TEA Collective Wisdom – Ars Electronica in Taichung Taiwan

(13.10. – 23.12.2012, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts Taichung, Taiwan)

Exhibition Catalogue for download (PDF)

Pressconference: 11.10.2012, 2pm in the Ministry of Culture in Taipeh

Opening: 12.10.2012, 6pm // Symposium: 13.10.2012

Ars Electronica continues to make a name for itself worldwide, this time with another major exhibition at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung. “Collective Wisdom” consists of 17 selected works created from the advent of the internet in the 1990s to the present day, all of which are the outcome of some form of collective effort in which the audience plays an active role. An ancillary symposium will provide a historical overview of the development of crowdart, offer a close-up look at contemporary works in this genre, and discuss current trends. “Collective Wisdom” kicks off the NTMOFA’s new series of exhibitions entitled TEA (Technology + Entertainment + Art).

Follow our exhibition until December 23rd 2012 via ARS WILD CARD here.


Foto by David Sun

Participative Artistic Practice via the Internet – Notes on the Exhibition

That an art project can be based on participation by a wide array of persons is by no means a recent spinoff of the advent of the internet. But it is indeed the internet and especially the social web that has made it possible for an unprecedented number of individuals to collaborate on artistic processes.

The invention of the internet created a medium that posed a novel challenge to artists and their works of art, while also offering them new channels for artistic expression. The challenges of communication with many strangers already began to be taken up by artists in the 1970s—for example, “The Last Nine Minutes: Live Performance for International Satellite Telecast” by Douglas Davis (US) at documenta VI in Kassel, Germany. Even if Davis’ performance was still well within the realm of the live, one-way communications style of conventional TV viewing and the telecommunications possibilities of the day, he nevertheless went on from there to the 1994 work “The World’s First Collaborative Sentence” with which he brought forth what was probably the world’s first work of art that was created collaboratively by a group of people unknown to one another and interacting via the internet.

“Immediately I thought of the keyboard, the means of interaction allowed by the Web but not by video or other ‘flat art’. The huge difference between broadcast TV and the Web is the keyboard. With that people can say anything; they have full expressive capacity. This means a more intense and personal link could occur between me and the audience. So why not get the whole world together to write a sentence?”[1]

Farming out activities to a large, undefined group of persons via the WWW—the system of so-called crowdsourcing—has been adopted by artists in a variety of ways. Creating, collecting, distributing and communicating are the essential activities that artists delegate to their online audiences. But what exactly is it that artists find so interesting about sharing the creative process with so many complete strangers?


The works of Aaron Koblin (US) involve members of the public as creators or collectors. For his project “The Sheep Market”, he called upon them to “Draw a sheep facing to the left.” The appeal was issued via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in 2006 and thus two years after this platform was launched. Remunerated creative processes likewise constitute the basis of his 2008 work “Ten Thousand Cents” produced collaboratively with Takashi Kawashima (JP). Each so-called co-worker recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk was compensated with one US cent for drawing a 10,000th of a $100 bill. On one hand, the artist was assigning jobs via a professional labor market site on the internet in conjunction with the production of his work of art by an unknown “workforce”; on the other hand, he made this process totally transparent, and thereby conducted an inquiry into issues such as changes in work processes and the labor market in general, and especially into how new technologies and media are bringing about changes in artistic practice.

Aaron Koblin´s “Ten Thousand Cents” and”The Sheep Market”

In the sense of the term “aggregation” as used by James Surowiecki in his 2004 book “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations,” the individual contributions by members of the public are not what is interesting about Aaron Koblin’s work, but rather their aggregation, the collection and amalgamation of the individual contributions into a unified whole. This certainly applies to “Swarm Sketch,” a 2005 work by Australian artist Peter Edmunds that is considered the first joint online drawing experiment. Each week, a new term is chosen to be the week’s sketch subject. Website users can then contribute a small amount of line per visit (206,421 lines contributed to 442 sketches to date).

“Swarm Sketch” by Peter Edmunds

“Ideogenetic Machine” (2011) by Nova Jiang (NZ) is another project that collects contributions in order to create a collaborative whole and something new. In this project as well, the focus is not on the individual contributions but rather on what they amount to together. In the installation, the artist requests that visitors contribute their silhouette to become part of a comic strip. Thus, the artist and the audience jointly tell a story during the exhibition’s run.

“Ideogenetic Machine” by Nova Jiang. Photo by Eyebeam.

Unintentional Participation

In the examples cited above, collecting contributions is an act done by the artist that makes possible intentional participation on the part of the public. The “archive that is the Web” also makes possible unconscious or inadvertent participation by individuals. Artists harvest information in the form of image, sound, text or film files from the internet and blend these elements together in their works of art. One outstanding example is “Face to Facebook,” a 2011 work by Italian artists Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico. They take advantage of the lack of adequate structures to enforce copyrights and people’s lack of awareness about the concept of authorship on the internet to demonstrate to us how we deal with the public revelation of information. “Face to Facebook” used homebrew software to steal a million profile images and identities at random on Facebook, upload them to a dating website set up expressly for this action, and then interlinked them through the use of facial recognition software. Since then, the proprietors have had to take their operation offline and they’re facing charges filed by Facebook. Visitors to the exhibition can take a close-up look at the whole chain of events and pore over the varied communications concerning this art project.

“Face to Facebook” by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico

“People Staring at Computers,” a 2011 project by Kyle McDonald (US), similarly explores both the borders between private and public information and unintentional participation by individuals. Imagine this: special apps were covertly loaded to all demonstrator models on display in two very busy Apple Stores in New York, so that once a minute the software activated the camera built into the computers on sale there and automatically photographed the individuals who happened to be in the process of trying out the particular device. These shots of people starring at computers were transmitted to a central server and exhibited on a website. Plus, on the intervention’s last day, the automatically produced snapshots were displayed on the devices themselves in both Apple retail outlets. Apple as well as the United States Secret Service went into action. As for the work of art, it’s still being tended by an online community and, due to the discussions with it at their center, is still alive and well.

“People Staring at Computers” by Kyle McDonald, who has been Artist In Residence at Ars Electronica Futurelab

“Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise” by Christopher Baker (US) is an installation made possible by the artist helping himself to more than 5,000 video diaries on YouTube and Facebook. Now, it’s clear that what Christopher Baker is interested in are the individual stories related by more than 5,000 people and personally selected by the artist. Nevertheless, it is precisely the aggregation of these motion pictures and sound fragments into a walk-through sound & video installation that evokes on the part of those beholding it images and feelings that frame the assembled conglomeration of contributions and also get across in a most poetic way the fascination as well as the sense powerlessness people feel in the face of the enormity of the internet.

“Hello World!” by Christopher Baker

“Twistori,” a 2010 project by Amy Hoy (US) and Thomas Fuchs (AT), is also based on people’s unintentional participation. The artists wrote a program that performs real-time scans of thousands of Twitter tweets worldwide for terms such as love, hate, think, believe, feel and wish, and presents them on a website in the form of crawl text on a news ticker. The artists refer to what they’ve done in terms of a social experiment designed to get an impression of what people all over the world love, hate, etc. This project as well displays—in the true sense of the word—artists’ boundless interest in unfiltered knowledge of people’s basic needs and everyday lives.

“Twistori” by Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs

Variety of Opinions and Diversity

Obtaining a variety of opinions and highly diverse contributions is another reason why artists opt for collaboration with an online collective of countless persons and utilize diverse social media services as a means to this end. Considering the hypothesis of a world brain, the collective repository of individuals’ knowledge that English science fiction pioneer H.G. Wells already put forth in 1938, as well as the publications of Paul Otlet, who came up with the vision of a world knowledge network for all in 1934 and sought to set up an archive of knowledge as a means of assuring international peace, makes it clear that the development of Wikipedia since 2001 has simply been a logical consequence. The advent of Web 2.0 and technological innovations since 1999 like peer-to-peer—i.e. processor-to-processor link-up within a network—have made lots of interesting things happen as far as participation and diversity of opinion on the internet is concerned.

That same year, artist Scott Draves (US) created his “Electric Sheep” project. He wrote a program that was disseminated online and has now linked up more than 450,000 computers into a joint “supercomputer.” Based on the system of a screensaver offered for download free of charge and a corresponding algorithm prescribed by the artist, the computers and the people behind the processors can influence the design of the animated sequences (Electric Sheep for short).

“Electric Sheep” by Scott Draves

“Exquisite Clock” (2009) by João Henrique Wilbert (BR)/FABRICA (IT) is a work bearing a name that evokes the origins of participative art. Exquisite Corps or Cadavre Exquis is what surrealists in Paris of the 1920s called a parlor game in which several participants turned a folded piece of paper into a collaborative work of art. João Henrique Wilbert has now taken the system of play and added new rules. In order to impart an image to the time of day, he collects pictures from everyday life describing a number from 0 to 9 and saves the images to a server. On his website, he juxtaposes images chosen at random by the system. The only constant is the current time of day, on which the selection process of the images is based.

“Exquisite Clock” by João Henrique Wilbert

Two additional projects that profit from the diversity and creativity of the persons contributing to them are works by the Ars Electronica Futurelab (AT). “Shadowgram” (2010) is like a social sculpture that thrives and grows as long as the installation visitors contribute their shadow and their opinion on a particular topic. The participants pose expressively as if they were on stage and are photographed as they do. The illuminated background provides the perfect lighting for a shadow shot and also attracts public attention to the audience members’ gestures in response to the topic. The shadow portraits are then printed to adhesive foil and excised. These images and the inscribable adhesive speech balloons that can be applied next to them enable installation visitors to leave behind communiqués in the exhibition space.

Ars Electronica Futurelab´s “Shadowgram” is asking in Taiwan “Where do you get your energy from?”

A stark contrast to this approach is the “Ars Wild Card” smartphone app, actually a creative mini-workshop that prompts installation visitors to contribute ideas and impressions. Audience members are invited to use their smartphone to photograph the works of art and upload the pictures. Plus, a commentary function lets them post messages about the images. All contributions are exhibited on a website; contributors can also print out Ars Wild Card postcards on site and take them home as souvenirs. The accumulation of printed-out Ars Wild Cards at the exhibition is convincing testimony that much of the audience has successfully made the transition from observer to participant.

Shu Min Lin is explaining Ars Wild Card. Photo by David Sun.


According to the statements curators Susanne Jaschko and Lucas Evers published in the catalog accompanying their 2010 exhibition “el proceso como paradigma / process as paradigm,” the fact that participation is being increasingly used to generate works of art is attributable to two factors. On one hand, the art system has been shaken up by the absence of structures with respect to authorship and simple structures with respect to copyright. On the other hand, a shift from passive observer to involved agent can generally be observed in the art world. In the 1990s, gaining access to a large number of people interested in art for purposes of creation, communication or distribution involving them was no easy matter. But now, new technologies and the internet have put an everyday medium in place that makes it quite easy for artists to reach their public. A sort of self-empowerment has occurred, bringing about a situation in which the people who create art have become a bit more independent from, for example, galleries, the art market and various institutions.

One of the things the internet’s global reach makes possible is working in places that are suffering from depopulation due to a rural exodus. One project that could not have been conducted without the internet is “Buscando al Sr. Goodbar” (2009) by Michelle Teran (CA). The artist was commissioned by Techformance in Spain to plan and execute an intervention in a public space in the Murcia region. What Michelle Teran did was to collect selected videos that people in the region had put on YouTube. A bus tour took the artist and her audience to those locations at which the YouTube videos had been shot and uploaded, since automated geo-tagging of video files on YouTube makes it possible to trace the digital data back to a concrete physical location. During the bus tour, the audience could assess the actual location of the video and also meet its maker on site.

“Buscando al Sr. Goodbar” by Michelle Teran. Photo by David Sun.

The “Trash Track” and “Forage Tracking” actions by the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT in Boston are additional projects that have outsourced working processes that are normally within the purview of elected officials or city administrators. In “Trash Track,” real garbage was equipped with low-priced GPS sensors, whereas “Forage Track” hooked up its GPS sensors to city garbage collectors in São Paulo, Brazil. In both projects, staffers wrote software that visualized and analyzed the route taken by the trash or trash men. Social commitment and interest in social issues are what motivated people to participate in these projects.

“Trash Track” and “Forage Tracking” by SENSEable City Lab

The Taiwanese Project „Rate Beat“ uses electromagnets in a way that coins in bottles begin to jump as soon as the currency exchange rate online differs, where this project is simultaneously liked to. In Chinese, the term for “exchange rate increase” sounds phonetically similar to the term “able to jump”.

“Purels/Rate Beat” by Chi Tzu-Heng, Cho Li-Hang, Lee Chi-Ying und Lin Ting-Ta. Foto von David Sun.


The use of participative and open creative processes to generate works of art has increased greatly in Western countries in recent years. Artists consider this possibility to be a new source of motivation for the creative process that has tended to be hermetically sealed off from input by others in the past, and accordingly seek out communication and experimentation, coincidence and playful interaction online with lots of total strangers. It is also interesting to note that such participative works have also gained popularity among commissioning clients such as municipal government agencies, private enterprises and cultural institutions who see involvement by lots of people—citizens, customers, the cultural community, etc.—as a way to promote themselves and generate goodwill for their agendas. Nevertheless, outsourcing activities—for instance, to citizens in the sense of direct democracy—will not become a convenient way for political leaders to evade their responsibilities any more than crowdfunding will become a significant solution to financing art projects in the future. Books like “Bastard Culture” by Mirko Tobias Schäfer (AT/NL) and Markus Miessen’s (DE) soon-to-be-published “Albtraum Partizipation” (Nightmare: Participation) seriously call into question the current system of participation. It will be interesting to see how the artists react to being instrumentalized in this way.

[1] Douglas Davis, in: Tilman Baumgärtel, [net.art] New Materials towards Net Art, Nürnberg, 2001, pp. 60-62.