Urgent Exercises in Perception
Memo Akten (TR/GB), Réka Bucsi (HU), Sabine Hirtes (DE), Anezka Sebek (ID/US), Shuzo Shiota (JP)
The final selection of entries this year were even more “expanded” than ever due to new production, viewing, and experience technologies. Hyper-fast graphics processing cards and cheaper computation speeds, ease of access to 2D, 3D software, gaming, and production platforms gave animation and visual effects artists innovation opportunities. We singled out projects that merited accolades because they were either made with original, creative processes or with entirely new technologies. We also spent one afternoon looking at the selections made for the virtual reality experience in HTC Vive and Oculus. Our finalists were recognized for breaking new ground that expanded the technical definition of animation and visual effects beyond the boundaries set by independent and commercial artists thus far.
Technically, we noticed a few well-represented areas: procedural animations made with algorithms or chemical or organic processes; narratives and character animations amplified by political themes; excellent collaboratively produced student films as well as independent solo artists. In the finalists, we included what may be some of the festival’s firsts: a narrative game with a philosophical voice-over (Everything). Among the awards of distinction and honorable mentions there were other technical firsts. An installation technique for projected vapor-based 3D animation (Light Barrier). A virtual reality HTC Vive documentary (Out of Exile). A Tumblr blog with diary-like mashup 3D characters (kyttenjanae). A 3D CG story with marionette rigs for character action (Ugly). A reconstruction of “Blade Runner” made entirely with a machine-trained artificial neural network. With the Honorable Mentions, we want to encourage a variety of forms from 2D and 3D to VR technologies that continue to widen the application of animation and visual effects.
Thematically, the projects mirrored our collective worries about the state of nature and the human condition, whether they questioned the way we live on our small and vulnerable planet (David O’Reilly), or the way we empathize with the queer experience of coming out (Nonny de la Peña). Speculative films addressed the invasive power of advertising to brand the smallest to the largest creatures on earth (Studio Smack) or the possibility of training and preparing for a forced existence away from the comforts of earth (Lucy McRae). Rounding out our finalists, were the disturbing and sometimes comical themes (Rune Spaans and Dave Cooper as well as Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner) of achieving extraordinary powers from parasitic life forms when faced with a much more terrifying life alternative.
Our selections all recognize and honor the maniacal dedication of each of the animators and visual effects artists for their contributions to an artform devoted to sequenced visual and aural collections of time and space.
Everything / David OReilly (IE)
The jury unanimously selected David O’Reilly’s Everything as this year’s Golden Nica winner. Everything works equally well as a film or as a game. It is a unique and innovative approach to animation that pushes the boundaries between linear, nonlinear, and interactive experience. The quality of O’Reilly’s animation rides a fine line between being crude and stiff and stunningly well-rendered and animated at the same time. The walk cycles of the animals are surprising as they flip head over tail, end-to-end, through 360-surround landscapes. Beyond being entertaining and having a strong poetic and philosophical theme, Everything also serves a highly educational purpose and includes an important political statement that encourages a much more expansive view of reality and lived experience. The experience is narrated by Alan Watts as he teaches us his philosophy of the hierarchical nature of reality, and guides us through the many worlds of Everything. The game allows the audience to be “everything,” inanimate or not, a shoe or an animal, a galaxy or an island, and beings at a molecular size. Recalling the animation classics 2Powers of Ten2 or Cosmic Zoom, we are allowed to study the universe at an earthly or galactic scale. Our egos dissolve and gain an entirely new perspective as we realize that we are, in fact, part of everything and everything is us. Whether we look at existence from a position of conflict or harmony, we are connected.
Award of Distinction
Out of Exile / Nonny de la Peña (US), Emblematic Group (US)
This year, we had quite a few submissions in VR, which is not surprising given the current VR Hype and its quick adoption by animators and visual effects artists. There were notable trends in these VR experiences. Some were more about storytelling; others were more abstract audio-visual explorations. At this stage of the development of this medium, these works were more like direct translations from a traditional rectangular screen to VR, and they often did not fully exploit the uniqueness of VR as a medium. For this reason, Nonny de la Peña’s Out of Exile stood out for us as an artist who strives to use VR for compelling reasons. Nonny has been making VR immersive journalism since 2012. Before acclaimed filmmakers were giving TED Talks about VR as an ‘empathy machine’ that was going to change the world, Nonny was already using custom VR hardware to make immersive documentaries. In fact, Oculus inventor Palmer Luckey was Nonny’s intern and provided an early version of his head-mounted displays for Nonny’s first VR Documentary, Hunger.
Out of Exile tackles a complicated social justice issue, like those in Nonny’s other work. In this case, it is the issue of queer, LGBTQ teens coming out to their families, being rejected, and becoming homeless. In the experience, a boy comes out and is painful rejected by his family. VR allows the visitor to be a witness to the scene as a character in the scene. Because it is an HTC Vive experience, the viewer can position themselves in the middle of the action. It is a visceral experience, and very powerful. Documentary testimonies from queer or LGBTQ teens and photogrammetry were used to construct the 3D characters. By giving this work the award of distinction, we are honoring the courage that it takes to make this work and to inspire future VR and computational journalism. We especially honor Nonny de la Peña / Emblematic Group for pioneering the social justice potential of VR.
Light Barrier 3rd Edition / Mimi Son (KR), Elliot Woods (UK) / Kimchi and Chips
The jury would like to encourage more artistic inventions like Light Barrier where the artists designed and built a custom structure for projecting images in 3D space and also created the 3D projection software and animations. An assembly of projection rays creates 3D volumetric animation when they hit an array of parabolic mirrors. Hundreds of light rays in water vapor intersect and float in space volumetrically adding a physical presence to the images. With this prize, the jury would like to encourage others to further technologies and ways we create and experience animation.
Best of Luck with the Wall / Josh Begley (US) / Field of Vision
Relentlessly, we travel through cities, settlements, farmlands, following rivers, mountain ranges, expanses of open land, snaking, undulating. Stitched together algorithmically the animation is accompanied by a music track that seems like the haunting droning of Spanish guitar strings and clanking bells (by Jace Clayson and Andy Moor). We see pixels dance in blocks building and immediately tearing apart the 200,000 downloaded Google images of the Mexican border, and we recognize the landforms at fleeting times. The political challenge to the US president is understated while it commands the realization of the absurdity of a wall between two countries.
Blade Runner – Autoencoded / Terence Broad (GB)
Machines are human tools. Terence Broad experiments with the machine’s computational ability to be trained to reconstruct and regenerate the visual content of individual frames of classic films like Blade Runner by processing the content through a deep neural network. The jury felt that this kind of auto-encoding and processing of a film like Blade Runner works on two levels. First, the classic sci-fi movie, based on a sci-fi novel, is a narrative about discerning human beings and androids. Second, the use of auto-encoding of Blade Runner is the beginning of a compelling questioning of human control over machine-intelligent mathematical analyses of ways of seeing and processing sequenced imagery.
Branded Dreams / Studio Smack (NL)
Ads are screened and displayed every day and everywhere. Be it in the real world or the virtual one, it is nearly impossible to defy their influence. The only place where they cannot be placed systematically yet, is in our dreams. Studio Smack’s nightmare depiction in their technically brilliant and visually compelling 3D animation applies the iconic Coca-Cola brand to even the most delicate and fragile wings of a butterfly to illustrate this future horror of the imagination in a glorious, state-of-the-art, highly aesthetic and slick advertisement.
Double King / Felix Colgrave (AU)
A one-man tour-de-force independent 2D hand-drawn animation where we travel through the many incarnations of cruel power-grabbing pursuits. Ironic and comical at times, this is a version of a world that rewards greed and obsession. Using both character animation and computational replication for hallucinogenic backgrounds, the story carries us through chapter upon chapter of ludicrous tantrums that thankfully jettison the main evil character into an endless freefall ending.
find my way home (kyttenjanae’s tumblr) / Kytten Janae (US)
The prolific output of a Tumblr blog of daily animations emphasizes the uncanny valley of characters with oversized eyes and plastic, perfectly-proportioned, doll-like bodies. The blog demonstrates the relative ease with which fantasy can be explored almost as quickly as an “emotional and universal truth” diary entry could be created with a pen in a not-so-distant past. The jury felt that these experimentations and explorations were worthy of encouragement.
Nighthawk (Nočna ptica) / Špela Čadež (SI)
Every frame in Nighthawk is a dark and mysterious painting that allows us inside the dream/nightmare mind of a badger drunk on ripe fruit, and his wild ride. The badger takes on the human sensibilities of the people who rescue him from the middle of the road. Čadež uses the winding road as a canvas to take off into fuzzy drunken abstractions of road signs and oncoming headlights that culminate in the reality of the badger’s roadside resting place. While the rest of the Honorable Mentions selections were pushing the envelope on technologies, this character animation brilliantly reflects the love and time it takes to create life from frame-by-frame paintings. The soundtrack of the narrative in the badger’s mind is comical and as sad and poignant as the stories drunk people tell themselves while endangering their own and others’ lives.
Order From Chaos / Maxime Causeret (FR)
Inspired by Max Cooper’s music and soundtrack, the jury felt that this procedural animation was narratively strong. Cellular processes unfold from circular raindrops and become more and more intertwined and complex until they culminate in a simple flower. The animators made the choice to work with colored 2D line animation to describe 3D forms against a stark black background. The constant flow of one life form, absorbing, and transforming into the next even more complicated form, made for a mesmerizing and visually tantalizing treat. A meditation on life’s endlessly powerful fractal forces.
Scavengers / Joseph Bennett (US), Charles Huettner (US)
As Scavengers unfolds, we watch a human couple, stranded on a planet somewhere in a faraway earthlike environment. Their lives focus entirely on a series of scientific exploratory sequences where they mine the strengths of different creatures to be able to connect virtually to life on their home planet, Earth. We recognize the technical achievement of Bennett and Heuttner as independent animators and their persistence to complete a hand-animated film peppered with combinations of 2D and 3D elements. They tell a sci-fi tale that, like McRae’s Institute of Isolation, speculates about humankind’s abilities to overcome the lack of concrete ties to the mother planet. Complex chemistry and parasitic combinations allow the stranded travelers to come home, even if it is only in virtual reality.
The absence of Eddy Table / Rune Spaans (NO)
David Cooper’s comic book character, Eddy Table, lands with a loud thwack from some other reality in a computer-generated forest of lush, sexually evocative, gorgeously colorful, shiny plant life. Rune Spaans’ deft handling of lighting and texturing CG surfaces as well as comically and excellently animated characters allows viewers to take this disturbingly funny Freudian dream journey loaded with double meanings and a variety of take-aways. A music score and brilliantly constructed soundtrack illustrates this creepy tale of voracious, horrific, and parasitic love. As in Scavengers, the characters choose to adopt the physical strengths of their captors to overcome their own misfortune as they give their brains and lives to a monstrous power.
The Institute of Isolation / Lucy McRae (GB)
In the mauve colored world of a female astronaut in training, in some speculative near future, Lucy McRae examines the repetitive rigor of the loneliness of preparation for long-term space travel. McRae challenges us to think what our bodies and our minds will need to survive in artificially created, sterile environments. In large and expansive settings there is nothing but one human being training for a reality that may become necessary should we need to abandon the comforts of earth. The almost colorless production design of the industrial exercise equipment puts the actor through a series of rodent-like tests that demonstrates how unprepared we are for the challenges of extraterrestrial life.
Ugly / Nikita Diakur (RU)
The world is nasty, dank, and cruel in this compelling story about kindness, respect, and coexistence. Some semblance of hope to restore an unstable world is illustrated by a Native American hero and visualized by real-time simulation and 3D computer graphics puppeteering in a pink and blue world of trash, fires, and miserable animals and human beings. The new look and animation technique uses both traditional cinematic language and the angular world of polygons that often break apart and fly off to transition from one terrifying scene to another. A contrast between a rich yet limited color scheme of one world and a lush and jungle-themed dreamworld, transport the viewer to a better world. Hope appears with the fleeting, momentary friendship of two unequal friends, a massive Native American chief and an abused, half-dead cat. Ugly got the jury’s honorary mention because the jagged low-polygon style of the animation is perfectly coordinated with the painful dreams and demise of the hero. The sympathetic Native American character shows his love for a starving stray cat that has been tortured by other feral animals and human beings. A spectacle of the Cartesian world ripping apart to the vector lines of the skybox culminates in a dance mandala of interconnected circles to unite all the characters and themes of the film.
Zero Days VR / Yasmin Elayat (US), James George (US), Alexander Porter (US), Mei-Ling Wong (NZ), Elie Zananiri (CA), Scatter (US)
Dealing with the present dangers of cyberwar, a genie that is not going to be put back in its box, this new form of documentary VR film tells the story of the 2010 Stuxnet computer worm and the power of computer viruses in our industrial and defense control systems. Told from the perspective of Stuxnet, we travel via immersive VR imagery to see the invisible world in which computer viruses reproduce and flourish. The documentary uses procedural animations, motion graphics, and documentary live-action footage to illustrate this narrative, which is a haunting, scary, and at the same time mesmerizing VR experience that allows us to see how easily our interconnected world of algorithms and electronic infrastructure can be invaded and destroyed. We take a journey through the data that is represented by massive graphically abstract structures all around us, dwarfing us and making us feel powerless. The effective use of VR is truly gripping and educational at the same time.
Dark Matters: Above and Beyond
Ghalia Elsrakbi (SY/NL), Shiho Fukuhara (JP), Jens Hauser (DE/FR), Jurij Krpan (SI), Victoria Vesna (US)
In this 10th anniversary year of the Hybrid Art category, with an absolute record of 1063 entries since its inception, this jubilee appears to be largely overshadowed by a recurrent pessimism, dystopia, and insecurity vis-à-vis the current affairs of the world, migration and climate crisis, populism and emergence of proto-fascist agendas, the eroding trust in the human species at large: Techno-optimism has obviously become a rare commodity, and hybridity seems to emerge less as vector of celebratory fusions than as indicators of current ‘purebreds’, and clear ontologies, being judged obsolete. The anthropocene, climate change, dramatic pollution, radioactive landscapes, drones less in service of entertainment or industry than of war, omnipresence of surveillance intruding on privacy, civil and political violence, fallbacks in gender politics, and post-industrial labor competition dominate the scope of submissions this year. Despite the presence of many machine learning or neuro-engineering projects, and even in the light of increasing art & science relationships, the 2017 Hybrid Art competition mood is evidently dark, and the awarded works critically investigate the very materiality of these dark matters. As a result, post-anthropocentrism and trans-species relationships, skepticism towards autonomous machines, cynical speculative design projects, and suggested solutions to remediate environmental damage seem to prevail. At the same time, this pessimism also appears to be localized, and the jury wonders whether these signs have to be interpreted as an ideological decline and end of missionary messages brought about by the post-modern, not only Western societies. This year’s Ars Electronica competition reveals clearly localized blind spots in the scope of its submissions: South America, Africa and the Middle East are largely absent. It is the hope of this jury that recognition of this issue requires an active effort of this community, as inclusion of these under-represented artists around the globe may in fact bring some light and hope to the dark matters.
K-9_topology / Maja Smrekar (SI)
The artwork K-9_topology at first sight may engender feelings of shock and possibly even dismissal – the complexity and explicitness of this project is difficult to explain without dangerous simplifications. When considering the awarded artwork, the jury understood that it is important to follow the entire process, as this is an extensive artistic investigation developed through three years in four consecutive projects.
In the first project named ECCE CANIS, the artist raised our awareness of the process of human / dog co-evolution and their olfactory communication. It is the serotonin receptor in the brain of humans and dogs that was mutually developed sometime like 12,000 years ago when both had to change their diets. That fact, discovered by evolution biologists, became the starting point for us to immerse ourselves in the complicated relations with the first domesticated animal.
The next, second stage of the artistic investigation of human / dog co-habitation was studied as the synergy of interspecies collaboration with wolves at JACANA Wildlife Studios residency in France where the performance I HUNT NATURE, AND CULTURE HUNTS ME, was executed and juxtaposed with the animal-related works of Joseph Beuys and Oleg Kulik. Symbolically, the artist offered herself and was adopted by wolves.
The third part, titled HYBRID FAMILY, stemmed from the theory of becoming-animal by rethinking the social and ideological instrumentalization of motherhood through the heavily ideologized status of breastfeeding. By being pregnant with meaning, and thus becoming m-Other, she was further drawn to explore her decolonialized / possible reproductive freedom in a dangerously troubled multispecies world.
In the final ARTE_mis project, the immersive installation in the gallery served as a wrap up of all previous projects. The artist worked in a scientific laboratory to combine the cell materials of two sociologically subordinated carnivores and thus bring them back into an equal cohabitation relationship by fusing her molecular self with the dog. Since the concept of IVF treatment where the artist donated her reproductive cells paraphrases the institution of a family as the dispositive of all other forms of anthropocentric oppression, the ARTE_mis project is understood as a reference to think beyond humanistic limitations in order to survive in the future. The gallery setup was a hallucinatory merging of all four projects saturated with the personal mythology of the artist’s dogs-related childhood, asking us to profoundly rethink our anthropocentric attitude toward other living species. On the other hand, she is pointing us toward the dystopic biotechnologically augmented interspecies future. What is making this artwork so special is the total commitment of the artist going through challenging encounters with wolves, exposing her body to hormone roller-coasters of false pregnancy (Pseudocyesis) and organizing the lab infrastructure to execute the complicated biotech protocol in order to create a poetic masterpiece evoking the challenges of posthumanistic dilemma. K-9_topology is a true hybrid artwork with a profound bio-political message that is certain to bring a lot of discussion to the audience from both the art and science sides.
Award of Distinction
A Study into 21st Century Drone Acoustics / Gonçalo Freiria Cardoso (PT), Ruben Pater (NL)
In A Study into 21st-Century Drone Acoustics, artist Ruben Patter and composer Gonçalo F. Cardoso investigate the soundscapes generated by military drone engines and how they become a form of sonic violence. It is a known fact that the military industry anticipated quite early the technological growth trajectory of unmanned aerial vehicles and quickly employed these for surveillance and military attacks. In their project, the artists highlight the dark side of this technology and the psychological effects of the engine sounds of the drones on inhabitants in areas of conflict, where any kind of unmanned aerial vehicle is prohibited for personal use and only recognizable through the buzzing noise it reproduces during military attacks.
The project consists of a collection of seventeen original sound recordings of drones and a composed sound piece by Gonçalo F. Cardoso. The record is combined with a drone survival guide that demonstrates the silhouettes of twenty-seven military drones, all to scale, and lists the countries that use them. The drone survival guide follows the form of a contemporary bird-watching guide, keeping to the military tradition of naming their killing vehicles after birds and flying insects such as the hornet, killer bee, scan eagle and heron. Aside from being informative, the guide functions as an instrument for resistance, with lists of countermeasures to avoid detection by a drone’s sensors. The guide is printed on a reflective space blanket, transforming it into a protection shield that blinds the drone’s camera and rendering its holder invisible. The Jury recognized and appreciated the project’s critical stand and goal to spread awareness and contribute to the debate in connection to future technologies and their relation to warfare.
The America Project / Paul Vanouse (US)
Anticipating the xenophobic, misogynic and anti-intellectual Trump era, artist Paul Vanouse has literally turned the US American melting pot into a subversive and slippery spit bowl: His America Project evokes the societal project about to fail. This performative biotechnological art installation produces a collective “genetic portrait”, instead of individual and racially different so-called “DNA fingerprints” as allegedly inalterable ID cards that “mother nature” is supposed to having written into our bodies: Vanouse produces the very icon of the melting pot, the US Flag, as the result of a live scientific experiment in which DNA fragments are employed to slowly generate figurative patterns on a subversive gel electrophoresis apparatus the artist has developed. In times of the new racial profiling carried out by the new US administration – which the artist has anticipated – Vanouse has designed a human-scale decanter to collect people’s saliva, and to turn its some what absurd genetic analysis into a “manifesto of Radical Sameness.” Within the spirit of tactical citizen science and informed amateur research, Vanouse’s bio-informatics act in reverse – rather than producing abstract DNA profiles, he reveals the collective idea as a vanishing phantom image with still recognizable, but voluntarily blurred contours. The jury has especially appreciated the artist’s success in subtly demonstrating how “objective truth” in appropriated scientific protocols is always embedded in prevailing value-systems, and that claims of objectivity can be easily subjected to manipulate data, reinforce existing hierarchies, and validate various forms of discrimination.
Autoradiograph / Masamichi Kagaya (JP)
For a while the fear and real danger of nuclear weapons and radiation fallout has been dormant. But with the relatively recent natural and human disaster at Fukushima (2011), this issue has once again come back to the forefront. Visual records of radioactive contamination are very limited, which keeps it out of the minds of those who may be directly affected. We know this from the bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945) as well as the nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). The artist worked closely with Professor emeritus Satoshi Mori at Tokyo University to use autoradiography in order to make radioactive contamination visible. The jury recognizes the importance of this ongoing art project that also has the potential to influence public understanding of nuclear fallout as well as stand as an example of the importance of artists collaborating with scientists for the greater good.
Canine TANATOcommerce or the political-ethical dilemma of merchandise / The Bio-unlawfulness of Being: Stray dogs. / Berenice Olmedo Peña (MX)
The artist’s efforts to underline the dichotomy between human appreciation of their pet dogs on the one side and the lack of any respect to roadkill dogs, goes far beyond simple political correctness. By collecting killed dog corpses on the streets and highways and skinning them in a smelly tanning process, she places herself in a position of an ethical exemption from where she is entitled to critically question breeding and the commerce of pets which are considered nowadays as mere items for entertainment. The jury was especially impressed with Olmedo Peña’s dedication to perform all visceral and dirty, poisonous work herself and to explicitly expose herself at the animal market side by side with those who she is criticizing – the vendors and buyers.
cellF / Guy Ben-Ary (AU), Bakkum Douglas (US), Mike Edel (AU), Andrew Fitch (AU), Stuart Hodgetts (AU), Darren Moore (AU), Nathan Thompson (AU)
cellF is a neural synthesizer composed by biological neural networks that grow in a Petri dish and by the analogue modular synthesizer. There is an incredibly sophisticated superposition of the two systems that are interconnected and that require completely different technological approaches. The living part derives from the artist fibroblast cells taken from his arm that were re-programed into brain cells, which activity can be sonified by the analogue synthesizer. The world of analogue synthesizers is cultural movement that can be understood as some kind of media archeology, but combined with the cutting edge biotechnological techniques it can get completely new meanings. Since the wetware and the hardware are meticulously intertwined into a body of an instrument, the instrument can perform as a bionic self, which becomes particularly interesting when cellF is performing with an invited human musician. The jury was particularly intrigued with the engineering and the poetry of the overlapping living systems.
Dust Blooms: a research narrative in artistic ecology / Alexandra R. Toland (US)
Emulating scientific research methodology with an artistic lens is what Toland does elegantly. She proposes that we look more deeply, micro and macro into the urban ecology that most of us don’t even notice on a daily basis. The dust of seven spontaneous (i.e. wild, not planted) urban roadside plants were collected from flowers growing at the edges of heavily trafficked streets (>50,000 vehicles per day) in Berlin and analyzed using light microscopy to determine the type and amount of captured dust particles. The presentation of these specimens is at once a scientific factual presentation and a poetic statement of the transitory and delicate nature of life.
Glaciator / Joaquín Fargas (AR)
In the last 50 years the ice mass in Antarctica has diminished at an alarming rate and many artists are doing work to raise awareness of this problem. The jury was impressed with the artist’s approach to creating the Glaciator installation placed in Antarctica as it takes it a step further to consider how we could reverse this disturbing and dangerous trend. The piece is composed of solar robots that help to compact and crystallize the snow, which turns into ice and then adheres to the glacier mass. The mission of these robots is to help and accelerate the ice formation process on glaciers, allowing them to grow with the addition of snow, regaining the mass they lost as a result of the thaw.
Haem / Cecilia Jonsson (SE)
To fully appreciate the Haem installation one needs to become familiarized with the elaborate process involved in producing the compass needle made out of metallic iron. The complexity of the involved process of creation is reflected in the equally layered metaphorical and poetic meanings that the artist intended. The jury recognized the importance of the accompanying video that is a testament to the deep research into the meaning and interconnectedness of life that involved arts, sciences, and metallurgy all working together. Iron becomes the central element that connects and guides physically the oxygen from mother to fetus and symbolically it gives clues to the understanding of this intricate work. Haem is a work that invites us to approach it as a meditation on the source of life that we so often take for granted.
imaginary rhetoric / Soichiro Mihara (JP)
imaginary rhetoric is the fourth and final part of the blank project series which the artist started developing in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Inspired by his visits to Fukushima and several other nuclear disaster sites, including Chernobyl, these works are at once delicate and disturbing – searching for hidden meaningbeyond human communication, beyond the boundaries of the systems that drive modern society. In Japan, birds symbolize the entrance to another world, just like an arch of branches traditionally forms the boundary between profane human space and the sacred worldat the entrance of shrines there is a gate, or “torii”, which literally means “there is a bird” in Japanese. Mihara invites us to enter into this other world that goes beyond the rational and beyond perception and reason. The jury felt it was important to recognize this dedicated work that uses technology to bring us back to our humanity and consider our unconscious actions and the interconnected relationship to all.
Luminiferous Drift / Evelina Domnitch (BY), Dmitry Gelfand (US)
Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand’s live installation Luminiferous Drift uses macroscopic so-called protocells – models of cells formed by an innate, complex chemistry – to physically simulate movements of phytoplankton in a biosphere as if it was seen from space. The jury acknowledges both the poetic and epistemological finesse of this subtle and dazzling spectacle to be experienced in an intimate space of total darkness: On the one hand, such protocells are conceived in the context of today’s synthetic biology as chassis so to engineer living systems from scratch. However, these man-made creations are contrasted with the large-scale fragility of our ecosystem where phytoplankton are key components of our planetary feedback system, revealing the life-supporting climate which they have photosynthesized, thus physically staging an interplay of human and non-human forces in a precarious equilibrium. Luminiferous Drift draws the viewer’s attention to the problematic up- and down-scaling of technical acts in relation to its planetary consequences.
M2 Hospital / Forensic Architecture (GB)
Urban environments are increasingly becoming the battlefields of many contemporary conflicts, and thus an enormous database that stores information about violations undertaken within these conflict zones is growing. Forensic Architecture is a research agency that investigates and enables new insights into the context and conduct of urban conflicts. Their strategy involves reconstructing narratives that unfold in space and time and creating navigable 3D models and interactive cartographies of environments undergoing conflict. The research they employ is crucial for International humanitarian law, human rights violations analysis, and the pursuit of accountability. Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Hospital in Aleppo has been a target of more than 14 bombings. The FA team created a 3D model of the hospital functioning as a medium to navigate a database of images and videos of the incident obtained through the internet, demonstrating the damage to the building. By composing and cross-referencing photographs and recorded material, the team was able to reconstruct the architecture of the building, finding a tangible link between footage, verifying their place and reconstructing the relation to each other. In awarding the project an Honorary Mention, the jury acknowledges the project’s importance and the urgency of such collaborative work and research to generate an essential debate about urbanization and mediatization of war by evolving the role of the artistic and technological instruments in supporting and empowering evidentiary practices.
Microbial Design Studio: 30-day Simit Diet / Karen Hogan (US), Mike Hogan (US), Orkan Telhan (US)
Orkan Telhan’s artistic practice illustrates the current trend to transfer the open source spirit from hardware and software culture to wetware, moving from the production of forms to the very conception of systems, media, and devices. Biorealize Microbial Design Studio is an automated biolab to design, culture, and test genetically modified organisms. It incorporates a wetlab into a single inexpensive hardware, which transforms, incubates, and purifies microorganisms so that they can create novel proteins encoded by custom DNA designs. But besides serving as a fabrication tool, Biorealize provides a critical framework to explore self-evolving and self-designing living systems, and lets us speculate about the future of food and the evolution of taste. Telhan may cynically engineer bacteria capable to reproduce smells and tastes from threatened food supplies; here, the artist proposes a special diet of traditional Turkish simit flavors, produced with transgenic organisms capable of producing vitamins, flavors, and smells.
Open Source Estrogen / Mary Maggic (US), Byron Rich (US)
Using the kitchen as the space for addressing serious issues regarding women’s rights takes us back to the 50s and the promise of liberation by offering instruments to help the work. Open Source Estrogen is at once humorous and serious in the disturbing questions raised – who is producing hormones, whose bodies are affected, and how environmental hormones exist already as a state of toxicity? Maggic and Rich engage the audience directly with a public dialogue through DIY/DIWO (do-it-yourself/do-it-with-others) biohacking and artistic intervention. The jury felt that this project is important particularly at this historical juncture – when many nations seem to be going backwards in relation to gender issues.
Sensorial Skin for an Intelligent Guerilla Beehive / AnneMarie Maes (BE)
The disappearance of bees has alarmed many who are aware of environmental issues around the use of pesticides. It amplifies the complex and intricate network of nature and it is a sign of a deep unbalance. AnneMarie Maes proposes a solution by prototyping a natural sensing device augmented with living technology. This 3D printed, support basket in flexible latex lace is a testament to how an artist can contribute with an idea that involves innovative experimentation with different materials in order to address issues of sustainability and bio diversity.
Dare!: Curiosity and Technology as Gateways to Hearing the Inaudible
Myriam Bleau (CA), Ludger Brümmer (DE), Emre Erkal (TR), Rikke Frisk (DK), Antye Greie-Ripatti (DE)
The boundaries of what constitutes ‘Digital Musics and Sound Art’ are constantly being renegotiated under the influence of a progressive hybridization, as well as conceptual, political and technological trends. Navigating between the slick and the raw, the old-school and the new gadget, the radical and the sensationalist, our jury tried to favor works that reflected those ongoing shifts and questioned genre definitions by reinventing their own medium. Among the numerous submissions, we did witness an increasing tendency to venture into uncharted territory and thus tried to acknowledge this distanciation from well-established discourse.
Departing from a purely sonic perspective, most selected works rather focused on the human aspect of the interaction with technology and how the cultural meaning of sound gets altered in different contexts. We are aware that this often results in fractured experiences of time, without composed duration, and thus we are particularly interested to see how artists will re-imagine time-based sound experiences capable of fostering innovation in the future years. The winning projects exemplify a commitment to take the focus away from dominating cultures, to salute process rather than contained objects and to encourage practices that allow the inaudible to be heard through creative use of technology.
Not Your World Music: Noise In South East Asia / Cedrik Fermont (CD/BE/DE), Dimitri della Faille (BE/CA)
The Golden Nica 2017 is awarded to an outstanding book and CD compilation project that represents the complete ethics of the work of Congo-born Cedrik Fermont (aka C-drík) and his platform Syrphe and Canadian -Belgian noise artist Dimitri della Faille. Both artists and curators have travelled the planet in search for justice and decolonization in the realm of sound. In their own words: “An attempt at an anti-sexist and anti-colonial definition. A book about art, politics, identity, gender and global capitalism”. The noise compilation published by Cedrik’s label Syrphe is an attempt to cover a varied range of noise and experimental music from South East Asia with exclusive tracks from Cheryl Ong & Vivian Wang (Singapore); Menstrual Synthdrone (Indonesia); Sodadosa (Indonesia); Nguyễn Hong Giang (Vietnam); Dharma (Singapore); Sound Awakener (Vietnam); Bergegas Mati (Indonesia); GAMNAD737 (Thailand); Goh Lee Kwang (Malaysia); Yandsen (Malaysia); Teresa Barrozo (The Philippines); Musica Htet (Myanmar).
Award of Distinction
Gamelan Wizard / Lucas Abela (AU), Wukir Suryadi (ID) und Rully Shabara (ID)
Gamelan Wizard proposes an unlikely confrontation between tradition and popular culture resulting in a skillful piece of interactive design in the public space. By inviting people to collaborate in exploring the sounds of the gamelan through a distorted pinball interface, the installation proposes a playful comment on a long history of fascination/appropriation of the instrument by western culture. The functional ambiguity of the object, both game and musical relic, is held together by its beautifully crafted construction and the irresistible call to ‘play’ that emerges from its participative nature. We were also interested in the contribution of Indonesian band Senyawa to the project, and how they chose to recontextualize this major element of their musical heritage.
Corpus Nil / Marco Donnarumma (IT)
In Corpus Nil, composer and performer Marco Donnarumma explores the sonic possibilities of muscle contractions using a device that he has been developing himself for many years. The striking scenography of the performance deconstructs the body, inviting the audience to witness the birth of a sonically augmented cyborg creature. The work defies categorization: it reflects on the technological means of musical expression in a performative context, while presenting an inventive way of dealing with organic matter. The jury was also impressed by the coherence and depth of the artist’s practice; Corpus Nil stood out as an original extension of his former works, offering a more abstract and conceptual way of dealing with the physicality of the sounding body.
$1’s Worth / Young Eun Kim (KR)
The strength of 1$’s Worth lies in the subtle irony that permeates through its fresh, deconstructed form. Ultra-simplistic mathematical formulas are exposed as testimony of scientific methodological rigor, quantitative processes of evaluation are applied literally to complex systems of value assignment. Using the simplest technology (the most basic audio editing processes), the artist effectively questions the impact of corporative technologies on the way we evaluate music. Rather than an aesthetic experience, music is here treated as a quantified commodity to be measured, truncated, and spliced. Bordering on the absurd, the artist’s reflection seduces with its sober humor and elegance, while she exposes her process in a fragmented installation format.
A City Searches For A Microphone / Ludwig Berger (DE), Alexander Pospischil (DE)
A City Searches for a Microphone is an impressive project that produces immense complexity out of a simple principle. Employing nothing but the everyday sounds collected by a microphone, it draws the participants into a compelling interplay of long-term memory, cartographic interpolation, perceptual processes, physical labor, and public interaction. The participants find themselves actively engaged with the work, echoing Huizinga’s Homo Ludens: forcing us to reflect on the important role games play in our social and cultural sphere. The end result is a surprisingly creative use of the sonic environment. It is nothing less than the re-shaping and re-drawing of the urban map by simply participating: the urban landscape is expanded with the addition of a new layer. The work not only remains a vibrant sound installation, but crosses successfully into everyday practice in the spirit of artistic public intervention.
Acoustic Additive Synthesizer / Krzysztof Cybulski (PL)
Built in the tradition of a pipe organ, Acoustic Additive Synthesizer brings together musical instrument making, machine building, and interaction to create a consistent fully acoustic instrument and mechanical performer. The physics of air flow through the pipes generates a striking microtonal richness reflecting the fluid mechanics at work. Furthermore, the peculiar temporal response characteristics are also driven by the microprocessor control circuitry for every frequency band. In totality, it is a performing machine that “listens” and responds to its environment, producing an extremely organic sound palette with an idiosyncratic personality. The end result is a versatile performer that goes beyond technical and musical experimentation, achieving an overall organic integrity.
Almost there. / Todd Anderson-Kunert (AU)
Based on deep trust, using sonically controlled vibrators, the composer has been working with the intimate sounds of others. Over two years people have recorded their voices for him. Recordings made while masturbating with the vibrators musically controlled by the piece he wrote. The jury found it a very interesting sonic and compositional exploration not only into the notion of the erotic, but also into the role of the listener as a source of sound input – and you imagine this going on in a continuous feedback mechanism. It is an exploration of the individual responses to the piece, of emotion and temporality, and at the same time it creates something subtle and uniquely erotic itself. Almost there is released in the physical form of a flower with an attached USB stick, to resembles the notion that masturbation, like buying yourself flowers, is doing something nice for yourself.
Bug’s Beat / Yumi Sasaki (JP), Dorita Takido (JP)
The work Bug’s Beat exposes micro dimensions of sound enabling humans to perceive the world of insects. With this approach the installation opens up a new field of communication with small creatures like insects. Currently humans enter the nano sphere, design computer chips controlling dimensions of 9 nanometers. So it is a great approach to find ways to experience at least the world of living creatures. The jury was impressed by the idea to create a direct tactile contact to the small movements of the insects by using systems of microphones and actuators creating a unique experience.
Fractals / ZIÚR (DE)
Fractals is a partly disturbing composition, full of unexpected turns and sound elements. It is obvious that the artist ZIÚR has a strong artistic personality and an expressive interest. She is not focusing on sophistication and mastership in sound design. Instead she is searching for degrees of intensity by combining unusual sound elements with iconic melodic fragments while switching to radical gaps inside the formal development. While listening to the work you cannot rely on your expectations. This radical approach caused the jury to award an honorable mention to Fractals.
Lorenzo Senni ‘Persona’ / Lorenzo Senni (IT)
The Italian producer Lorenzo Senni has obsessively developed and envisioned a very unique language in dance music. Very few artists have been able to create a sound on their own by deconstructing the elements and principles of rave culture so brilliantly. Perhaps a Photek approach to the mainstream EDM / Trance genre. Senni builds hyper-animated structures and rhythms out of “cheesy” snippets of EDM/ trance music deploying a Roland JP8000 synthesizer. This builds a thrilling effect. It is musical and hooky in quite an extreme way but also through minimal endless repetition and collapsing themes it stays strangely more techno than EDM, Xenakisian academic and manages to stay unpredictable and unheard of. Senni’s work stood out amongst 680 submissions like a genius black sheep.
Rekion Voice / Katsuki Nogami (JP), Taiki Watai (JP)
The artist places the visitor in a cage-like setting with enslaved robots, trapped in cages. Their acoustic rattling, crackling sounds when not being able to perform the task they loyally keep trying to perform, gets to you. The master has taught them their little performances well. And now they are hidden away, trapped in a cage, but loyally they continue to perform. Picked up by a stethoscope and amplified with ultrasonic speakers the visitors hear their wage signals and crackling bones. Will they feel sympathy for the imperfect creatures? Will they start to communicate? Reflecting the human–technology interaction, it can also be seen as a comment on the discussion about whether humans or technology are the master. In a year with many neat machines, the jury fell for this rough and dirty and sensuous installation.
Somatic Echo / Juri Hwang (KR)
Korean artist Juri Hwang’s project Somatic Echo is an imaginative installation applying bone conduction. Hwang, a PhD student studying media arts and practice transforms the human body into an audio receiving entity. The cyber-medical minority-report-looking installation appeals to the auditory senses of the entire body. Sound is played through transducer speakers placed on various parts of the listener’s head, transmitting the sounds and its vibration directly to the entire body. The work is transformative and deals with sound and subjectivity and the perception of sound physicality of the body structure. It is an interesting idea to build an interface to experience sound in a different and unfamiliar way, challenging the sense of spatiality, distance, directions, and matter.
volnovod / Dmitry Morozov (RU)
One of these things that comes up when you are sitting in an airplane and your headphone earbuds twist and get caught up again and you are hugely into data analysis and visualization. This small phenomenon is being adapted and automatized. The jury liked the simplicity of a tangible wave that becomes the sound wave. Ever intertwining, volnovod is a hybrid machine that combines a kinetic sound sculpture and a unique controller. The jury also recognizes Dmitry Morozovs huge body of technological art work from robotics and sound instruments to modular synthesizers.
We Are Not Alone / Natasha Barrett (GB), Anthony Rowe (GB)
This work impressed the jury because of its unusual approach to derive spatial properties of music out of the luminosity of growing bacteria. Beside the sensual experience of the spatial appearance of the sounds, the object containing the bacteria creates a beautiful experience of the microcosm of living creatures. It was interesting to experience the context of different parameters through sound and to experience Barrett’s sophisticated spatialised music.
Wellenwald mit Bunker / David Ebner (DE)
Wellenwald mit Bunker is an investigation into the electromagnetic noise inherent in our environment, scaled down to a room. A man-made object (concrete shell) is set up in contraposition to an appropriated and rigged “natural” object (a tree branch) in mediation with electronics. A series of antennas placed on the body of the branch collect various noise artifacts from distinct technological communication devices. In return, a sonic world is generated with a multi-layered texture that reflects the cascaded array of noises we call our culture. The work presents a deep critique of electromagnetic presence in the eyes of a cyborg natural elementa constant reminder that the technological and cultural environment we generate is not in contradiction, but rather extends what is traditionally regarded as natural.