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Ars Elektronika 2008: Wenn Eigentum an Seine Grenzen stösst

I knew not to expect too much from the hint of critical content in this years theme. So, for the first time ever visiting the festival, I enjoyed going through the main exhibition CyberArts even if only as a catalogue of potential works; however gadgetry and grand the installations and projects sometimes where, they did inspire.

Art on the move showcased student projects from the Linz-based Interface Cultures programme. The course aims to question the merge of interface technologies into our daily life: ‘Artists and creators must remain critical and investigate and question their societal and creative implications as well as issues of control and agency’. More than with their professional colleagues, their engagement with what technology has to do with us, was tangible. Or maybe their works were simply presented with less glossy finish and not so much sloganising.
On the other side of the street, a second student exhibition from The University of Tokyo. Hybrid Ego: towards a new hybrid art consisted of painfully serious project presentations, mostly unconvincing technically and intellectually. Makes you wonder again where art has gone. Anyway, there was a clear focus on prostheses and haptic devices. For example one project connected two flexible bands to a small electro-motor. Placed around your thumb- and index finger, the strain of the bands would change constantly and in this way the device translated sensations of weight shift from a (rather crude…) computer animation of marbles twirling in a box, to your fingers. Nice.
Ecology of the techno mind (‘Featured Art Scene’) made quite a difference from the otherwise haphazard feel to the curation of exhibitions and displays. Featuring works from Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, this exhibition was almost too coherent. Theatrically lit, it brought together works with a less light interpretation of the connection between body and technology. Although I am not sure whether blood, sweat, saliva and body fat does the trick for me.
A low point was the so-called Electronic Theatre, presenting prizewinning computer animations in an open air theatre setting. Watching 60 minutes of mainly warmed up advertising and Hollywood DVD extras is depressing.

I have not followed any of the conferences, so I don’t know whether ‘ownership’ was more radically put into question there, but most of the projects in the exhibition that did, where not exactly thought-provoking. No more than superficial gestures of filesharing and knowledge exchange (such as the enraging paternalism of the Appeel project, inviting the audience to participate in the distribution of pre-cut fluorescent vinyl circles). Well, actually that’s not true. One project, Fallen Fruit, happily practiced the art of gleaning, and harvested fruits from neighbourhoods of Linz to than collectively prepare jam on the Pfarrplatz. Interestingly, it seemed that all projects proposing alternative ownership strategies were placed in public space, with a children’s playground in the middle.

I expected a commercial take on art, but the lame atmosphere surprised me. The festival has clearly taken sides with industry, but organisers, participants nor audience seemed to derive much pleasure from this connection and the obligatory pseudo-critical content sadly prevented any radical enthusiasm either way, making it all feel like a middle-of-the-road trade show for cultural administrators.

What happens when ownership meets it’s own borders? Ars Elektronika’s own so-called New Cultural Advertising Project answered the question before it could even be asked. Allowing on- and offline visitors to alter only the last element of the festivals tagline (A NEW CULTURAL … DESIGN; A NEW CULTURAL … SEX, A NEW CULTURAL … KAZACHSTAN), it showed culture as a brand that conveniently can be slapped onto anything. Insert content here.