Richard Barbeau on Sat, 18 Sep 1999 05:22:16 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Linux wins Prix Ars due to MICROSOFT INTERVENTION


For this first contribution to this list, I would like to share my
reflexions on the last Prix Ars Electronica (PAE) that partly comes from a
article published in September issue of Archée online magazine: 

"Les Prix Ars Electronica 1999: le choix des œuvres et la méthode"

But first, please forgive my aproximate english... 


In this text, I first underlined the fact that most of the selections of
the .net category of the PAE are always quite far from what we considered
as art or aesthetic concerns. Therefore, it's important to note that Linux
opereting system is just an example amongst numerous other sites honored
by PAE, this years and other years before. 

And before talking about the "border line issue", I tryed to figure out
what were the criteria that determines the selection of the sites. On that
subject we can find on AE site (Presse materials) this adaptable
description of the criteria : 

                    In recent years the Internet has become a site of
creativity and artistic work. The Prix Ars Electronica has recognized this
trend since 1995 and distinguishes the most interesting works in the area
of .net-culture. The most important criteria in the .net category include
not only the use of the latest technology, but also seek to identify new
forms of expression. 

Moreover, the jury version (Andreas Broeckman) of criteria can be found on
NY Times art@large Column: 

               The Prix Ars is not so much about art as it is about the
creative conjunction of technology and an creativity» (Matthew Mirapaul
«Linux Takes Prize - In an Art Competition», june, 1999 ). 

including Derrick de Kerckhove statement concerning the award accorded to
Linux, after it was said that "the '.net' category is not a prize for the
most beautiful or most interesting home page on the World Wide Web..." 

                    He said [de Kerckhove] the decision was intended to
send a message, especially to electronic artists, that "the real material
of the Web is the code." He said the selection also emphasized the
Internet's essential ability to establish online communities "with endless
creative possibilities.  Art left to its own devices can be a crashing

and jury member (Joichi Ito) of last and this year contest asserts here
that : 

                    «Even though it's called Ars Electronica, it's not
really an art competition.  We have this discussion every year because all
the artists come to the symposium and criticize us for not awarding art. 
The purpose of Ars Electronica is to look at innovations in technology. We
talk about art, but it [the award winner] doesn't have to be art.»
(Matthew Mirapaul «Judging the Net: The Insiders' Perspective» NY Times,
september 1998) 

I than noticed that there was a lot of confusion on what the Prix Ars is
all about : Per instance, category .net of PAE is not realy about art
(badly considered by the jury as purely decoratives pages) where sites
like Res Rocket ( ) and KEO (
) were honered. Linux obtained the golden Nica though it has at first
sight no much to do with art nor as web site... On the other and, an open
source program is "suggested" as being art : "It is also intended, de
Kerckhove said, to spark a discussion about whether a source code itself
can be an artwork". 

>From which one may ask : if PAE is not about art, why should Linux be a
work of art? 


But let's play the game (even if the contexte as dramaticaly changed since
this explosive press release (see below) from the jury, a statement that
shouldn'nt, by the way, blur or sidestep the debate): 

     Nervertheless :

     If {Linux is a work of art};
     Than {Unix, Mac OS and Windows98... are art as well};
     Where {Gutenberg, Tim Berners­Lee and Marc Andreesen are ($artist)
     ($creators) ($writer)};
     While {Raphaël, Bach and Proust are good programmers};
     End if

Thanks to AE (or any coporate interests) for raising this interesting,
complex issue. 

But let's put it in a simple way first : Linux IS JUST a computer program
and art IS ALSO JUST a tradition! 

That's said, declaring that a technical objet is art work, may denoted a
kind of "culturocentrism" where a pretending superior value is allowed to
some people's pratice who doesn't realy care! 

On the other and (the not so simple aspect), if Linus Torvalds is an
artist, than Beaudelaire is a programmer. 

Without irony, I do sincerely believed that this can be assert. It's just
a matter of level of complexity. Isn't the human's brain programed by
writing, like Derrick de Kerckhove (also a important media "theorist" ) is
demonstrating in his theorical works about alphabet? A "open source"
langage that is in fact codified in a bynary mode that correspond to
vowels and consons?  The code becomes effectively the real thing, if
Japenees, Arabians and Occidentals childrends are actualy and differently
programed. Also, metaphore (corresponding to variables in computer's
programs?) and critical aspects (collaborative and free works/products vs
commercial interest) can be present, in a certain level, in Linux open
source program. 

Consequently, the issue should remain open, while the meetting of
aesthetic and science is concern. But... I personally think that the
rendez-vous will not succeded, though programers, companies, distributors
and Microsoft probably just don't care about art tradition, values and
critical aspects (where the opposite is apparently untrue). 


If... the jury is progressive in their statements, they weren't in their
conception of art. In my article, I am saying that PAE is arbitrarily
playing with criteria and rules in order to promoted their vision from
which most of the "arty" sites submited to AE didn't deserved any
considerations. Linux, Map of the market ( ) or Ginga ( ), etc., were considered "creative",
when hundred of artist proposals WEREN'T! 

As it append, at least in 1998' contest, member of jury bypassed the works
submitted, and selected sites of there own considering the fact that they

              « were very disappointed in that the pieces aren't getting
better as fast as we had hoped» (de Kerckhove in Matthew Mirapaul «Judging
the Net: The Insiders' Perspective», NY Times, september 1998) 

I than was wondering why the jury didn't "landed" any other art sites that
can be easily find on the web instead of choosing those sites that art
reveling an instrumental, techonological and spectacular conception of
"Webness" or cyberculture, evacuating any "art left to its own devices
[that] can be a crashing bore." 

What ever the jury says in their recent press release concerning the very
Linux case, the are still responsible for all their work of selection. The
problem is that things could have hapened differently if the hole process
of selection would have been other wise oriented. Many selective process
on the web are now integrating the web community like ISEA98 where public
could proposed there favorite web site and where the vote were submited to
them in a on-line-community-net-spirit, instead of this AE institutional
and central process. This formula can be adapted or more directed. That is
to say that creativity can also start here. "Webness" could than by apply
to interactive and collaborative mode instead of authoritarian one. 

>From which we may ask :  why a jury? 

To conclude, we are all awared of the integrating dimension of
cyberculture.  Arts are fusionning and technoscience is part of the soup!
But cyberculture should all become a melting pot? Should convergence means
confusion, dilutions or blending of the chunks? Should art activity by
reduced to pure technoculture (my culturocentrism). It would be just to
bad that PAE becomes the field of entropy. Because we run the risk here of
breeding disinterest by forcing artificials links. 


Richard Barbeau

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