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FleshFactor Opening Statement

A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"


Almost two decades of the digital revolution have been highlighted,
analysed and critically assessed by Ars Electronica in the context of a
"Festival for Art, Technology and Society".  This has been the period of
our century in which the transition from the industrialised to the
information-based society has assumed its hitherto most salient
characteristics.  Frequently, groundbreaking concepts and whole new
branches of knowledge have been the subject of examination. Enormous
strides have been made in order to encompass new topics and establish new
modes of perception.  And there appears to be no limitations on
technological developments to come.  Yet the concomitant social changes
have already assumed such rates of acceleration and compression that we
are now fascinated, no longer by the possibilities of future utopias, but
rather by that which has already come to pass.  The future seems to have
reversed directions and is collapsing upon us. 

"FleshFactor - Informationsmaschine Mensch", the title of Ars Electronica
97, makes it clear that this year's theme is the Mensch, the human being. 
In light of the latest findings, developments and achievements in the
fields of genetic engineering, "neuro-science" and networked intelligence,
the conceptual complex now under investigation will include the status of
the individual in networked artificial systems, the human body as the
ultimate original, and the strategies for orientation and interrelation of
the diametric opposites, man and machine, in the reciprocal, necessary
processes of adaptation and assimilation.  To the extent that the tissues
of our bodies and our minds are saturated by the elements of a networked
artificially intelligent environment, this second 'natural' environment
has become a reality to which we relate so intimately and intensively that
a clear distinction between subject and object ceases to be possible. 

The classic Western model of the individual as an autonomous,
inward-looking entity is relinquished in favour of a hybridized, networked
subjectivity, within which we are forced to perceive ourselves as dynamic
nodes in a social network of communication.  At this point the
qualifications of our co-communicators in terms of their natural or
technological/artificial characteristics recede in significance. 
Increasingly we find ourselves having to contend with new methodologies
for interfacing with the physical/real and virtual/digital aggregate
states of our environment, including the sensuous portrayal of information
as a strategy for an "expressiveness of the subject" in telematic art.  In
a society defined by the psycho-sociology of surveillance, our media are a
second skin at the periphery of the body, a body whose sentient pores are
formed by surveillance cameras, image recognition systems, 'eye in the
sky' satellites, personal data record systems, networked databases and
intelligent agents. 

And while this festival was in preparation, what should happen but a sheep
named Dolly in Scotland takes a biological quantum leap, leaving the
adventures of freely-selectable identities and constructed personalities
of the Internet communities in its shadow, by portending "body sampling" 
and biogenetic avatars in the place of mere networked VR-avatars.
Meanwhile an open-minded reflection on techno-cultural developments is
increasingly obstructed by massive ideological barriers which seem
impregnable by means of a rational examination of the thematic ground. 
It may be that these ideological barriers, fortified with ethical and
moral concerns, can only be breached by the force of a polarized and
confrontational debate--a debate, moreover, taking place between artists
and scientists, professionals coming from different points of view. 

The theoretical and artistic events and projects of Ars Electronica 97
will provide a platform for this debate.  In symposia, performances,
installations, media and networked projects, the Festival will also seek
to substantiate the decisive role of the arts as a formative factor of the
digital information society.

Gerfried Stocker


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