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SXSW 2012: How Do You Tell Good Tech Art From Bad Tech Art?

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Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria
Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria

Led by Jasmina Tesanovic is a Serbian/USA author feminist and filmmaker, Simona Lodi, founder and art director of the Share Festival, Share Prize and Action Sharing, and guest Bruce Sterling, sci-fi author, futurist and visionary.

Tech art is returning as a cultural capital of Italy, and Europe as a whole. Zagreb and Yugoslavia were the first places to have computerized tech art, and other places that have been friendly to it over the years include Amsterdam, Turin, Milan, London, and, the world capital of tech art, Linz, Austria, home to Ars Electronica (the "SXSW of electronic arts," according to Sterling).

But why is there so much tech art in Europe and not in the U.S., Tesanovic posed?

Sterling attributes it to a different sort of social capital, where Europeans will cluster together, praise one another and give each other impetus. That doesn't exist in the U.S., though there are parallels in hacker culture and Kickstarter, which is starting to create a fertile creative environment for tech art.

"It's not going to be long before American art is Kickstarter art," Sterling said.

How do we tech art newbies judge what is good tech art and bad tech art, then? Sterling breaks it down.

There isn't really a city in the world that has a tech art region, like Paris has a place where you can be a painter. Even the groups that are clustered are very widespread. The easiest thing to do is to say, it's great art if you're famous, but then you'd have to say Olafur Eliasson is the greatest tech artist, and he probably wouldn't even identify himself as one.

Some ways to spot bad tech art:

It's bad if it reinvents the wheel. Somebody has a great idea, and they don't realize it was done in 1950s Sweden, because they're not hip to what's going on, and there's no central place to check and see if your idea has been done.

There are people who do art that is very important to maybe five other people, but they're more like weird lab experiments. You get stuff that is simple-minded and amateurish. You get a guy who tried to engineer something who is not really an engineer. The real answer is similar to other lines of art -- it's up to the judgment of your peers. Who's done something that is more important 10 years from now than when he did it?

What's good tech art? Here are a few examples, who have won Lodi's Share Prize:

Amazon Noir, by Paolo Cirio, a hacker who likes to do intervention art. For this, he "stole complete digital volumes of books, reassembled them into .pdf format and redistributed them for free."

Delicate Boundaries, by Christine Sugrue
Bugs that appear to crawl out of the screen and onto your hands.

Knife Hand Chop Bot, but 5VoltCore "An exceedingly violent piece of work" where a knife falls between your fingers at "tremendous mechanical speed," Sterling said.
KNIFE.HAND.CHOP.BOT by nrszConnect, by Andrea Muxel Swinging steel balls on long pieces of thread. These days, "the bigger the better, and the louder, the better received," Sterling said. "It was also quite dangerous, more dangerous than the hand chop bot." Relational Light, by Ernesto Klar Allows you to move and bend the light as you please. Newstweek (honorable mention), by Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev A device that modifies the news.

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