Computer Animation

Prix Ars Electronica 2022

Golden Nica

The postcolonial concept of Worlding introduced by Gayatri Spivak in 1985 claims the worlding “power” as that which records and “instructs”. It is a cartography of being-in-the world which forces the colonized to embody the domineering framework of oppression. Cultural resistance to these supremacist legitimating norms and ideas flowered during The Harlem Renaissance (1920-1935). This black cultural mecca birthed a distinctly black and Latino LGBTQ+ performance culture where aspects of identity like race, gender, and sexuality were celebrated as fluid and intersecting. Black bodies, safe to move, gliding in forgotten rhythmic ways became en vogue! Marionettes on sacred, hidden strings—like the AI Being (2019-2022) in Rashaad Newsome’s monumental, celebratory installation Assembly (2022). Ballroom culture with its embodied lexicon is lionized in workshops, large-scale video-mapping, a collage and sculpture installation, and performance. Newsome’s oracular AI Being (2019-2022) unites the disparate parts of Assembly (2022), guiding audience members with their non-gendered voice and linguistic bodily movements. A towering, humanoid, bronze colossus Being (2019-2022) iterates Voguing as a philosophical event of spiritual re-awakening and a political project with the ability to break the orthodox worldview. Rashaad Newsome’s dark, hallowed halls are a witness to acts of psycho-geographical poiesis. A deeply thoughtful masterwork of un-worlding.

Awards of Distinction

Marc Hericher's spiraling single-shot film is an allegorical tale of one man's socio-political identity eclipsing his immediate human presence. We watch this delicately CG-sculpted figure collapse in a city square—an environment that evokes the type of a bare theatrical set we might find in the staging of a Samuel Beckett play. The protagonist's involuntary action triggers a circus of media attention, selfie ops, and ultimately a televised political debate. As this figure slowly transforms from finely carved flesh into a melting block of ice, we are left with the absurd sensation of something that is missing from the treatment of this man—empathy, care, basic consideration. In a stunning display of technical prowess and stylish aesthetics, this film leaves us pondering the relationship between journalism, politics, and information exchange in a grotesque display of human absence.

We often talk about the power of images that can manipulate minds but also heal us. To heal us by colors, by a vision of the world passed to the rainbow. An image that speaks to our senses, an image that feels more than intellectualizes and that directly addresses our body, in a body to body relationship through the screen. This is what Yoriko Mizushiri seeks to provoke: empathy through the softness of colors, curves, and geometric shapes that we daily encounter, but also sensations of strangeness, physical discomfort, and anxiety, so that the spectators can feel “viscerally” this tactile and sensuous animation.

Honorary Mentions

Ad Hominem is an interactive philosophical choose-your-own-adventure animation in which the player is cast in the role of Change. The story proceeds by answering each of two questions from four characters. The maze of historical quotes on collectivism, individualism, progressive thinking, and conservatism make you reflect on various choices and radical changes that we were forced to face all of a sudden after the pandemic. The work was unique in that it challenges the players with the questions and issues of modern society, which is cleverly abstracted on the meta-level in the game, through humorous visuals and storytelling.

Trained on over 9,000 Chinese characters, the AI system Cangjie by Weidi Zhang and Donghao Ren
is creating a new language to converse with the spectator, creating an immersive data visualization spectacle in a multi modal installation. Cangjie's Poetry tackles the issue of language creation between human and machine in a sensitive, poetic, and fragile way. Cangjie´s Poetry is an exceptional and far-reaching work bringing data visualization and the use of AI in co-creation between being and apparatus.

This multiplayer and VR artwork takes its world-building perspective from The Catalan Atlas of 1375. This mediaeval world map records the multiverse of cosmologies which existed before the philosophy of Humanism held sway. This entrancing docufictional piece is filled with 3D scans of tombs, wells, and sacred ponds which held the mythos from these ancient times—reimagined by artists from countries as diverse as India, South Korea, Wales, and Somalia. Like the gilded sphere found in the de-colonial Soviet-Russian novel Roadside Picnic (1972), from which this artwork takes its name, golden orbs fill this world pulsing with serenity. Their rhythms are gifts of human breath. Set in a Sahelian world of blushed rose sand, are dancing goddesses, Somali love songs and votive poems spoken in entrancing Welsh. This uncannily prescient mediation is of a future that honors the many ways of being-in-the world.

Promesa is a contemplative explorative game made in Unity, wandering between memories of migration, cities, and dreams. This very personal project created by an Italian with Argentinian roots, is an animated visual and interactive poem that mixes personal memories and dreams. Between levels, there are short texts of a true conversation Julian Palacios had in 2016 with his grandfather. Personal and found images are transformed into 3D spaces. The environment is inspired by Italian and Argentinian cities, as his family migrated to Argentina, and starts with the former Immigrants’ Hotel that existed in Buenos Aires. Influenced by Tarkowski’s cinema, Promesa uses a lot of cuts creating a balance in the narrative more than a rhythm and allows the player to enjoy a new experience each time they play as levels load randomly.

Theo Triantafyllidis' simulation of a high fantasy riot deploys absurdist humor towards a serious critique of new technology in the service of corporate expansion. It takes its title from the radicalization pipeline hypothesis, a concept that contemporary online media platforms drive users towards extremist political views. At first glance the intricately composed computer animation appears to be an RPG Battle Royale. Over time it reveals itself to be a work of absurdist theater set in a speculative metaverse. The rules of the performance are fuzzy, and the goals are unknown. In this absence of clear rules we indulge in a chaotic clash between orks, MAGA supporters, riot cops, furries, and antifa banding together swinging fists, flags, and axes in a seemingly endless dance of cinematic chaos.

Hsin-Chien Huang's stunning VR experience puts us on a journey through cataclysmic events on earth and in space. Beginning this trip in the form of a baby, we experience the story transiting through many perspectives including a suicide bomber, an ethereal spirit, an enormous whale, and more. Playing with science fiction and fantasy tropes, this visceral experience remains tethered to a foundation of ancestral mythology and ritual that foregrounds human spiritual advancement over technological progress. The deeply immersive artwork reveals a playful spiritual essence grounded in our human body, in part through an impressively simple mechanic utilizing the handheld VR controllers in an elegant way.

This short film is the result of a psychedelic journey in 2D that the Argentinean artist collective Clubcamping undertook in order to make the most of the lockdown—the Argentinean lockdown having been one of the longest in the world. A work made to go beyond the anxiety of not being able to see, touch, or feel each other. A collaborative work, from a hand drawn animation and the very particular style of Juan Barabani who joined the collective. A work that invites us to take psychotropic nachos to delve into the realm of colors, in a cosmic and solemn rhythm. “The Tartar deity. The force of conquest and destruction. It has been so in era after era. Until today, when primordial tears announce the end of the Eternal and the awakening of the Titans.”

The Crow, which may appear to be simply a beautiful dance video composed of a sequence of images generated by an AI algorithm at first impression, was highly acclaimed by the jury for its extremely modern approach in the way aesthetic visuals and fascinating techniques coexist. The noise that creates the flickering and unstable contours at times is an artifact generated by the machine learning technique called CLIP / VQGAN, which is expected to be reduced in a few years to enable a generation of cleaner images. However, the jury would like to appreciate the clever incorporation of technology in its earliest stage, while preserving the poetic nature of the work.

Swiss artists Deborah Joyce Holman and Yara Dulac Gisler open their video triptych Unless (2021) with a pair of talon-tipped black hands engaged in a manicure, flipped to give the rare perspective from beneath the nail. It is a classic Trickster move designed to make your mind somersault into different directions. Normally oppositional, thoughts about predators and self-care fuse as this moving image poem unfolds in non-linear time. Basel’s industrial neighborhood Dreispitz transforms through the magic of storytelling into a sci-fi dystopian landscape where a group of Tricksters perform rituals of water and breaking bread. Sacred water rippling through the screen—freezing time and ripping soundscapes. Bodies moving, bodies collaborating with a Swiss German narrative resist the monolithic portrayals of Blackness presented through the media of US-American discourse. Unless (2021), set in Trickster time, is a work of Trickster heaven.

Very, Very, Tremendously is a unique form of critique toward the world of capitalism consisting of highly complex and abstract cryptocurrency and the world of virtual reality overloading with endlessly generated digital junk. Attention is drawn to 3D models in the video games by treating them as garbage, which makes viewers aware that they are living in a massive amount of waste in the real world as well as in the virtual world, even enabling them to find beauty in a massive number of orderly arranged assets.

The protagonists of When fox and rabbit say goodnight. are 3D-carved bodies which are reduced in its mesh aesthetics, playing their roles in a dark tale about grief, loss, and loneliness. The movie addresses topics of different upbringing, manhood, puberty, and fragile masculinity, which is a relevant topic of our time. 90s game aesthetics are chosen by the artist for a reason, since it tells the story about a boy´s recent past and gives the artwork a specific philosophy of beauty. The main protagonist’s reality is filled with doubts and insecurities in regard to the self and takes the audience on a slow paced life story.

The worldbuilding project by the all-female collective Keiken in collaboration with Sakeema Crook is an experimental approach to tackle the issue of gender identity with an experience-based decision-making installation. The important topic of worldbuilding and generating different and diverse perspectives for the player has a huge part in this project. The artwork combines the important issues of our time which are inclusion, co-creation, and sucks the player into a world where multiple identities can be generated and experienced. Dive into the world of Wisdoms for Love 3.0 and generate your identity, become your avatar, and transfer into a collective and politically charged body to own it as a free NFT to cherish and nourish. As the artists state: “Become a Human God. Become a Divine Mother. Stay on your Moral High Horse.”

Jury Statement

Bodyworks and the Rhythms of Worlding

Isabell Avers, Peter Burr, Daito Manabe, Rebecca Merlic, Helen Starr

Rhythm does not privilege singular ways of being but rather insists, in advance, that collaborative engagement is necessary to who and what we are. As we groove—even if alone—we collaborate with tunes, poetics, and styles, fusing the ostensible disconnect between science (sound vibrations, physiological movements, flesh and blood) and narrative (musical score, lyric, cultural text). Rhythm might be conceptualized as one way to invite collaborative worlding; rhythm lays bare not only emotions and imaginations but also their scientific underpinnings.(1)

As a jury we all come from different backgrounds, continents, and countries. Our different specializations in the fields of computer animation made our discussions and decisions fruitful and unique. While we did not always agree, all jury members felt listened to and included in every step of the transparent and fair decision process.

The many intersecting characteristics and perspectives of the jury supported an unbiased and fair process of choosing the 15 winners of this year’s Computer Animation category of Prix Ars Electronica. A few of the topics which caught our eye were of the body, digital skins, embodiment and dreamscapes of transforming bodies. Many artists were also dealing with collective trauma, socio-political themes, and ethics of media surveillance. This concentration on the impact of the pandemic on our digital and analogue selves is clearly visible in this year’s competition. And big emotional themes with a strong focus on the human condition were seen in the works. The language of classic computer animation delivered many transportive artworks. However, the increasingly sophisticated use of Game Engine, Virtual Realities, and GAN (generative adversarial network) technologies prominent among this year’s artists heralded a seismic change for the (art) world of moving images. This increased interactivity and innovation produced artistic experiences that were immersive and embodied. Making viewers aware that what they are seeing they are also participating in, is a great way to engage wider audiences to tackle the most important issues of our time. Crucial issues, both political and personal but perhaps overshadowed by the pandemic, were brought bodily into focus with this year’s artworks.

The uptake of GAN applications, (a class of machine learning frameworks), for artistic expression has been trending in the last year or so. A significant number of submissions trialed various methods of inputting data to try to control the output of the AI. Game Engines were also used to produce interactive art games and other forms of animation works. Video games have undoubtedly become the most widespread form of entertainment, and their impact on representational stereotypes is huge.

The game engine as a “mother” is a safe platform for multiple different artworks for this year’s Computer Animation category. What defines a computer animation work? If it consists of a multitude of ways for the spectator/user to experience? The path of animation work can be predefined in the traditional way, but what we experienced in this year’s jury when we played the games was that the artists opened seemingly endless possibilities to experience their works. We as a jury experienced VR works with our bodies with VR headsets in categories such as health games, worldbuilding, animations, and narrational art pieces.

We felt honored to be able to experience all the amazing entries and especially the co-creative inclusive project by Rashaad Newsome, this year’s Golden Nica winner. This project went beyond a singular artwork and builds strong ties with human bodies through our relationship with a machine. An AI, like us, moving between teacher and the human spectator, always in transition and learning and with the ability to fail. A computer-generated metastructure individual named BEING, trained by the vogueing community in the language of Vogue, helps you to heal from invisible wounds.

These artworks diversify the modes of representation and the politics of people from across the world. They offer a greater diversity of narratives, of heroic epics, and they open us up to other fantasy worlds. To occupy the virtual space, it is interesting to mix ancestral knowledge with the digital because the virtual allows different layers of realities and modalities of presence. Ron Eglash, in his text on the positive perception of race in design, shows that beyond denouncing the sexist, racist, ageist etc. biases that exist in artificial intelligence and on the Internet, we need to decolonize the algorithms by appealing to ancestral knowledge and pre-humanist modes of visual representation in order to derive mathematical formulas that are also used in cybernetics.

These chosen artworks suggest ways to turn to the visual, spiritual, and mathematical representations of the ancestral world in order to remove the biases of our understanding of the present and world-build a better planet for the future. Planet B.

1 McKittrick, Katherine, O’Shaughnessy, Frances H., Witaszek, Kendall (2018). Rhythm, or On Sylvia Wynter’s Science of the Word, Johns Hopkins University Press

The Golden Nicas of “Computer Animation” since 1987