- Ars Electronica 2003: CODE—The Language of Our Time
Ars Electronica is a 24-year-old annual festival with exhibitions, conferences, award ceremonies, events, parties and concerts spread over different places in the city of Linz, Austria. This was the fifth time that I have been to Ars Electronica, and I am still improving my skill in being at the most interesting place at each point in time. The decision to travel to Linz on the Friday evening prior to the official opening was a good one. I thus had enough time to see the different exhibitions on Saturday, before the start of the conferences on Sunday.
The main symposium in the Brucknerhaus was devoted to the festival theme, "CODE—The Language of Our Time." In seven sessions—"The Meaning of Code," "The Art of Code," "Social Code," "Collective Creativity," "Tangible Code," "Software & Art I" and "Software & Art II"—theoreticians and artists contributed their views and knowledge. Among the 39 invited symposium speakers, there were only seven women; such a poor ratio is upsetting! I skipped some of the men's talks in the symposium to go downstairs and participate in the alternative platform "The Electrolobby Kitchen," with its spontaneous, dynamically changing program.
The first session on "The Meaning of Code" unveiled different understandings of the notion of code. Friedrich Kittler highlighted the historical background of the word "code," explaining that from the Roman Empire until the time of Napoleon it meant books of law. Later the words "to cipher" and "to decipher" were replaced with the technical notion of coding and decoding, which, thanks to Alan Turing, became the operational basis of computers. Cindy Cohn's talk "Seven Ways in Which Code Equals Law" further expanded what code could stand for. Erkki Huhtamo added the view from art, and Peter J. Bentley the view from computing. The first session made clear that CODE is a big theme and "the language of computers" might not be the main issue.
In the "Art of Code" session, artists Richard Kriesche, Roman Verostko and Casey Reas showed how code, genetic or generative, becomes an integral part of the artistic process as well as the product. Kriesche uses Datawerk: Mensch (Datawork: Men) and overlays different human codes to generate works that include sociopolitical aspects, whereas the work of both Verostko and Reas focuses on producing the generation of aesthetic qualities.
The "Social Code" session included aspects such as collective action, constructed languages, writerly computing and design noir. As expected, the Babylonian language confusion about and around the notion of code grew further. A divide between literate and illiterate computer coders seemed to open up after Florian Cramer's praise of the "writerly" command-line centric user interface versus the "readerly" GUI (graphical user interface). Fiona Raby's refreshing presentation was characterized by designs that provoke critical thinking about established codes, inventions and research discoveries including life, love and sex.
The "Collective Creativity" session had too much of a commercial touch for my taste, so I stayed in the electrolobby to listen to the young guys from the demo scene <www.scene.org>. It was a good choice in favor of a vibrant global community enthusiastically programming amazing computer animations—collective creativity at its best. Back in the "Collective Creativity" session upstairs, Marc Canter was enthusiastically speaking about blogging; it seems that there is another divide—bloggers and non-bloggers.
"Tangible Code" evidently had to start with a presentation by Hiroshi Ishii. Speaking at the pace of a machine gun, he went through the different aspects of code, coding and tangible code, which he presented as the fourth issue in the sequence of code = program (formal), code = interface (input/output), code = interaction (causality loop), code = ideation (abstract and tangible). He showed numerous projects from the tangible media group as examples for haptic coding and tangible coding. Oliver Fritz showed examples of digitally produced building elements. Joachim Sauter emphasized generativity. He presented the technically as well as visually amazing generative stage and costumes developed for the opera Der Jude von Malta...