the 1970s when news from the United States about the first PCs triggered a real computer fever—a kind of technology that would revolutionize the world—cyberneticist and physicist Herbert W. Franke, electronic musician Hubert Bognermayr, music producer Ulli A. Rützel, and Hannes Leopoldseder, then-director of the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation), developed the concept for a multi-day event that would examine up-and-coming new media. Thus, at the very start of the digital age, a platform was created to deal with the artistic potential and social consequences of digital technology and to present the latest trends and long-term, definitely conflict-laden developments. The first festival opened on September 18, 1979, as part of the International Bruckner Festival, with the Linzer Klangwolke, and approximately 100,000 visitors streamed into the Donaupark.
Thanks to its great success, the festival’s producers decided in 1980 to produce the festival every two years; since 1986 the Ars Electronica has taken place annually. Over the course of just a few years the festival became one of the world’s most important events in the field of media art. Another reason for its particular attraction may also be that—besides exhibitions, performances, and events—the festival provides space for symposia and discussion forums in which the constitutional elements of digital society, its technological and social dimensions, and its philosophical and theoretical aspects are examined. In addition, scientific, critical discourses involving international experts from art and science are initiated; Ars Electronica was an early producer of analytical debates on the opportunities and risks of digital technology long before these questions entered the mainstream.
“Media art is the most exciting form of contemporary art. It is an examination of technological conditions and developments from an artistic standpoint. The artistic aspect is that technology is employed as a means with which to tell one’s own stories and, beyond that, to intervene in the process of development. Ideally, art contributes to the formulation of questions and creates models ranging from the alternative to the opposing, which in turn participate in the social discourse,” according to Gerfried Stocker, who has been co-director of the festival (with Christine Schöpf) since 1996.
In 1987 the Ars Electronica was accompanied for the first time by a motto. Prior to that, major themes had included the new computer culture, virtual reality, bio- and genetic technology, the relationship between the public and private, and intellectual property.
The festival continued to develop with yet another innovation that same year: the introduction of the Prix Ars Electronica. The cultural prize opened the festival up to international, interdisciplinary competition, and is awarded annually for outstanding work in the field of digital art and media. The Prix Ars Electronica currently honors works in a variety of categories, such as computer animation/visual effects, interactive art, digital music, hybrid art, and digital communities, and it is the world’s most important cyber arts competition. With prize money of 10,000 euros for the winner of the Golden Nica, it is also the biggest monetary award in this field. Thanks to the annual competition, the international orientation, and cornucopia of projects submitted, the Prix Ars Electronica has been a seismograph of current developments in media art since 1987, and its archives provide profound insight into its multifaceted nature.
In the year it was founded, about twenty artists and scientists contributed to the festival’s program. Today, more than thirty years later, several hundred artists, Internet nomads, theoreticians, and technology experts from more than twenty countries will participate. The Ars Electronica Festival is livelier than ever.
Above all, though, it is the many visitors and their enthusiasm that support the media festival year after year. The theme for 2012, “THE BIG PICTURE,” will encourage visitors to embark upon a passionate search for images of the world, which have potential for the future and will do justice to the continuing globalization and interconnection of our world, with all of its contradictions and fragmentation, as well as its increasing coalescence.
August 29, 2012 Stefanie Gommel