Monday, January 10, 2011

the sound of codec

reading out loud:

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

W0rdM4g1x. Or how to put a spell on Media Art Archives

Or how to put a spell on Media Art Archives

Aaa, sdafsda, sxjhk hfjk asfjkl. What reminds of onomatopoeia or a poem by Ernst Jandl, are actually tags that can be found as descriptive metadata in archives of Media Art. They describe and depict the contents of these archives. I call these words magical because they conjure up works and knowledge from the depths of the archive. Magical also, because who but a magician would know about the “spell” sxjhk hfjk asfjkl? What and if we actually find something in an archive significantly depends on the quality and accessibility of the descriptive metadata assigned to the artworks. “Word magic” provides insights into ways of capturing ephemeral Media Art via descriptive metadata and creating a system of order.

Main Text
The objects of investigation of this paper are database archives for Media Art. As such I define databases that are mainly documentation archives and have in large parts taken over the role of the classical archive for the field of Media Art; archives that do not necessarily refer to a parallel physical storage/collection, but the (online accessible) documentation archive that can also exist on its own. For in Media Art, what is left to archive very often only consists of documentation material. In this definition of the database archive, I mainly follow the definition proposed by V2_, for example as used in their introductory text (
Such a database archive is about creating order by managing sense, by making statements through this order, by creating a grammar through the words used (morphology) and the structure applied (syntax). Database archives for Media Art can vary greatly in scope and focus. Some collect physical assets like art works or documentation material, others just describe them; some include their own institution's projects only, others group their archive around research topics. However they differ, what they all have in common is that they contain data and data about this data – metadata. The part of metadata that is interesting in this context are descriptive metadata, metadata based on interpretation that are used to describe the artworks. This kind of descriptive metadata is also what is the concern in the discussion about a standard terminology for Media Art. The database archive typically makes intensive use of language, of terms to manage and describe the assets. These terms serve to find (on the output/user side) and describe (on the creator/input side). For the system itself, the term is just functional, an index to correlate the assigned data with. On the human (input and output) side, these words also have meaning. The differences in meaning are what make the words such a crucial issue. In these database archives, knowledge and histories are not only stored and managed, but also created and constructed. Because of this, there needs to be a thorough consideration of the processes involved and of how these systems are created. In addition to describing content, a database archive also manages assets and creates order by naming and relating. Most databases are still organized in the manner of a shelf, although no physical constraints force them to re-implement what was only meant as a metaphor in data-space. “The categorization scheme is a response to physical constraints on storage, and to people's inability to keep the location of more than a few hundred things in their mind at once.”(1) What might have been useful at a time when digital storage was new – using a metaphor to have something familiar around – now proves to be a real obstacle for the sustainability and further development of the archives: “Now it means that the user has to adopt to the creator's specific view of the world, it has become a dogma. It seems that the GUI and all its metaphors has come into our way. It seems natural. How terrible.”(2)

1. The Lack of a Standard Terminology
One of the major problems discussed in the context of descriptive metadata is most widely known as “the lack of a standard terminology” for describing Media Art, as defined in “Capturing Unstable Media” by Sandra Fauconnier and Rens Frommé from V2_(3). I question whether this really is a problem or if the observed “lack” offers the key to a new concept for “capturing” and describing Media Art. A lack generally means an undesirable condition. Something is missing, and therefore something else is impossible to achieve. The lack has to be removed. In this case it would mean that, without a standard terminology, it is impossible to correctly and comprehensively describe Media Art. Over the years, several attempts have been made not only to describe Media Art, but also to capture the correct terms and their interrelations; attempts to settle the preconditions for any valid description hence on. As for now, this goal has not been reached; and looking back at the histories of these attempts, it can legitimately be assumed that it never will. For good. No final standard terminology could ever be assumed, as no final point of knowledge can ever be fixed. However, the problem addressed in the “lack of a standard terminology” is a question of language, the necessity of using it, the observation that the existing methods are not sufficient for the task at hand, the fact that language is an unclosed system, and the difficulties arising from dealing with this fact.

Terminologies do more than just name objects and stick labels on them. By not just being assigned to the artworks, but also being ordered themselves, they create structures, a “Grammar of New Media“. This creates a set of rules for how to read Media Art. On the creator-side, it means making interpretations, picking the rules, turning what was first an interpretation amongst others into the preferred way of seeing and thereby turning (arbitrary) interpretation into order=command.
The goal of a standard terminology is to find the agreed meaning of a term and its (unique) place in this world, of the correct assignment between an entity and a word (= function of a manual) in order to decrease semantic heterogeneity. The term is treated like a physical object. The standard terminology should make meaning and order clear and self evident - “natural”, not to be doubted, but being attributed universal validity, truth value, true or false, following a bivalent logic, black or white, no gray in between, good or bad – it is, in short, a simplifying model that is achieved by a reduction of complex situations. By offering a limited number of preferred ways of naming and ordering, by creating unambiguity, by erasing doubt, belief in this “god” equals belief in the creator of the database archive. The creators are interpreters of the existing sources. For the descriptive metadata, their selection is based on their own interpretations mostly (fact is dealt with separately). Essence and interpretation are both problematic when it comes to creating order, because they appear to be natural instead of culturally constructed. The resulting system is absolute.

Semantics on the other hand consist of creating a dense network of interrelations, of having multiple – even conflicting – relations, of creating meanings through nets of relations and of revealing sense and meanings on a context-dependent base. A standard terminology would erode multiplicity and density that are necessary ingredients of semantic networks in favor of the preferred way of reading. Homogeneity instead of heterogeneity, hegemony instead of free and open choice, creation of one for many and not of many for many, static instead of variable media through static instead of variable language. In the end, this is a question of exercising power and authority; it becomes, it is political from the very beginning.

Where is the Media in Media Art Databases?
In his 1970 book “Expanded Cinema”, Gene Youngblood mentions a newly emerging kind of artist and the changing role of technology and the audience as the main aspects that characterize the new genre of Computer Art (4) Almost 40 years later, what Youngblood identified as characteristics of the new art form is still not adequately represented and acknowledged – if at all. If crucial aspects like these are missing in database archives, what else is excluded? And if the terminology of these database archives is built on the literature of the field, then it has to be asked which topics are covered by it and which are ignored? To each generation of Media Art historians and theorists, different aspects of the medium seemed interesting or relevant. Each generation made its own contribution to the field. In consequence, it is only logical that future generations will do the same and have to be able to contribute their own research or re-discover things previously neglected. This must not only be the commitment of the community, but also of its knowledge systems. As database archives become more and more relevant as knowledge systems, they, too, have to systematically enable modifications, new additions, even new categories. They have to systematically remain open. A (systematically) static database archive is nothing but a book in electronic form and at best mirrors the evaluation of a specific time, author and perspective. As can be seen in existing database archives, early revisions of the systems have already become inevitable.

The Grammar of New Media
“Grammar is the field of linguistics that covers the rules governing the use of any given natural language. It includes morphology and syntax, often complemented by phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics”, so the common grammar definition as found on Wikipedia (5). To see how and if this applies to database archives for Media Art, if these database archives constitute a grammar in the above sense, if they construct rules that govern the use and via this the meaning, a closer look at the morphology and syntax of these systems will be taken. Two influential aspects should be considered separately: the database archive's/the content's syntax resulting from relations of terms and the specialty of a database archive of a mostly noun-based morphology.

Some database archives only have a list of non-interrelated keywords. However, many others use relations to order their keywords semantically. Words are grouped in categories and relations are constructed between the individual terms, for example by introducing “broader term”, “narrower term”, “associated term”,... The order created is absolute and exclusive and each asset is assigned a unique place and function. It neglects that terms can have multiple meanings and varying relations in different contexts, that in most cases the “natural” habitat of a term is a “social knitwork” and not forced by a law of nature. The order commonly met in a database archive rather suggests this second approach, that the terms were found instead of constructed (the Wittgenstein-chapter will go into detail about this and the topic of essences). To avoid this naturalistic appearance, a database archive has to be able to represent relative, flexible and content-dependent order. Whenever writing about something, we take a specific perspective, reducing complexity for the sake of highlighting one special aspect. But by reducing relations systematically, generally and not just for a single purpose, we erode knowledge permanently. Complexity cannot be solved by reduction and by deletion if it does not want to result in over-simplification.

Database archives' terminologies are mostly noun-based. The problem with this is:
• We try to find the one word that is capable of expressing the whole situation. If not in a database, we would probably just use a sentence or a group of words to express that situation, not just one single noun. The resulting word creation often has nothing to do with real life experience, but resembles a jackalope. The noun, this mythical animal, that is invented especially for the database archive in many cases is a compromise, not the best option. It is not what we actually want to express. This search for the essential element will not deliver satisfying results when what actually can be found is not one thing, but a complex mix of equally relevant features, no matter if they fit in a scheme or not.
• Culturally, this bias poses a problem as not all languages are so focused on the use of nouns.
• Nouns are invented faster than verbs, they are less time-stable, they are fashionable at a certain time and age with their technologies (for example in the early 90s Virtual Reality was used excessively and the same things would be called something else today).

From the above, we see that the seemingly arbitrary choice of descriptive metadata creates the morphology and syntax of the whole system. Because of the scope of their influence, these data need careful handling and consideration.

Dealing with Diversity
The “lack of a standard terminology” does not mean that there are no terminologies. There are many different vocabularies in use, in different database archives, created by different authors, covering different aspects,... So the problem of the “lack of a standard terminology” is in fact a problem of how to deal with diversity of expression. It is a matter of perception and interpretation. And it has various effects: the process of perception is influenced by multiple factors, like previous knowledge, the culture of the interpreter, awareness, different goals and contexts,... The second problem is that different interpreters perceive different aspects and name them differently. The same term can have multiple meanings for different people or in different disciplines and contexts. Diversity is a matter of meaning, of the use of language. As mentioned before, in a database archive words not only have a naming function, but these names/labels are structured and structuring. They are functionally implemented in the database archive, language gets a technical imprint. The result is that out of technological necessities of the database models applied, the many meanings and places of a term are reduced and narrowed down so that preferably only unambiguity remains. This is then called the “preferred way of reading”. These aspects have massive impact on openness, the character of the resulting knowledge base and finally its sustainability and therefore need to be analyzed critically. Looking at these database archives and their methods of structuring, one can easily get the impression that diversity is bad and should be avoided or eliminated whenever met. In the end, far from resulting in a perfect representation and understanding of its contents, very often the result is a mixed-up representation which in the end leads to incommensurability in content as well as structure, a mix of „apples and oranges“. They resemble, as Jorge Luis Borges put it in "John Wilkins' Analytical Language”(6):

“[...] a certain Chinese Encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into: (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; © those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies.”

To sum up my analysis of current database archives (which due to its extensiveness I cannot include in this paper), the challenges and problems identified in current database archives are:

a. Rigid hierarchical structures that very often are one-directional and exclusive and hard to change once they are implemented. This especially poses problems for the further development of a database archive, which is unavoidable. Each new category challenges the system as a whole.

b. Faking fixed meaning ignores that one word can mean different things and have different connotations in different disciplines and contexts (incommensurability, terms used are relative to a scheme) and also ignores that especially Media Art feeds from various disciplines. A model of fixed meaning results in a narrowing down of perspective, which can in the best case be described as incomplete, in the worst case leads to wrong results.

c. Vocabularies follow the the internal logic of their creators. This poses a very real and practical problem: as people mostly do not enter a database archive from where its creators plan, namely the platform's start-page, but from a search-engine, they will rely on the words and associations they come up with. The logical consequence for database archive creators should be to make a move towards their users and to incorporate as many different associations, meanings, ways of spelling, synonyms, maybe even typos... they can think of. Even if the creators would succeed in finding the perfect expression, how would the users know how to find it? How would they convey their word magix to their audience? Creators of such database archives need to adress these semantic and interpretation issues, if they successfully want to build and sustain their projects.

d. A standard terminology for Media Art contradicts itself. Media Art feeds from various disciplines, crosses boundaries and unites them, resulting in not just a mix of the latter, but also in additional new meanings (“the sum is more than its parts”). Currently applied terminologies reduce the many dimensions to just one (over simplification) or mix what shouldn't be mixed (incommensurability).

2. Descriptive Metadata and Interpretation
For the field of Media Art, the lack of a standard terminology has created a great deal of uncertainty and thus gained priority in research. How can we discuss Media Art when we can't choose the right words and are unsure if their meanings are universally agreed upon? How can we talk about Media Art, when we do not speak the language of New Media?

In all phases of the interpretation process, many results are imaginable, not just one. They are not correct (as in the only one), but can be more or less appropriate. And not all of the equally appropriate interpretations are considered. The database archives build on a small selection of terms and for the sake of slimness and unambiguity try to avoid any kind of redundancy. Terms are used as structural elements in the database archive. This process leads to the solidification of the system by reducing the terms' inherent options. Differing meanings are structurally eliminated and thereby the words' qualities change: they undergo a move from being appropriate to being correct. If interpretation is not about assigning absolute values, such as truth or falsity, but rather about equally acceptable options, it would then be a mistake to build structures on just one interpretation. This would turn the interpretation model with many appropriate results to a scientific model with just one answer being correct.

Interpretation as judgment is influenced by various factors. Pre-existing knowledge, our openness to newness, our time/place/cultural contexts. Unseen and unforeseeable things constitute inevitable change. As these are factors we can count on, but not calculate with, the system developed for Media Art database archives must be apt to likely changes. A system for structuring information/meaning that is based on interpretations must remain corrigible to stay correct. Media Art shares many aspects with traditional art history, but it also introduces newness in content, form and means. These aspects have not been fully acknowledged or captured yet. And the systems often do not allow for newness to be included. The field of Media Art needs systems where continued de/construction remains possible. Right now, too much power lies in the authority of the technological structure used and too little thought is given to its authoritative consequences.

The interpretations in an archive do not seem to be interpretations; they appear to be discovered rather than constructed. The difference here is that the first implies nature's laws and essences, whereas the second shows choice, culture, authorship, a specific view amongst others. Structure in Media Art database archives does not follow a natural law, it is not discovered, but constructed, based on the selection, which itself is based on the creator's aims. The goal of interpretation is to foster understanding and as Schleiermacher pointed out, vocabulary is important in reaching this goal. But – as he also mentions – it is provisional, subject to change. This “dictionary” would not seek to eliminate varying interpretations but “regard the various manners of use as a collection of many loosely connected parts.”(7) Schleiermacher sees both dictionary and grammar as evolving, they begin from a specific point of view, their use must serve to correct and enrich. Interpretation must contribute to the task of furthering knowledge. In both the database archive and semantic network, it is not only about the terminology used, but also about how these terms are linked to the object and to each other. Relations help to further clarify the meaning of a term, its usage. Schleiermacher writes that the sense of every word in a given location must be determined according to its being-together with those that surround it (8). It follows, that the denser this field becomes, the more clearly individual meanings can be determined. Context and relations serve as an aid, the connections can be “organic” (=internal fusion) or “mechanical” (=external stringing together) (9), discovered or constructed. In this regard, the semantic network contributes to the clarification of meaning by relating terms and terms as well as terms and objects, so that one helps to clarify the other. Interpretation remains an approximation of meaning. This act of translation, as it can never be perfect, is a teleological imperative (10), a guideline for adequate interpretation. The goal is to find out and illuminate the meaning of the source, to create some kind of equilibrium between the source and its translation. A standard terminology can only be an aid as a lexical means and as thus suggest but not mandate acceptable meanings. It can exemplify but must not instruct. In short, it will never become a manual for correct interpretation.

According to George Steiner, “no perfections and final stabilities of understanding in any act of discourse” (12) can be reached; translation is always partial. Natural language is polysemic and imprecise. What a standard terminology aims at, a closed-circuit system between works and words, does not exist. The reason why this whole aspect of translation and interpretation is important for Media Art database archives is that the quality of interpretation changes dramatically when implemented in a database. For here, interpretation becomes structural and functional and from one interpretation among many adequate ones, it becomes the only one. It is not even perceived or presented as an interpretation anymore, but as fact. Every structure that behaves this way is inadequate. Interpretation is the active search for meaning, it is a semantic process. Semantic richness therefore is not the extraction of the perfect translation, but the enriching of the semantic field of a term. A standard terminology is not what one authoritative group assembles, but a compilation of how these words are actually used in the community, the community in the Media Arts being all the people participating in the field, the artists, historians, audience,... Meaning creation here depends on “a network of recognition” (13). “Meaning is a process, a consequence of exchange and discourse, correction, and reciprocity.” (14). Meaning is a Language Game.

3. Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of Family Resemblance

“The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to find the common element in all its applications has shackled philosophical investigation.” (15)

In the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein introduces a new paradigm for ordering. His concept is easy to explain: Instead of finding one assumed core element that is necessary and common to all members of a class, they are connected by a whole series of criss-crossing and overlapping features. Not by identity, but similarity. This kind of relationship is what Wittgenstein called Family Resemblance. It offers a solution to what cannot sufficiently be defined by a class-system or – as Wittgenstein wrote - to avoid "the bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language"(16) With this concept, Wittgenstein rejects all taxonomic classification as essentialist and shows the limitations of any hierarchical system with words: That to reach final accuracy in language is an ideal. A class is defined explicitly by a core element, a family on the other hand is described by its rules. And – as he continues in his concept of Language-Games (17) – these rules are not fixed once and for all, but made up and modified “as we go along” (18). They are the (temporary) results of a common activity, and to be effective and meaningful they have to be agreed upon by the “players”. While the traditional classification system was not correct but effective in the times before the computer, now Wittgenstein's model of a non-essentialist ordering system provides a real alternative for descriptive metadata and ordering systems. What does Wittgenstein mean by “rules” and how could this concept be weighed against the concept of classes?

The importance of rules or of following rules is one of Wittgenstein's main interests in his analysis of games. Rules are conventions. They are not right or wrong in a logical sense; they are just useful. The meaning of a word is the result of following rules. So to fix the meaning of a word by linking it to a thing is just one particular view, not the view. What makes a rule different from a definition is that it describes an action, a move, gives direction, but remains flexible. The sum of rules, all statements that tell us how to make meaningful statements constitute a grammar. A definition on the other hand cements the flexibility of a rule by locking the meaning. Deviant usage of words means that “you are not playing the same game”. Rules are related and linked to each other and form families rather than strictly defined classes. In that way, a rule differs fundamentally from a definition: To fall under a definition, necessary and sufficient characteristics have to be fulfilled. A rule on the other hand is much more open. This is what makes the difference between a family and a class, an open system and a closed one. The members of both family and class are interlinked with each other. But instead of resulting in a hierarchy, a fixed order, a non-extendable model and ideal, that is based on mental entities, a family is a network that can grow by sharing and passing on parts from one member to the other, remixing characteristics and adding new ones. To paraphrase the parent-child metaphor of class-subdivision: Unlike in a traditional classification, in the model of Family Resemblance, reproduction can happen naturally: sex instead of in vitro fertilization. Isn't that more realistic? Things are connected and sufficiently ordered by the connections that are established by Family Resemblance. This is radically different from the essentialist tradition. Precisely defined classes are not necessary to understand what a thing is or what relations it can have. To follow a rule is an action and an expression of a specific view of the field. As there are many ways of interpretation, there are also multiple families a thing can be part of, multiple connections that can but need not be shared by all members of a family. There are different uses for a word, and all the different uses are collected in the concept of Family Resemblances.

“And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.“ (19)

What still makes the prospect of a standard terminology so attractive is its relative lack of complexity. It reduces the different perspectives to just one, something simple and easily comprehensible and takes away the burden of making a decision. Family Resemblance on the other hand results in a complex network and is rhizomatic. It shows a huge number of connections between things, very general as well as very particular ones; it does not weigh what is important and what is not. This is a subjective decision and thus part of the process of filtering (on the user side).

In Media Art archives we sort knowledge that is already present. The order is not implemented to discover new relations, new qualities, but the result of pre-perceived classes and pre-assumed relations between them. New things have to fit in an already established world order, which is created and manifested in technology before the assets are filed in. The effect is that we do not compile everything we know about all the pieces of Media Art; we order what we have known before. We remain in already established Language-Games, that have not been developed for Media Art (20). Instead of developing its own language, the field of Media Art plays these pre-existing Language-Games in the context of Media Art archives. This does not mean that the order created is entirely wrong. What is wrong is that it presents itself as the only true way of looking at Media Art when it is in fact only one perspective. Only one dimension is highlighted while most information remains in the dark. It is in the nature of such models of (a piece of the) world, that they demand universal validity. We have to remind ourselves that with descriptive metadata we are dealing in the realms of language, something that is not precise. Again, Wittgenstein reminds us of this when he writes:

“We want to establish an order in our knowledge of the use of language: an order with a particular end in view; one out of many possible orders; not the order.” (21)

Because of this limitation of perspectives, archives are filters. In current archives, filtering and thus reduction is part of the data-entering phase. Filtering is an important part of getting qualified information. The crucial question is: when does this filtering happen? To avoid this narrowing down of possible perspectives, this process should be an option that is up to the user. Applying the concept of family resemblance would allow as many connections as possible to be entered rather than filtering in the dataentering phase. The filtering process, the temporary closure, the particular world-view, would all be better suited to being options at the end point of a user accessing the assets of a Media Art archive rather than being fixed when data is entered into the archive.

Wittgenstein's concept of Family Resemblance is opposed to an approach that presents idealism as fact and accepts the resulting errors. The rules of grammar he proposes instead are guidelines for how to make meaningful statements, they result from the use of language. If we deal without definitions, without something that counts as a “hard fact” and if rules can be changed, a question remains: are the relations established reliable and stable enough? Like in a rope or a net, both strength and reliability come from the interweavement of several features, the family network:

“And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.” (22)

Translating this thought to Media Art, we learn to understand a piece of art in this interweavement of several features, facets and perspectives instead of in terms of one singular, simplified or 'true' essence. There is a multiplicity of different kinds of languages. In using a language we create meaning, and this activity is what Wittgenstein calls a form of life (23). “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true or false?” - It is what human beings say that is true or false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreements in opinions but in form of life.(24) Grammar as the sum of rules is the expression and result of a particular form of life, not an abstraction from it. Misunderstandings lie in language, not in the things themselves. Instead of a search for a standard terminology for Media Art, the research focus should concentrate on finding a system that enables us to link these different forms of life. Not to erase one for the other, but to make them comparable and to enrich the system with more views.

“Our investigation is ... a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.” (25)

Necessarily, the conceptual model of Family Resemblance is open. New features can always arise and continue to be included. As no list can be compiled that names all features imaginable, the concept of Family Resemblance's ability to incorporate new features presents a significant strength and advantage over other models. Only as seen from particular views or forms of life are the concepts closed. As a result of the open concept caused by Family Resemblance, the boundaries of a group will sometimes be more clear and sometimes more blurry. Even without a core feature for membership, boundaries between concepts can be drawn, as Wittgenstein points out in §68 of the Philosophical Investigations. It can temporarily be thought of as closed to make it workable for a specific use:

“I can give the concept 'number' rigid limits ... that is, use the word 'number' for a rigidly limited concept, but I can also use it so that the extension of the concept is not closed by a frontier. And this is how we do use the word 'game'. For how is the concept of a game bounded? What still counts as a game and what no longer does? Can you give the boundary? No. You can draw one; for none has so far been drawn. (But that never troubled you before when you used the word 'game'.)“ (26)

4. Conclusion
If the hierarchical structure of vocabulary means a limitation – as Toni Peterson pointed out (27) – why has this remained the building principle for so many database archives' terminologies? I want to recall what Petersen wrote: “The semantic network of a hierarchical structure stretches just over broader and narrower terms and through synonyms and near variant lead-in terms. Building a network of related terms [...] takes on additional significance, especially for the representation of knowledge in a field.” (28). Hierarchies cannot just be turned over into semantics without a significant amount of additional efforts. Semantics and density of the net are a result of bringing together actual uses of language, from merging vocabularies and allowing multiple relations for each term. A standard thesaurus for Media Art and a semantic net are therefore, in my opinion, two oppositional and conflicting concepts. The semantic net can inform a lexical corpus, but a lexical corpus will not result in a semantically dense net. This investigation is centered around the question of a standard terminology for Media Art or what the lack of such a terminology means for the field. It showed, that contrary to expectations of a solution, a standard terminology poses new and even more severe problems by narrowing, excluding meaning and thereby closing the concept of art. The impact of a decision for such a model is underestimated, as descriptive metadata not only have a naming/labeling, but also a structuring function in the knowledge base. When the weight of a whole system is put on a rather arbitrary choice of words, when meaning is fixed and the number of the building blocks closed, one can not endlessly build upon the resulting structure without experiencing the limitations of weight it can carry. To avoid limited and limiting database archives, I argued for an alternative model of structuring and labeling, an open framework instead of a closed and rigid structure, one that is based on Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of Family Resemblance. With an open concept of art and a polythetic approach to descriptive metadata, we comply with the constant changes in and the interdisciplinary nature of Media Art. A network of relations frees us from the threats of collapsing, overstrained hierarchical systems. Applying and adapting the concept of Family Resemblances values and sustains the conceptual openness and rhizomatic interconnectedness of Media Art. We need to get rid of apriori schemes all together and shift from a fixed corpus to an open framework to develop a sustainable model for descriptive metadata.

Nina Wenhart is a Media Art historian, artist and independent researcher. She graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.

(3), p.12: “There is a lack of standard terminology for practices, activities and components in electronic art and for the types and genres of documentation that describes those.”
(4)Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, Dutton & Co, New York, 1970, p.193
(6)Jorge Louis Borges, “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”, in: Selected Non-Fictions, New York, Penguin Books, 1999, p.231
(7)Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p.34
(8)Ibid., p.44
(9)Ibid., p.46
(10) George Steiner, After Babel, Oxford University Press, 1998 (3rd edition), p.326f
(11) Ibid., p.256
(12) Ibid., p.428
(13) Ibid., p.314
(14) Ibid., p.172
(15) Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'The Blue and Brown Books', Harper Torchbooks, 1965, p.17
(16) Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Philosophical Investigations', Blackwell Publishing, 2001 (3rd edition) p.41e, §119
(17) Ibid., p.4e, §7: „I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, a 'languagegame'“.
(18) Ibid., p.33e, §83: „And is there not also the case where we play and-make up the rules as we go along? And there is even one where we alter them-as we go along.“
(19) Ibid., p.27e, §66
(20) For example by adapting existing standard terminologies like the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus (ATT),
(21) Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Philosophical Investigations', Blackwell Publishing, 2001 (3rd edition), § 132
(22) Ibid., p.27e, §67
(23) Ibid., p.10e, §23
(24) Ibid., p.75e, §241
(25) Ibid., p.37e, §90
(26) Ibid., p. 28E, §68
(27) Petersen, Toni, “Developing a New Thesaurus for Art and Architecture”, Library Trends, Vol. 38, No. 4, Spring 1990, p.651
(28) Ibid., p.651

zielinski - a font

fingers are taped with contact mics; text written in size 200; when finished, let text get smaller (to about 13pt); text finished in abc1:

switch to other/readable font, all typos included; we use the print option, look around how many people are in the audience and print out the theory; while printing, we'll attach the contact mike to the printer

IX - documentation

IX Presentation

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

re:place re:viewed

re:place collectively re:viewed by by:  

Rolf WOLFENSBERGER (CH), Nina WENHART (AT), Jon CATES (US), Mary HAMMER (US), Rachelle Viader KNOWLES (CA), Eleni MICHAILIDI (GR), Reginald NJEMANZE (NG), Nicolas ROMANACCI (DE), Joanna WALEWSKA; PL), and Winnie FU (HK)

re:place 2007 was the second international conference on the histories of Media, Art, Science and Technology. It took place in Berlin from the 15th until the 18th of November 2007 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. re:place followed the first conference Refresh!, the First International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology held at the Banff New Media Institute, Canada, in 2005 (cf. Oliver Grau ed., MediaArtHistories, MIT 2007). In the second conference, re:place was chaired by Andreas Broeckmann and Gunalan Nadarajan supported by an advisory board and a program committee with many well-known key players of the field Media Art Histories.
The conference consisted of several pre- and post-conference activities, which were only partly open to the public, and many parallel events. The three-day conference itself was organized into ten thematic panels, evening key lectures, lunchtime lectures and poster sessions. The conference was also complemented by three independently organized exhibitions that were shown in Berlin at the same time: 9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre and Engineering at the TESLA, From Spark to Pixel at the Martin-Gropius-Bau and History Will Repeat Itself at the KW. The combination of conference proceedings, parallel events and exhibitions, gave conference attendees many choices to engage in a wide range of activities during re:place.

In the introductory talk Oliver Grau gave an overview of the development of the field of MediaArtHistories before and after Refresh! and asked what value can research in this field achieve within the framework of Image Science and Digital Humanities? Starting with the mission of the conference series ( the presentation created a "discipline strategic" bridge opening up a perspective to overcome the often placement of Media Arts in a ghetto. In support of that Grau showed the increasing significance of new scientific instruments for the field, *collective* online image and text archives, like,, which document the art and theory production of the last decades. He finished with a note of caution regarding the too strong particularization in this area and made a plea for a concerted policy and strategy for collectively documenting, archiving and collecting the art of the latest history.
In his opening remarks, Andres Broeckmann referred specifically to the comma between "Media" and "Art" in the subtitle of the conference. He repeated this comment later while introducing the speakers of Panel 5 (which he moderated). Broeckmann stated the organizers gave a great deal of consideration to this distinction while organizing the conference and that it is indicatory of their approach. Unfortunately, as a result, Media Art Histories were less thoroughly addressed as a field. In Broeckmann's explanation, most of the panelists came from very diverse fields. Panels were arranged around special topics. This combination of various fields and approaches in the topical panels would have offered the opportunity to inform a cross-disciplinary toolset of Media Art Histories methods and strategies, but this chance went by unused. (See also: Oliver Grau (Ed.): MediaArtHistories, Cambridge/Mass. (MIT Press) 2007.)

The 10 panels of re:place covered a variety of subjects and topics with a few themes connecting multiple panels and presentations. Longer panel reviews follow this general review of re:place.
Panel 1 was on the topic of ART, SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING as sites/places where early experiments in Media Art took place, most often as a combined form of research and development, focusing on examples of their intersections. The panel was moderated by Edward Shanken, with panelists Michael Century, Stephen Jones, Eva Moraga and Robin Oppenheimer and is reviewed by Nina Wenhart.
The 2nd panel, INTERSECTIONS OF MEDIA AND BIOLOGY, incorporated speakers from vastly different study or artistic backgrounds and study epochs. The first two speakers, Assimina Kaniari and Jussi Parikka, adopted a historical approach on understanding the relationship between Biology and Media Art, while the last two attempted to incorporate theories into their respective art works with Michele Barker describing how the Life Sciences interact with Digital culture and Boo Chapple experimented with sound in relation with biological systems. This panel was moderated Ingeborg Reichle and is reviewed by Winnie Fu.
In Panel 3, HISTORIES OF ABSTRACTION, the four lecturers offered brilliant and sophisticated studies on seemingly quite different subjects. Laura Marks, Arianna Borrelli, Amir Alexander and Paul Thomas offered complex and diverse perspectives with highly specialized and elaborated insights that are detailed in the review by Nicolas Romanacci.
Panel 4, The COMPARATIVE HISTORIES OF ART INSTITUTIONS, was moderated by Stephan Kovats and included presentations by Lioudmila Voropai, Renata Sukaityte, Christoph Klütsch and Catherine Hamel. This panel raised questions of the possibilities of institutional critiques and is reviewed by jonCates.
Panel 5 traced some of the Media Art Histories that can be told in a local context, namely in Australia, Poland, Japan and the North American Pacific Coast. This panel, PLACE STUDIES: MEDIA ART HISTORIES, raising the complex issue of how national and local processes relate to broader national and international media art contexts. Eleni Michailidi reviews this panel, discussing how, as Media Art's global networks have had an acute impact on the development of local artistic and critical practices, analyzing their interactions and mutual influences can help us understand the different ways in which Media Art develops. With: Daniel Palmer, Ryszard W. Kluszczynski, Caroline Seck Langill, Machiko Kusahara.
The panelists of Panel 6, MEDIA THEORY IN PRACTICE, charted intersections of Media theory and practice through points of tension and friction, conflicts between innovation and institutional frameworks, displacements, immateriality and the instability of memory in all its forms. This panel included Kathryn Farley, Nils Röller, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Antony Hudek and Antonia Wunderlich as panelists and is reviewed by Rachelle Viader Knowles.
IINTERDISCIPLINARY THEORY IN PRACTICE, the 7th Panel, started by a brief introduction of the speakers by the Moderator Sara Diamonds. She buttressed the effort made by the speakers to apply the emerging forms of Interdisciplinary Theories to Practice, not only in Media Art History but across various domains of knowledge. The papers presented by Christopher Salter, Simone Osthoff, Janine Marchassault and Michael Daroch painted pictures of a hybridized knowledge of Meta Analysis of Methodology and the various points of Productive Collision; not only to New Theories but as they relate to New Practices. Panel 7 is reviewed by Reginald Njemanze.
All lectures of Panel 8, PLACE STUDIES: RUSSIA / SOVIET UNION, as well as an introduction by Inke Arns (who tried to outline the importance of Russian avant-garde movements and its technology related utopias) clarified the background of New Media Art in Central and East Europe. In Joanna Walewska's review of Panel 8, she discusses the panel's attempt to extrapolate the future meaning of collaboration between artists and engineers from the histories of such collaborations. With: Olga Goriunova, Margareta Tillberg, Margareta Voehringer, and Irina Aristarkhova.
Panel 9, CROSS CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES, investigated the interrelationships and differences between Western and non-Western views. The moderator, Bernd Scherer, stated that this investigation involves a great deal of exchange between cultures, and that the results may challenge the current definitions of modernity. Each panelist, including Erkki Huhtamo, Cynthia Ward, Manosh Chowdhury and Sheila Petty, presented a paper that attempted to challenge the traditional Western view and encourage exchange between cultures. The Cross Cultural Perspectives panel is reviewed by Mary Hammer.
The final panel, CYBERNETIC HISTORIES OF ARTISITC PRACTICES, was introduced and moderated by Geoff Cox. The connections between cybernetics and artistic or, more precisely, emergent everyday practices was presented in two computer-archaeological case studies by David Link and Kristoffer Gansing. Both speakers were separately looking at different occurrences in the early software/hardware history when engineers and programmers were experimenting with the cybernetic machines to produce something other than what they were originally designed for. Brian Reffin Smith then delivered the literally final speech of the panels in a kind of conference performance. In his review of Panel 10, Rolf Wolfensberger, describes how Brian Reffin Smith passionately denounced the ongoing mystification of the computer by artists, scientists and art-critics alike since the early 1970ies and the progressive culture of the spectacle fed by the capitalistic IT-industries since the mid 1990ies.

Poster Presentation
In addition to the panels, re:place also hosted a Poster Presentation of about 20 projects, reaching from doctorial projects about individual artists such as Lenka Dolanova's poster on her research into the Vasulkas or Darko Fritz's research on Vladimir Bonacic to a poster from and about The Experimental Television Center. If time is limited, posters are a way of at least including projects in the context of the conference. But the way in which the posters were physically presented at re:place was very impolite. The posters were put on simple stand, quite small and too close to one another. Still, the worst aspect of the presentation of the posters was their location. The posters stood in the last corner of the entrance hall, a place with no sufficient lighting. In addition there were two poster presentations, where everyone had 5 minutes to present their projects. Even if time is limited, there can be better ways of showing and presenting these posters, if the organizers are really interested in enriching the content of the conference.


 the re:place posters (in the dark, on the very left)

Links to all the posters can be found here:

Key Note
The most pointed approach to describe the framework of a potential field of media art histories was formulated, performed and put into a flaming manifesto by Siegried Zielinski. He made a claim for being enthusiastic, something which was missing in a lot of presentations. Zielinski's Key Note speech

Critique & Conclusion
The notion of 'place' in the title of the conference was not as evident as the premise of the conference seemed to promise. Perhaps the proposed "thematic focus on located-ness and the migration of knowledge and knowledge production in the interdisciplinary contexts of art, historiography, science and technology" was by definition too vague. Glimpses of local practices at the fringes of mainstream reception (such as the Eastern European Media Art Histories thread that connected a few panels and panelists) or inspirations taken from crossing borders and boundaries did come up momentarily during several of the panels, but practically none of the panelists or moderators made a specific reference to the title of the conference or used this theme to 'locate' her presentation in a broader context. Some of the panels left the impression of a more or less artificially conceived theme with a collection of presentations. This impression seemed to render the hope of the moderators for controversial discussions almost futile from the start. Seen in retrospect the conference did not fully re:cover its 'place' although many of the presentations, posters and discussions as such were fascinating without doubt.

- re:place 2007 at Haus der Kulturen der Welt:
- 9 Evenings Reconsidered at TESLA:
- History Will Repeat Itself at the KW:
- From Spark to Pixel at the Martin-Gropius-Bau:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ARS ELECTRONICA - re:shaping a city's cultural identity

re:shaping a city's cultural identity

Nina Wenhart, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, FVNM/ARTHI

30 years ago the first Ars Electronica festival took place in Linz, Austria. Ars has grown to be one of the most influential Media Art festivals and centers worldwide. But while much has been written about it, and still more will be talked about its history when Ars celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2009, there has not yet been a comprehensive study about Ars Electronica's influence on the local community and its impact on the cultural development of Linz. This paper investigates the socio-cultural and artistic traces Ars Electronica has left on the city of Linz. This Media Art historical account also details a very personal history, as the author, being four years old at the time of the first festival and amazed by its fireworks display, remembers the festival's beginnings from her personal experience and – having worked for Ars Electronica's Futurelab for many years - from a professional perspective as well.

The main question of this talk is how the then marginal field of art, science and technology, placed in an even more marginal, working-class and steel-producing city contributed greatly to the creation/development of a new cultural identity of the city, the art scene and the community as a whole. My investigation into the histories of this cultural institution focuses on the regional impact, regional being interpreted as geographically located/rooted as well as interpersonally built.

Ars Electronica, public space, cultural identity, local communities, media art histories

Linz = Province
Linz is a practical city. You can tell, for example because you can't study humanities here. Instead, it has a huge steel company, and consistently, the university mainly focuses on technology. Up until recently, the Art University offered a program simply called “metal”i . It seems that the city has no sense for the beau arts and never established its own fine arts tradition. Its cultural identity is one of working class and industry. Everything is headed towards production.

Heavy industries, founded by the Hitler regime in World War 2, made Linz grow and get prosperous. Before that, Linz was not known for anything. Afterwards, it was known for its bad air quality. Being a prosperous and promising place, you don't want to be known for that. You want to be known for beautiful achievements, for your culture. Only problem was, since Anton Bruckner Linz did not have any famous artist of international caliber. An identity that was not connected to dirt, pollution and province was needed. Being situated in the middle of two cultural capitals with their rich histories, Salzburg in the West and Vienna in the East, Linz suffered from being a cultural dwarf, a province. In this vacuum, something that would really make a difference, a strong, modern and unique cultural identity was desired. And because it was not possible to conjure one out of thin air, Linz would have to invent itself as the city of the future. In the 70s, inspired by the general political air of the time and promoted  by the social-democratic administration under chancellor Bruno Kreisky, the idea was to offer “culture for all”. In this spirit, Ars Electronica came to life.

The Invention of the Future
One of the first of these “cultural attacks” on Linz in the 70s was the start of the annual Brucknerfestival, named after  the one patron saint of art that was summoned ever so often these days. Bruckner was the alibi, the certificate that guaranteed that what is done under his auspices is art. The framework of the festival also served as an environment for more daring experiments like the “forum”-series, comprised of forum steel (1971, 1975), forum metal (1977) and forum design (1980), which received a lot of international praise - and public outrage against some of the artworks. For example, the  artist collective Haus-Rucker-Co's “Nike of Samothrake”ii, an eight meter huge statue that was put on top of the art university's roof on main square. Much hated by the public, it was soon removed. But as one of the first “cultural victims”, after it's death (= removal) it began a kind of after life and  became a local myth. Ten years later, in 1987, it would return as a small statue and become the Golden Nica of the Prix Ars Electronicaiii.

Metal flows in the city of Linz's veins. Metal was what brought the city to life. It had become THE symbol of prosperity and the city's working class identity; it was responsible for the prosperity of the 70s as well as for the decline in the 80s. And it turned into an artistic material. Very different, but also connected to industry rather than art, was another promising material. The fast approaching development of microelectronics was regarded as the 3rd industrial revolution. And Linz not being a cultural city, but an industrial one, could be imagined as taking this direction into its future. This would transport the city's past into modern times without meaning a complete break from its roots; the digital phoenix would be born from the industrial ashes. The computer thus became a substitute for metal and was introduced as the new cultural medium before the culture was even there. It was a top-down approach driven by the desire to create a unique, authentic identity. Metal and microelectronics were promising materials for both the economic and the cultural future of Linz.

Linz welcomes the Future
In the late 70ies, the heads of the then very young regional studio of the Austrian broadcast cooperation ORF also went on to search for a cultural identity for Linz. Not a search, but rather an invention. Chance happened, that right then electronic musician Hubert Bognermayr from Eela Craig approached ORF Upper Austria's director Hannes Leopoldseder and his colleague Christine Schöpf with his idea of an electronic music festival. In this proposal, Leopoldseder and Schöpf saw  the potential for the festival to become something much bigger. In the end, the music festival was accompanied by a competition (simply called “the big prize” and later replaced by the Prix Ars Electronica) and a symposium, that was held in cooperation with the local university. In these  events, the topic of microelectronics should cross disciplinary boundaries, involve artists and engineers alike in dialog and give fruitful new input for everyoneiv. Inspirations for the festival also came from Nove Tendencije, Siggraph and Steirischer Herbst, a festival for new art in Styria. As the idea was born, the first Ars Electronica  was to be held from the 18th to 21st of  September in 1979v and Linz was ready to welcome its brand new cultural future.

That this first Ars Electronica was not a one-hit-wonder was mainly due to the huge success of one of its highlights, the “Klangwolke” (Cloud of Sound). From the beginning it was clear, that Ars Electronica would not be a mere art festival, but a cultural festival that would involve the public. In this spirit, the Cloud of Sound was conceived as a huge outdoor spectacle of classical music and visualizations. Inside Brucknerhaus, the orchestra performed Bruckner's 8th Symphony; in the park outside, along the Danube, vast loudspeakers broadcast the live music from the concert hall and the sky and river served as a gigantic screen. The concert was also live broadcast on the radio and people who could not come to the park were invited to put their radios in the open windows and thus contribute by making their own mini Cloud of Sound. The original plan also involved people walking around in the park,  from one loudspeaker to the next and thereby having an ever changing musical experience. This did not work out, because about 100.000 people attended and there simply was no space to move. (Just to compare it with, the whole population of the city is 250.000.) Because of this – also in terms of cultural politics – huge success, it was immediately clear that the Cloud of Sound had to be repeated (= would receive public funding) and thus a second Ars Electronica festival was bound to happenvi. As an effect, for a long time the terms Ars Electronica and Cloud of Sound were used synonymously, the two events perceived as one and the same thing. They were not only meant to profile Linz to the outside, but first of all to the people in Linz. Via the transposition of Anton Bruckner into the realms of electronic music and art, Linz and by this its population should become culturally recognizable.

In the last paragraph of his article for the first Ars Electronica catalogue, Hannes Leopoldseder wrote:

“ARS ELECTRONICA is not an event that deals with a record of the past, but addresses the developments of tomorrow. For this reason, this event about electronic art and new experiences has the notion of  the incalculable and risk, too.
At the same time, however, ARS ELECTRONICA is a challenge for artists, technicians, cultural critics, and not least the audience, that will encounter new expressions of art.” vii

Top-down and into the future was the way to go that is addressed here, out of the museums and into the open space, involving the public, not just an interested, international or even intentional audience, but foremost the local community in and of Linz. In the years that followed, Linz saw a number of spectacular Clouds of Sound, for example Isao Tomita's laser show “Mind of Universe”viii in 1984. The sky was the limit in 1982, when the topic of the whole festival was Sky Art. Otto Piene, being the main organizer of these events, collaborated with Charlotte Moorman in “Sky Kiss”ix. Moorman was floating above Donaulände, playing her cello, hanging suspended from a bunch of balloons for a whole day. Conquering the sky with balloons remained a topos and was picked up again in 2005 by local artist Martin Music, who tried to fly across the Danube, supported by 5000 inflated balloons only.

As Ars Electronica and time went on, ever new places were occupied. The city's baroque main square repeatedly became the center stage. As of its central location, also the (unsuspecting) public constantly became involved in Ars Electronica. Examples from the early years include “Klangstraße” (Sound Street, 1980, by Michael Jüllich)xi and Walter Haupt's “Mach-mit-Konzert” (Join-In-Concert, 1980)xii. Two of the most spectacular events were Giorgio Battistelli's “Steel Opera” from 1982 and Klaus Schulze's “Steel Symphony” (1984)xiii, that both involved the steel mill's workers and machines in their performances.

Especially the 80s and early 90s saw another public space being occupied and taken over by artists. ORF as an organizer became a protagonist of plays, where art became media art because of fully being accomplished on their channels, in their broadcasts, and sometimes even through the credibility of their reporters. ORF provided TV and radio as a platform, tool and material for artists. Very often, this resulted in Media Art in an Orwellian style. For example, in “Nobody is Safe”xiv from 1991, when local artist group Stadtwerkstatt requested the TV-audience to vote whether a little dog should be blown upxv. The result was that the dog should be executed and the dog was exploded live on TV. The audience was enreaged and the next day ORF had to declare that it was all a hoax, an art project, and that the dog was well and alive.

Playfulness always was one of the main ingredients to involve the public into participation. Whether it was that people should bring self-made instruments and gather on main square to be an orchestra or to cast their shadows in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's “Body Movies” (2002)xvi. Playing Pong together in Loren and Rachel Carpenter's “Audience Participation” (1994)xvii, simply being specators of Theo Jansen's “Strandbeesten” (2005)xviii, or collaboratively writing a piece of code by climbing a facade in Gruppe FOK's “Teleklettergarten” (2003)xix are just a few of the many, many examples. Playfulness and events in public space both were used to literally get people in touch with art. Events like these also perfectly fit in with the city's desire of providing “culture for all” and “culture by all”.

In addition to the city's support, the takeover of the public and its spaces was only made possible through a dense network of  individual and institutional cooperation and collaboration. From the beginning, the local alternative art scene has been involvedxx. Stadtwerkstatt, contained (in the mid 90s, followed by:), time's up, Radio Fro,, transpublic, Kunstraum Goethestraße and Social Impact – to mention just a few – mainly contribute by developing their own projects for the festival and providing their spaces. Museums like OK centrum, Brucknerhaus, Stifterhaus, Designcenter, Lentos, the Art University, the Architecture Forum or Landesgalleriexxi host exhibitions and events and also give support to the artists. Private companies sponsor the festival and Prix in general as well as individual projects.
Ars is not just an event and museum, but also represents a tight personal network of friends and collaborators, internationally as well as locally. First and foremost through the still ongoing involvement and commitment of the founders Christine Schöpf and Hannes Leopoldseder, early supporters like Kathy Rae Huffman or Roy Ascott, who were also part of the group that gathered to write the proposal for the Ars Electronica Center in the early 90sxxii. Via radio art and telematic projects, current director Gerfried Stocker got into contact with Heidi Grundmann, who was working for ORF's culture department in Vienna and founder of Kunstradio and her husband Robert Adrian X. These two had already been in close contact with Schöpf and Leopoldseder and were part of the proposal group as well. When Stocker became the artistic director of Ars, he brought with him a network of friends and collaborators from his home in Styria. Through all the changes that  Ars had to undergo in its 30 years, these ties meant stability and kept the original spirit alive. Change and stability together contribute to the success of Ars Electronica.
Similarly, almost everyone in Linz who is interested in culture has directly or indirectly been involved in the Ars Electronica festival. As the city is small, most of these people also entertain personal friendships amongst each other and work together in various small and large scale, temporary and permanent projects and groups.  In addition, through Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau's Interface Culture Lab at the Art University and the working opportunities at Futurelab, a lot of international students have come to Linz and enriched this network.

The relation between Ars Electronica and the alternative scene is not always unambiguous and without friction, but nevertheless has proved to be fruitful for both sides. A lot of the most interesting festival projects come from the alternative scene. One of the earliest examples of this involvement is Stadtwerkstatt, a group that started in 1979 as well. Stadtwerkstatt was invited to contribute by founder Christine Schöpf as early as 1984 (with their project “Singing Pool”). The “enveloping-technique” of placing new cultural experiments in the context of an already existing, strong and stable framework is still continued in the collaborations of Ars Electronica with the local art scene, but – at least in the view of the alternative scene – tends to act patriarchic and at times not as an equal partner.

Cultural Identity and Politics
Culture as something that was identified as badly missing became a political issue. In the spirit of the 70s when the administration of social democratic chancellor Bruno Kreisky was responsible for a lot of social advancements for the public, like free access to universities, free school books, affordable public housing, etc... culture also became a public good and should be freely and openly available for each and everyone, especially for the working class. To achieve this goal, culture had to come to the people and get out of the ivory towers of museums. In the Cultural Development Plan (CDPxxiii), these goals are still alive. To bridge the gap between high art and “culture for all” is one of its main goals. The CDP was created by politicians, art institutions and artists together. It sets the longterm goals of cultural development for Linz. Written in 1998/99, it builds on three pillars, technology and new media, public spaces and the alternative scene. That Ars Electronica plays an important role in the public perception of this development, is made clear:

“The focus on technology and new media can only be successfully maintained if we can together provide a package of innovative and financially secure measures effective in the longterm. With the support of the Federal Government and the Province of Upper Austria, the Ars Electronica Festival should be put onto a broad financial and institutional basis to consolidate its international status, to ensure its strong presence in the Open Space sector, and to promote ever closer ties with the city and the region. A closer relationship between art and science is also needed.


The further development of the concepts "Culture for all" and "Culture in open spaces" will remain in the future an important focus of activity for the City of Linz. We see the development of a new type of "Culture for all" concept in a direction leading towards "Culture by all" as an significant contribution to the establishment of a democratic cultural policy. It is important above all to promote the active participation of as wide a spectrum of the population as possible in the cultural life of the city. Projects involving measures of this sort receive particular support (further development of the Cloud of Sound concept, artistic enhancement of city spaces etc.) and this element is taken into consideration in the city's own cultural projects (see also the chapter "Promoting culture and the arts").


The stronger integration of Ars Electronica into the "Open Spaces" concept, and the further development of the "Cloud of Sound" is another part of this expansion of the Art and New Media platform.”xxiv

One aspect that effects the alternative scene in particular is that part of the funding which Ars Electronica receives has to be re-distributed by Ars Electronica to the alternative scene. This is mainly the case for festival productions. It is meant to involve local artists and groups into the international festival and by that to give them a platform far bigger than what they would usually have. But as project  proposals first have to be acknowledged and evaluated for funding by Ars Electronica, the model is mainly seen as hegemonic and thus not appreciated. For that, the relationship between Ars Electronica as the Big Brother and the local alternative art scene is not always without friction.

Local politics stylize Linz as a symbol of the future-oriented community par excellence, that now is prosperous and productive in both culture and economy. They still perceive culture as something that can be produced in an industrial manner rather than something that grows. Through the tendency of thinking that only the new is good, of permanent progress almost became an obsession and sometimes it seems that too much emphasis is attributed to this aspect.
As in many other Austrian museums and as a result of public funding for museums, the city's political representatives are also board members of Ars Electronica and still guard its overall development.

Ars Electronica in the Public View

Using so many different platforms, being around for such a long time, using so many institutions' spaces and temporarily taking over their audiences and employees, using TV and radio as another public space, it is hardly possible not to participate in Ars Electronica. While many people might not regard all the projects as art, there definitely is a high recognition and pride of Linz's international top-position in Media Arts.
In a poll conducted by the opinion research center Spectra in May/June 2008xxv, when asked what they spontaneously associate with Linz, people mentioned Brucknerhaus in the first place, followed by Ars Electronica in second and the Cloud of Sound in third placexxvi. They also said that compared with other cities in Austria, they see Linz as a) an industrial city, b) the city in Austria they associate most with technology and that c) stands for digital artxxvii. By the people of Linz, the city is perceived as modern and dynamic with an attractive alternative cultural offerxxviii. This last aspect is especially because of the digital arts - Ars Electronica still is considered to be alternative culture. The polls show that the self perception of the people in Linz is highly associated with Ars Electronica and with culture as well as with industry. Over the course of the years, the top-down implemented cultural identity has become a natural identity and so the program that was started 30 years ago can be regarded as very successful.

Ars Electronica has certainly had a deep impact on the city's cultural development, but somehow still remains a friendly alien within the city. The concepts of Avant-Garde and futurism are not meaningful for the working class mentality of Linz, but have come to live in peaceful coexistence. In the years since Ars  started,  a very active and attractive alternative Media Art and culture scene has grown; with the Interface Cultures program, the offers of the local art university have expanded into Media Arts as well.
Where elsewhere you may hear art historians musing whether Media Art ever existed, in Linz it is much more regarded as an environment than a tool. Over the course of 30 years it has become omnipresent. “Culture for all” remains on to be the motto for politicians and is manifested in a range of  free (digital, mainstream) art festivals and activities in the Open Source sector. Linz, despite being a small city, has a high density of digital art in many different facets. It must be acknowledged that the fact that Ars Electronica and therefore digital arts have been accepted as a naturally developed culture in Linz, although it was a top-down implementation. Part of this success is the “culture for all”-approach. On the other hand: The event-like character of so many Ars projects might in part also be due to this and sometimes results in productions of doubtful artistic relevance.
Ars Electronica definitely and most influentially changed the cultural identity of Linz and put a  unique trademark on it, that is both internationally and locally recognized.

Nina Wenhart is a media art historian, instructor for the „Prehystories of New Media“ class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an independent artist/researcher. She is a PhD candidate at the Interface Cultures Lab at the Art University Linz, Austria and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems. For many years, she was the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the historical material. She was four years old, when Ars Electronica started and has stayed connected with it ever since.