Two weekends ago I went to Linz, again joining the Kiberpipa team visiting the yearly Ars Electronica festival of modern arts. I was intrigued by the Origins motto and the colaboration with CERN.
Eventhough I had the feeling that this year's event was somewhat smaller than the last one I was again surprised at how much effort this little Austrian city dedicates to modern art. A weekend was just barely enough to skim through all the exhibitions and attend a few performances.
Last year I complained that the ideas often overtook the actual implementation and that many exhibits didn't work as they were intended. This year it certainly didn't look that way. For instance Tsukuba University exhibit contained all sorts of interesting gadgets with intriguing designs and flawless operation. We also saw automated algae-cookie-making-machines, wearable robotic tails, speaking pianos and all sorts of other interesting stuff involving electronics and mechanics.
Actually, the CyberArts Exhibition included projects that stood firmly in the field of hacker activism. For instance Newstweek and Sentient City Survival Kit. I also didn't expect to see analysis of scrapped Facebook user profiles in an art gallery. The best idea in my oppinion goes to the Tool to Deceive and Slaughter, a featureless black box that perpetually sells itself on eBay.
I think CERN had a really good presence on the festival. They had two halls dedicated to various physics experients, presenting activities at CERN, what and how they are searching for the origins of the universe and how a lot of what they do can also be interpreted in an aesthetically pleasing way. As always I was looking on the whole thing with what was probably too much of an engineer's eye. When my questions became a bit too technical one of the demonstrators admited that he was just a local arts student and that he doesn't know that detail. That impressed me even more since before that I wouldn't say I wasn't talking to an engineer or a physicist. I'm just not used to meeting artists that are capable of keeping up this level of technical discourse. All congratulations to their arts university if this is the norm rather than an exception.
From the performances we managed to attend the Tesla Orchestra concert (two huge singing Tesla coils plus a guy wearing a conductive suit and background music) and Android Theater. While the performance was quite impressive, the advertised puzzle of who is android and who is human just wasn't a challenge, even with the catastrophically bad echo in the hall. I would argue that the robot actor was on the other side of the deepest end of uncanny walley, but the face motions just aren't there yet. I would however like to see one day the results of the questionaire we were given at the exit.
And lastly, I should mention the event on Danube, which was inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End novel. No James-Bond-style running on trains this year, just an hour of fireworks synchronized to music, big explosions, robotic voices and green beams of lights. Oh, and rainbows and "how many roads must a man walk down" in the end, which was kind of a confusing finale and not exactly what I remember from the novel.