Geert Lovink on Sun, 17 Jan 1999 16:04:57 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Life Science - Theme of the Ars Electronica Festival 1999


Life Science 4.9 - 10.9 1999

The first festival of art, technology and society in 1979 initiated the
inquiry into the cultural correspondences of technological change, an
undertaking dedicated to analyzing the process by which new technologies
become a culture (and, indeed, a cult as well), and to finding
possibilities of designing and managing this process.
During the ensuing 20 years, the Ars Electronica project committed to
continual evolution into a broad spectrum of social domains and thereby
attained the status of a model for coming to terms with art in a way that
is appropriate to these times traverse boundaries by artists taking
digital technologies as their implement, their medium, as well as their
subject. Moreover, this art addresses the new ordering of our society.

Conceiving itself as a direct consequence of society, it intervenes in
these transformational processes, participates in them, and advances them
as an essential element of social innovation.
In 1987, the festival added the Prix Ars Electronica as a forum for
artistic achievement and innovation, and as a barometer indicating trends
in an expanding and increasingly diversified world of media art. The Ars
Electronica Center was opened in 1996 in response to growing public
interest and as a prototype of a new artistic venue develop adequate forms
in which to produce, disseminate, and encounter art. Aside from the Museum
of the Future as the chief attraction for the general public, it has been
the Ars Electronica Futurelab in particular that has assumed an essential
role here in providing the infrastructure necessary to bring together
leading scientists and artists in the Ars Electronica Research and
Residency Program, and constituting a successful experiment for
interdisciplinary collaboration implemented in actual practice.
These 20 years, however, have also been marked by the emergence of a
global Information Society as the determinative circumstance of our
civilization. The processes of cultural assimilation of and adaptation
to this new reality remain a continual challenge; the formulation of the
multifarious problems posed by this economic, social, and political
reordering is not even close to completion. Nevertheless, the vectors of
this development have been set, and thus 20 years of Ars Electronica
naturally offers an occasion to undertake an archeological dig through the
strata of artistic and technological evolution. But, above all, this is an
occasion to concentrate on the prospects prior achievements of digital
information technology.

In the wake of these technical innovations, biology has catapulted itself
onto the leading edge of key technologies for the coming decades.
Molecular biologists and genetic engineers, equipped with the tools of
information technology provided by the Computer Age, have thrown open
portals whose thresholds, in many instances, mark our culture breaching of
which, though, is increasingly the focal point of expectations and hopes
for the continued prosperity of our civilization.
Without a doubt, there are serious potential dangers, particularly since
it is to be expected that, beyond scientific undertakings, all economic
and industrial efforts as well have, up to now, gone about the business of
mastering, reworking, and economically exploiting our physical environment
on life, on the science of life.
The fact that the foundations of life thereby assume a position at the
centerpoint of attention, however, can also engender a new mode of dealing
with life. The very conception of being capable of forming life (human
life as well) beyond the morphological level of the body, and of being
able to construct its predispositions and talents, compels us to take up
new perspectives in regarding ultimate aspects of this life A challenge
for art as well.
Ars Electronica 99 will face these new challenges with the theme Life
Science, a confrontation which take place, above all, in the interplay of
the divergent concepts of artists and scientists.

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