u19 – create your world

Golden Nica

This year’s Golden Nica goes to the project re-wire by Felix Senk, Emil Steixner, and Max-Jakob Beer. They built a modular synthesizer using electronic scrap and found material. They recorded the sounds for the synthesizer themselves, in part during the building of the object—for example, while sawing the boards. It is thus an instrument whose sounds derive from its own creation. The three artists edited the sounds, used free software for a microcontroller, and transformed the XLR cables to make an interface for the synthesizer. The result is an instrument that not only contains an unbelievable amount of work, research, and sound experimentation, but also one that can be used to produce an inimitable sound. It combines the ecological concept of upcycling with the desire to create something tangible. They have spent enough time in the virtual space and now want to again create something with their hands—this is clearly illustrated by re-wire. The Internet is merely an aid to finding the necessary software that enables one to put ideas into practice.

Young Professionals (14 – 19 years)

The animated film INCERT, by Isa Mutevelic, Simon Effenberger, and David Stummer, is clearly deserving of an Award of Distinction. This animated film compresses the overwhelming emotions of a tumultuous period of crisis into less than two minutes. INCERT teems with references to the greatest crises of our time: from surveillance and an environmental and climate crisis to race-motivated police violence. The aesthetic inspiration for this was found in the depths of the Internet: here, sensory overload and hyperbole become skillfully used stylistic devices. While the young artists do not offer any direct solutions, they do seize on a crucial point: that there are no simple answers to complex questions.

The second Award of Distinction in the Young Professionals category goes to Urban Green: Bamboo Bicycle. While there have been bamboo bicycles in the past, the connecting elements of the bicycle frames were not environmentally friendly. In collaboration with Smart Grass Bicycles, Angelina Djukic, Lukas Gabesam, Japleen Khurana, and Alina Schweighofer, from the Euregio HTBLVA Ferlach, reworked the bamboo bicycle. Biodegradable materials like organic resin were used to make connecting elements by means of a 3D printer. This novel bicycle is not only a product of the future but also very impressive in terms of its design. The high degree of relevance and innovation as well as the team’s determination not to accept just an almost environmentally friendly product but to use solely biodegradable materials won over the jury.

This year’s moving-image submissions were overall of a very high standard. An example is Silence, an animated short film by Felix Zorn-Pauli that interprets Paul Celan’s poem “Today and Tomorrow.” The depiction is limited to a moody and abstract staging in just a few scenes. With an atmospheric, procedurally generated desert, he demonstrates technical skill and creative stamina. The combination of high quality, artistic focus, and precise content in this film is extremely successful and for this the artist clearly deserves an Honorary Mention.

Other impressive, solution-oriented Young Professionals projects came from the school environment. With their app dine., the young developers from HTL Dornbirn have created a delivery-service app aimed at promoting the sustainable and healthy eating habits of the students. The fact that the project is already operating in a test phase and regional restaurants have already signed on as partners is testimony to the motivation and effort that the team at HTL Dornbirn invested in this idea to make it a reality. A concept was developed here that could improve the everyday life not only of the creators but also of countless other students in a lasting way, and this deserves an Award of Distinction in the Young Professionals category.

Themes were also addressed in this category that were not related to day-to-day school life. The nearly six-minute audio work Durch den Wind (Totally Shaken) by Jasmin Schlögl deals with the role of the caregiver, which relatives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia all too often have to assume themselves. Both the film editing and the background music contribute to the sensitive approach to the narrative—a moving, awareness-raising work that the jury would like to recognize with an Honorary Mention.

Another audio work that was awarded an Honorary Mention is Future / just a dream? A “film soundtrack without the film” is how Leonhard Gaigg describes his musical work. It is divided into chapters and guides us through his worlds of sounds. He worked with various instruments, including alto, bass, and contrabass clarinet, zheng, and synthesizer. Characteristic of this work is the distortion and processing of the sounds. Here, Leonhard Gaigg has composed and conceptualized an immersive and genre-transcending musical work.

Another Honorary Mention goes to the refreshing short film Liebe ist kein Spielfilm (All is Fair in Love and Film), in which Sabine Wimmer examines the contradiction between staged romanticism in films and reality. Using talking film posters, she interweaves parodies of classic romantic films with her own narrative. In addition to the many skillfully utilized techniques, Liebe ist kein Spielfilm is also outstanding for its good acting and lovely statement at the end.

Touching works from the field of the visual arts, were also submitted in the Young Professionals category: At the age of just 18, Fabian Ahammer / Wenzelhumer already has an expressive style that only few achieve in many years of work. Not only are his lines fascinating; his picture Realitätsverlust (Loss of Reality) also touches on many themes. It deals with the relationship between humans and technology, with surveillance, the pressure to perform, a feeling of alienation, and the loss of freedom. Fabian’s work tells stories but also triggers associations on the part of the viewers, and thus is deserving of an Honorary Mention.

Many of the Young Professionals also want to use their technical skills to solve environmental problems. Light pollution, for example, is an increasingly important issue. One solution for this is smartLantern – die smarte Straßenlaterne, a smart streetlight created by Christoph Steiner, Moritz Vögl, Simon Schmidmayr, and Jan Reinsperger. It makes sense ecologically to illuminate defined areas and to dim streetlights that have already been passed. According to the students at HTL Rennweg, these smart streetlights could also be used as charging stations for electric vehicles. Thinking ahead and protecting resources without giving up any convenience—this definitely deserves an Honorary Mention!

And while we are on the subject of technical skills: a Tesla coil is an impressive spectacle if only for its sparking bolts of electricity. But in his Sprechende Teslaspule, Nikolaus Juch also utilizes and refines the capability of his “talking Tesla coil” to reproduce music and language. Nikolaus Juch’s work combines a profound grasp of technology with the aim of getting more young people excited about electronics and STEM subjects. Here is a project that is as well-reasoned as it is spectacular, one that has justifiably attracted much attention and fully deserves our Honorary Mention.

The times we are currently living through are characterized not only by the pandemic but also by global protest movements. With impressive foresight, Johannes Rass, Julian Pixel Schmiederer, and Gregor Franz have created an entire documentary film on this subject. In The 2020 Rise Up, the filmmakers not only examine protest movements—from local offshoots of the worldwide climate protests to the mass anti-government protests in Hong Kong—but also were able to interview key figures in these movements. In 30 minutes, the young filmmakers capture what the onset of the pandemic and the worldwide standstill meant for the work of the activists. From the use of archival material and the conducting of interviews to the linking of the individual storylines, their documentary-film work is highly professional and deserves a Honorary Mention.

Another film, but of a very different kind, is The Click. A woman uses an app to order a child but does not get what she ordered or wanted. The child also has completely different interests to its parent. What seemingly divides the mother and child, however, is ultimately the mother’s salvation—through a machine that the child builds itself. The Click, by Julia Scheiwein, Zara Dineva, Anna Zoglauer, and Caroline Bär, is cleverly constructed and appealingly animated. Many current debates, such as adoption ethics, parent-child relationships, gender roles, and racism, are treated here in a humorous but also critical manner.

Young Creatives (<= 14 Jahre)

This year, even some of the youngest participants addressed the current situation and created innovative things like a remedy for loneliness. In her work Little Dancing Stars: Alle im Takt, nine-year-old Sarah Hölzl programmed a LEGO robot to dance with her. In a time in which we are not able to dance with each other, the jury found this invention particularly touching and awards it an Honorary Mention in the u10 category.

For another solution-oriented approach, an Award of Distinction in the u10 category goes to Emilio Deutsch for Der erste Plastikschlucker der Welt. This “plastic swallower” is a spray that completely dissolves plastic in only five minutes. With a concept paper, sketch, prototype, and presentation of the plastic swallower, he won over the jury like a true entrepreneur on the path to a major investment.

The u10 Prize goes to Leopold Kastler, who at the age of seven submitted a Kranfahrzeug auf vier Ketten (Crane Vehicle on Four Tracks) constructed with LEGO-Technic. He can explain his invention and construction with a professionalism that completely convinced the jury, making it clear that Leopold designed and built everything himself—without any guidance. He thought very carefully about the functionality of the vehicle, particularly where the construction did not allow for any simple solutions, such as in the securing of the load. In the jury’s opinion, this kind of well-explained, technically masterful achievement from a seven-year-old deserves the u10 Prize.

The submissions in the u12 category also dealt the major problems of our time. The utopian Upcycling Stadt (Upcycling City) shows us a way out of the climate crisis. Imagine we were shrunk—then nature would have the space, time, and necessary resources to recover. Moreover, we would build our cities out of recycled materials in order to create a world that prioritizes sustainability. Lisa Marits did precisely this, which is perfectly in keeping with the competition’s motto: create your world.

The project by Benjamin Hölzl also deals with the environment. At Benjamin’s Recycling Centre, various devices assist in disposing different materials in the appropriate boxes. The diverse apparatuses not only distinguish themselves through their technically refined performance; they also display playful qualities, like the little robot that “simply can do anything and takes care of jobs that no machine is capable of.” This could make it the prototype of a new generation of robots that think for themselves and one day will make our work easier for us—and this earns it an Award of Distinction in the u12 category.

With the support of the artists’ group MuKaTo, seven students from class 1B at RG/ORG antonkriegergasse produced a stop-motion animation called Das unmögliche Computerspiel (The Impossible Computer Game). It is the story of a school trip to Mars that is interrupted by an alien attack. The story ends with the destruction of the earth, which “simply cannot be saved.” It is a convincing, pointed team production that also manages to approach problems of today with a great deal of humor and a wink—and it takes the u12 Prize!

The u14 projects also find impressive solutions for the large and small problems of modern life, for example, for the problem that we spend too much time sitting and too little time moving. The project Juck uf (Jump Up) by students at Bundesgymnasium Dornbirn, offers a solution with the help of a sensor that measures how high one jumps. And it isn’t long before ambition takes over: “I can do even better; I want to jump higher,” you think, and soon you are doing something for your health. Together, the group developed a great idea for getting people moving, an idea that earns an Honorary Mention in the u14 category.

Another group effort earned an Award of Distinction as one of the top projects in the u14 category: The project Black Day consists of three games that combine various media and themes and was developed by students at MS Lehen in cooperation with media artists and educators. The games are played on oversized playing fields, combined with recorded video clips and interaction by means of smartphone apps. The participants developed the games themselves, filmed the videos, and created a large number of accessories. This project reflects various facets of young people’s attitudes toward life—on the one hand on the level of the game principle, which was inspired by video games, and on the other through the themes.

But it was not only the group works of this age group that delighted the jury: Reunited by Clara Weiss is a single drawing, made with a felt-tip pen, that reveals a great amount of detail. It deals with a battle between mankind and nature that ultimately ends in peaceful coexistence. At the age of only 14, she shows how art can be made with simple means and impresses with a great deal of passion, earning an Award of Distinction in the u14 category.

The u14 Prize also goes to a solo project. With digital mirror, 14-year-old Michael Zaminer designed an interactive LED wall. This work testifies to an impressive tinkerer spirit: in a year dominated by homeschooling and isolation, Michael used his technical skills to bring art, aesthetics, and thus also happiness into his own room. Almost in passing, he created a prime example of a fundamental idea of Ars Electronica: fusing technology, art, and people’s everyday lives in an enriching manner.

Jury Statement

Gaps and Solutions—Of Things that are Missing and How one can Deal with this

Sirikit Amann, Josef Dorninger, Conny Lee, Mira Lu Kovacs, Tori Reichel

By this year’s submission deadline, the year-long state of emergency had become the new normal. But, especially for young people, a year feels like an entire phase of one’s life. Despite everything, however, it would be a complete misnomer to describe these young people as “the lost generation.” During this extraordinary and trying period, they have gained new perspectives and were able to observe societal processes that will occupy historians for decades to come. It is a generation shaped but not stigmatized by these events. These young people will decide for themselves what they do with the lessons from this time. But for now, it is about immediately coming to terms with the situation, and the entries for this year’s Prix Ars Electronica in the category u19–create your world reflect a number of coping strategies. Obvious themes were homeschooling, quarantine, and being left to one’s own devices to get through the isolation, but also the resulting yearning for intimacy and social interaction. The ways of dealing with these emotions are as diverse as people are themselves: they range from humorous resignation to struggles related to mental health, from rational solutions to creative acts of self-empowerment.

That group work was very difficult this year was apparent from the submissions as well, but it is surprising that the number of video games submitted was lower than it has been for a long time, although young game developers can now tinker with their projects not only on their own but also while connected with each other online. We hope that in the future, more video games will again find their way to us. Another gap was related to subject matter: the topics of gender identity, queerness, and other LGBTIQ+-related concerns were conspicuously underrepresented this year.
What there was an ample amount of was criticism: criticism of society and politics, of the handling of the climate crisis and the treatment of young movements that were brought to an abrupt standstill by Covid. A critical look at another major issue of today—data protection—was present in some projects but alarmingly absent in others.

Particularly with mobile applications and technical solutions, it was often apparent how much energy went into these projects, but an important step at the beginning was skipped: the question of whether similar products already exist and what distinguishes this new application from the others. If someone has several projects for submission to the Prix Ars Electronica, they should consider in advance whether the projects should be entered individually or as a group. We, the jury, then evaluate them either separately or in context. Both methods are possible, but one should be aware of these different approaches.

What was important to us with all the projects was a creative approach and, particularly in the case of the Young Professionals, a societal perspective as well—that is, a criticism of circumstances or the attempt to find solutions to problems—and not least a certain degree of independence. It is understandable that here and there a helping hand from a parent is necessary. Nonetheless, the jury prefers something self-made—even if it is a bit wobbly—to a perfectly executed work that was created with a great deal of influence from parents or teachers.

In order to give different age groups an equal chance, the projects are divided into two major categories: “Young Creatives” (up to age 14) and “Young Professionals” (age 14 to 19). This division not only helps make the competition fairer; it also helps to better showcase the enormous range of projects submitted in the u19–create your world category.

The Golden Nicas of the Young Generation since 1998