Awards of Distinction
Eternal Return is a work that seeks to recover uncommon layers of information that feed from wind energy, a hidden force of nature that we usually do not recognize in its real dimension and importance. Through the construction of a windmill tower in an outdoor courtyard, this installation catches wind energy—which is aleatory by nature—and translates it into data using quantifications such as wind strength, angle of orientation, or incidence rhythms, which will then trigger air pumps that then play 3D replicas of pre-Hispanic musical wind instruments. The participatory installation serves as a gigantic musical instrument, whose air sounds bring connections from other times to our everyday life, becoming a library of expressions from the past, linking it to the visitor’s experience, recovering the value of nature and history, and poetically reflecting on the importance and beauty of nature, acting as a great “catcher” of the wind, embracing the modern and reconciling the material with the immaterial with forms of ancestral knowledge.
Perfect Sleep investigates sleep and dreaming as a potential climate engineering technology. Both sleep and climate crisis are products of the capitalist extractivist system and Perfect Sleep invites the audience to slowly adjust their sleep schedule to reach a state of “total sleep”—pausing activity, taking into account the CO2 reduction factor, CO2 emissions, GDP over time—both online using an app and offline having a nap! The artwork converts abstract numbers into direct human experience and serves as a provocation against the learned helplessness in the face of global challenges. On the one hand, tapping into the omnipresent quantified self-movement and individual betterment, but then juxtaposing that to the planetary, collective betterment for us all, striking a chord of what the “+” in this category stands for. The empowerment that participation can promise. The media formats to tell the story, a downloadable mobile app as well as a spatial experience, make the work broadly accessible, but is also a poignant context for the critique.
Despite the long-held expectation of a return to normalcy following the pandemic, we continue to live in exceptional times. We are more eager than ever for shared experiences in the physical world, despite the fact that social distancing has accelerated the adoption of remote and virtual involvement. Another Moon is a large-scale light installation in the sky that can be viewed from a distance and offers an intimate experience in a plaza. An artificial moon, illuminated by energy obtained from genuine sunlight and with a limited lifespan, as opposed to our current economy that borrows resources from another day and space. In recent years, the expansion of the private sector space race has broadened our perceptions on human territory to include (outer) space. In the meantime, the urgency of our inhabitants compels us to reflect on the crucial mechanisms that allow us to exist on our planet. Poetically, the second moon, formed by solar energy in the ruins of an industrial coal mine, creates a time of reflection for a call to action against climate change.
Facial recognition, AI, and algorithms govern our access to information—from unlocking our smartphone with a glance to future crime prediction, healthcare, law enforcement surveillance, airport screening, employment, and welfare. However, the persistent lack of diverse representation in the space of imagination and decision making in the tech industry as well as lack of legislation applicable to technology widens pre-existing racial discrimination and inequality. Behind Shirley recalls the early decades of photographic invention where a single light-skinned Caucasian image was used as a standardized color-balancing reference. As a result, the technology was incapable of accurate representation of black and brown bodies. Behind Shirley seeks to recover our historical memories of technological shortcomings from the past, and to link them to present facial-recognition software. The light-skinned default of representation continues to have profound lifelong consequences for black and brown bodies in a wide range of life experiences from media and tech to healthcare and the criminal justice system. Behind Shirley in turn offers new possibilities of algorithmic resistance, using technology to reimagine a speculative future where resistant bodies are joining the growing movement where “racial justice is algorithmic justice.”
BLACKTRANSARCHIVE.COM critically reconfigures our notion of archives, offering new possibilities for accessing them while questioning their institutional forms constrained to patriarchal categorizations that neglect or misrepresent Black Trans people. The artists’ response is an archive in the form of a web-based 3D video game, built and designed by and for Black Trans people. Their designers and developers considered their own lived experience to produce a viable and open platform which subsequently re-structures the relationship between power, knowledge, and subjectivity that prevails in today’s digital platforms. By using well-elaborated 3D characters and landscapes, BLACKTRANSARCHIVE.COM takes us into an extensive exploration of a virtual world inhabited by fluid genders and personalities. It is deliberately designed from the perspective of Black Trans people and therefore is not inviting for everyone. However, while one interacts with the archive, it shapes an intimate dialogue for comprehending that solidarity and empathy are possible in an online world that is commonly gender biased and racially hierarchized.
Amongst the many NFT projects submitted to the award, Brave New Commons is one of the very few that speculates on how it could have been otherwise. Instead of riding the hype wave of speculation and the recognition of the value of digital art as speculative investment on the art market, Masaki Fujihata reminds us of how the immaterial lightness of digital art could have been valued. Simultaneously he presents an ironic evaluation of the hyped field of NFTs in general. Excavating a cached tmp file from an ancient media from the artist’s early career that has miraculously survived the myopic focus of digital artefact over 30 years, its visual meaninglessness is dwarfed by the sheer existence. The visual similarity to the many pixels in today's NFT craze is then turned into something other than speculative money laundry: The price set by the artist is divided by the number of interested buyers, who all pay an equal fraction of the set price. This way, the value, as seen by the artist and the shared ownership, and as experienced by the audience, is in stark contrast to the current crypto/nft reality.
Chroma challenges us to push the boundaries of reality and explores the dynamic interplay between the material and immaterial as well as the visible and the invisible. The uncanny aesthetics of one-of-a-kind materials and structures, which are the result of interdisciplinary collaboration and rigorous artistic research, provide a glimpse into an alternative reality. Since it is the subject of invisible, complex interactions, it develops its own “matterness” in motion. Through the material's photoelasticity, the large-scale installation made of transparent laminated polymer is equipped with kinetic mechanisms that perform ever-changing chromatic fluctuation and metamorphosis. In an era of sociopolitical unpredictability, it inspires us to ponder the fundamental and imagine a world in which (human) beings, objects, and nature coexist in harmony.
In a time where human sorrows are heightened on a global scale, How to Make an Ocean seeks to transform our griefs into oceanic remedies and rescue the environment. Humanitarian crises of pandemic, invasion, destruction, and environmental emergencies fill our digital lives in a constant stream. To cry is a profound human experience that triggers connection and social bonds necessary to cope with grief and anxiety. How to Make an Ocean is participatory experience meticulously orchestrated in multiple parts, a growing collection of mini-oceans made from the artist’s and participants’ tears, a laboratory of crafted tools for tear harvesting, a Moirologist AI bot that curates an audio visual experience of environmental news headlines, and artist workshop-performances. Through poetic aesthetic and ritualistic gestures participants share their tears to create a collection of mini marine eco-systems foregrounding the interdependence of human and nature and the connection between mental health and environmental health.
Rendered as a dance performance, but clearly positioned as a work in progress, morphecore pushes the elusive discourse of Brain Computer Interface to a tangible experience. Collaboration with Tokyo University’s cutting edge brain scans, and with a trained machine learning model, the artists map the imagined poses to a rigged 3D model and animate a sequence of them to form a choreography. The limits of the brain reading are viscerally felt in the glitchy movement, but at the same time renders the potential in an immediate way: no more as a theoretical reference, philosophical position, but as a concrete experience with bespoke aesthetic. The work highlights the role interactive art (+) can play presenting a mirror of the hopes and worries of technological advance in a direct, relatable experience. The work is also a poignant reflection of the disembodied existence on zoom calls that we all have experienced in the last year, leaving us yearning for physical touch.
The new cognitive-capitalism mentality in which the internet is based, relies heavily on search functionalities to frame how we experience our digital habitat. When we search online we are not finding answers, but also inputting valuable information about our interests and motivations and feeding gigantic databases that extract and accumulate personal data, which are the basis of recommendation systems. Anticipating human behavior through the use of the analysis of the information we all search about is at heart of Google’s business model and the future products and services they will provide. However, search tools systematically disregard and include information, giving importance to some at the expense of others. Search engines are not merely technical feats, but also embed political and social exclusions, tapering our capacity to find the right stuff. NoSearchBar is a Chrome extension which removes the Search functionality from web sites. While using it, and restricting our capacity to search, it makes us reflect critically on our profound dependence on text-based queries. At the same time it helps us to bring back our curiosity to browse or find information through non-search mechanisms.
The Siempre se tiene 19 años en un rincón del corazón project is a reenactment and an archeological exercise performed by 3D printed open source tech devices at the site of the former Migueletes Prison, now Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo, the cultural epicenter of the city of Montevideo. The installation is a live performance of two drawing machines slowly and precisely redrawing on the walls the text and drawings found in the prison cells, written by the prisoners once confined in that space. Politically motivated punishment has historically been a tool for oppression, exploitation, and colonial power. Since the 1970s many countries have increased their punitive approach, and the prison-industrial complex has become one of fastest-growing outlets for investment capital. The installation is a powerful poetic gesture that explores the potential of machines and algorithms to resurface our faded historical memories by reincarnating the actions of the erased and captive bodies. Furthermore, the project investigates the machine-human-architecture interaction as a collective experience of territories to recover the structural memory of a space with its different symbolic and material layers.
The pandemic became a turning point in terms of a crisis that has had and continues to have a profound influence on human behavior, living, and working, but also as an opportunity for governments and companies to deploy further monitoring tools and take a further step towards the normalization of surveillance. A timely and relevant work, Technologies of Hope & Fear presents us with a snapshot of pandemic data-driven, AI enabled, and machine learning technologies that were developed and marketed as solutions for getting society “back to norma.l” Projects that bring hope to some, but also paying into fears of dystopian worlds, the archive gives a glimpse of the corporate, governmental, and individual products and visions of surviving a pandemic world. At once a collection of techno solutionist ideas, and another reminder of the tech world’s obsession and blind faith in data collection and quantification as the answer to all.
AI, neural networks, and facial recognition technologies are often mystified constructs, concepts, and tools, and complicit in reproducing social bias and reinforcing racism. But what might happen if AI intersected with drag? The Zizi Show is responding to the lack of representation and diversity of training datasets, which are usually based on normative identities, and aims to disrupt and subvert these systems by bringing in drag and gender fluid faces. The result is an extraordinary deepfake drag cabaret that pushes the boundaries of digital stage content and gives back control to queer communities that were involved in creating the dataset, while challenging ideas about gender. The show, which is accessible online, allows you to pick a deer-fake avatar, choose a song, and create your own performing act, while its glitchy aesthetic exposes the fragility of AI technologies.
The Zizi Show is a much needed injection of queerness, difference, and otherness in an otherwise AI world of constructed, binary identities.
At a time of a global crisis of gender-based violence and ongoing violation of women’s, girls’, and non-binary peoples’ human rights—serving to maintain structural gender inequalities, Voz Pública becomes a powerful participatory platform for breaking the silence. From enabling women and non-binary people to anonymously share personal stories of gender violence through an online participatory platform, to embedding these stories into collaborative electronic textiles—referencing traditional Latin American textiles and graphics linked to female struggle—to activating these textiles through performing protest acts and becoming an amplifying mechanism for taking these stories to the streets to make them heard. Bringing these voices to the public space and society is the ultimate goal of the project; to the society that not only refuses to hear and ignores the violence, but also a society that discriminates against women and non-binary people.
Interactive Art + Radical consciousness
Jussi Ängeslevä, DooEun Choi, Rashin Fahandej, José-Carlos Mariátegui, Irini Mirena Papadimitriou
What is the meaning of interactivity and art at a time of turbulence and violence? What can art really do when the world is in crisis? We are living through unprecedented times and in a constant state of turmoil, fear, and intolerance. Our society is going through one of its deepest political crises in the last decades, and ongoing endemic wars, injustice, and abuse of power are undermining cultural identity, history, and memory. As a result of the pandemic we have not only become more aware of the significance and consequences of digital technologies in our everyday lives, but also of a world of prevalent social inequalities in which xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, othering, and discrimination prevail.
As jury members of this year’s Prix Ars Electronica Interactive Art + category, we carefully considered the meaning of the + sign. We mutually felt the + is an opportunity to prioritize and showcase work that reflects on and responds to current critical times and urgent issues. And most importantly, works that present a perspective of inclusiveness. An opportunity to shed light on dynamic and important work, nomadic networks or powerful participatory platforms that break the silence and focus on collective action, social change, and the common good.
After two years of interruption of activity and of what we considered “normality,” this jury meeting brought us again all together in person. For many of us, this was the first opportunity to meet after the pandemic years—overcoming the different challenges that virtual communication generates and recovering the feeling of intense personal interaction for three days. As was the case in 2020, this year’s submissions were again greatly influenced by socio-political and cultural issues. In addition, a significant number of submissions came from younger generations—under-30s who draw their practice from the new: innovative forms of knowledge, diverse forms of global collaboration, and enabling spaces for human equality—questioning narrow views that predate gender bias—and driven by curiosity to act differently, but also to respond to challenging times, present and future. Having to select work from hundreds of submissions from across the globe we were extremely pleased to see work from so many countries and applicants, and important issues such as gender and geographical diversity were central to the jury’s conversation, exchange, and decision making.
The selected works brought together here demonstrate the importance of revealing aspects that are commonly hidden or that are seldom reachable or understandable—aspects that we are used to ignoring or not paying much attention to such as wind, sleep, ancestral knowledge, and bacteria behavior—elements highlighted by the artists to build a new consciousness. Elements that can turn around rigid ways of thinking and open up new perspectives in understanding and building our world. The creative practices and examples we see here play a crucial role in facilitating creative and subversive uses of technology, against reductionist narratives, while activating global solidarity through bringing together communities and enabling new ways and spaces of activism. This point is particularly relevant taking into account the jury’s position in trying to address the different and diverse voices of those presented here—from questioning institutional and patriarchal systems of categorization that neglect Black and trans people and under-represented groups while creating new spaces of inclusion and action, to exposing the lack of representation and diversity in algorithmic systems and subverting them with gender fluidity, or exposing public spaces to powerful stories from victims of gender-based violence and using digital to activate indigenous memories and knowledge.
It is worth noting that throughout the selection process, we encountered—unsurprisingly—numerous NFTs projects; in many cases, projects that didn’t divert much from the hype of speculation and structures of power, trade and exchange that underlie these systems, or move away from the already prevalent ideas of digital art as speculative investment. However, there were a few notable examples that explored ways to subvert this logic, focusing instead on rethinking value and forms of shared ownership, in contrast to the realities of crypto and NFT worlds.
Media and interactive art should reflect on how new technologies are enabling new forms of empowerment, in particular in underrepresented and less visible groups, in a way that not only represents or highlights human life, but also brings to the front other forms of life and matter, forms that historically have been silenced, overshadowed, or pushed aside. This year’s jury selection brings together a number of voices from across the South and North, converging at critical discussion points that affect all.