This year’s Ars Electronica events took place again in its historical place, the Brucknerhaus, while the last year they were at the Tabakfabrik. “How does innovation come about? The 2011 Ars Electronica Festival  – ORIGIN – How It All Begins – delves into this elementary question, scrutinizing both science and art. Our prominent partner this year is CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.” Hence in Ars Electronica 2011 the main topic “Origin” was declinated in many senses, sometimes not so sharply, from the origin of the universe to the “designs for a viable, sustainable society”.

Ars Electronia 2011 logo
CERN image, Atlas particle collision, Ars Electronica 2011 logo

The “origin” of the physical world we live in was the main issue, but that topic and its “philosophy” pervaded all the events, the exhibitions and the prizes. And, thanks to the CERN collaboration (starting from Ars Electronica 2011 logo which shows a collision among particles), the scientific part was prominent, like in the past, in the Weibel era. In my opinion what has made the Ars Electronica Festival great and unique has been that idea of high popularization of – sometimes very hard – scientific topics. Differently from other festivals, which are more keen on a sociological dimension, Ars Electronica played a major, and for many years unrivaled, role in the art/science relations’ realm.

The origin of the Universe
The big panel with the history of the universe and of the humankind at the Ars Electronica Center

The first time I have been in Linz for Ars Electronica was in 1989, that edition’s topic was “Im Netz der Systeme” (In the Network of Systems) and the catalogue was a dedicated number of Kunstforum. At that time the idea of creating images through the computer was still playing a major role, so the Prix Ars Electronica 1989 awarded with the Goldene Nika three categories: Computer Graphics (won by Tamàs Waliczky, with honorable mentions to Charles Csuri and Kenneth Snelson), Computer Animation (won by Joan Staveley, with honorable mentions to Susan Amkraut & Michel Girard and Simon Wachsmuth) and Computer Music (won by Kaija Saariaho with honorable mentions to François Bayle and Alejandro Viñao).

The simulation of the protons' collision in the LHC
The simulation of the protons’ collision in the LHC, model at the Ars Electronica Center

Although the interactive arts were not yet listed as a category in the Prize (this would have happened in the following year, 1990), there were many historical projects on this topic: Roy Ascott with Aspects of Gaia, Lynn Hershman with Interactive Sexual Fantasy Disk, Jeffrey Shaw with The Legible City, Ruth Schnell with Tür für Huxley, and some very interesting post punk extreme media ensemble, like Radio Subcom (Media Landscape), Rabotnik TV (The Sublime), Stadtwerkstatt TV (Automaten TV), Station Rose (Gunafa), I got in touch with… In front of the Brucknerhaus, on the Danube’s bank there was an extarordinary big chromatic and practicable installation by Maurice Agis (Colourspace). My first Ars Electronica was a beautiful – although a (no stop) rainy – experience…

 Passages 2011
Thomas Hauber, Wolfgang Aichner, passage2011-logfiles (http://logfiles.passage2011.org)

This year Ars Electronica seemed suffering the economical crisis, like many other events, with a more limited set of art exhibitions than the last years. A relevant part was dedicated to the education and learning realms, especially focused on the young people, with events (like the “u19 – Create your world”), showcases and exhibitions especially hosted in and around the Ars Electronica Center. Despite the economical crisis the conference program was very interesting, with presenters, among the others, like Anton Zeilinger, Paul Davies, Roger Malina, Lisa Randall, Derrick De Kerckhove, Humberto Maturana and Joichi Ito.

Anton Zeilinger
Anton Zeilinger

As we know, the CERN’s biggest project is the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva conceived in the 1980’s which spans the border between Switzerland and France, a ring which is 27 km long and about 100 m underground. It is the largest particle accelerator in the world and the world’s largest fridge, since its 9300 magnets are cooled with nearly 120 tons of liquid helium down to – 271,3°C. It is probably the emptiest space in the Solar System too, like the interplanetary space, in order to avoid the protons to collide with gas molecules inside the accelerator.

LHC section
A section of the LHC (model)

At full power, trillions of protons will race in the LHC ring at roughly the speed of light in two opposite beams, generating 600 millions collisions every second. Each collision will generate a temperature more than 100.000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun, concentrated in a minuscule space, trying to simulate the conditions just after the Big Bang. As Ars Electronica’s curatorial document states, “the caverns deep below the Jura Mountains housing their state-of-the-art technical infrastructure are not only the cathedrals of our time. CERN is also a refuge for that which, perhaps more than anything else, makes us human beings: our insatiable hunger for knowledge. After all, even if every one of us already knows that we will never reach the ultimate point of origination, the path leading to it—or, rather, the search for the path itself—is our destination, and every step along the way a manifestation of humanity, of our genius and our hubris alike.”

The LHC scheme
The LHC ring

The main Ars Electronica 2011 Categories

Computer Animation / Film / VFX
Metachaos / Alessandro Bavari (IT) / Alessandro Bavari Studio
Awards of Distinction 2011
The Third & The Seventh / Alex Roman / ES
THE EXTERNAL WORLD / David O’Reilly (IRE) / David O’Reilly Animation

Alessandro Bavari
Alessandro Bavari Studio, Metachaos

Digital Musics & Sound Art
Energy Field / Jana Winderen (NO
Awards of Distinction 2011
Bee / Apostolos Loufopoulos (GR)
Suite / Philip Jeck (UK)

Hybrid Art
May the Horse Live in me, 2011 / Art Orienté Objet (Laval-Jeantet & Benoit Mangin) (FR)
Awards of Distinction 2011
Pigeon d’Or / Tuur van Balen (BE)
MACHT GESCHENKE: DAS KAPITAL / Christin Lahr (DE)

Hybrid Art
Art Orienté Objet (Laval-Jeantet & Benoit Mangin), May the Horse Live in me, 2011

Interactive Art
Newstweek / Julian Oliver (NZ), Danja Vasiliev (RU)
Awards of Distinction 2011
Face to Facebook – Hacking Monopolism Triology / Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico (IT)
Particles / Daito MANABE, Motoi ISHIBASHI (JP) / Rhizomatiks and 4nchor5 La6

Newstweek
Julian Oliver, Danja Vasiliev, Newstweek

Digital Communities
Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente
Awards of Distinction 2011
Bentham Papers Transcription Initiative / Bentham Project / University College London
X_MSG

Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente
Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente

More images in my profile in Facebook