New Media Scotland: Left To My Own Devices

The best of the best in digital art

Feature by Mark Daniels | 23 Sep 2009
  • ars_electronica

In the ever evolving world of new media art, the best barometer indicating the very state of the art is the Prix Ars Electronica. Awarded annually since 1987 in Linz, Austria the prize is recognized as the Oscars for this artform. It’s an integral part of the Ars Electronica festival that’s been held in the city since 1979. The back catalogue of projects presented over the last thirty years is a timeline like no other when it comes to digital culture.

The developing trend of object based media art was typified in this year’s anchor exhibition ‘Human Nature‘ but across the river at the Ars Electronica Center it was the 'Device Art' exhibit that caught my eye and the public’s engagement. The presentation of media art and some forms of visual art is often reliant on the use of audio, visual or some form of electronics to display the content. With device art, this hardware is the content. The technology is celebrated and interfaces permit interaction, joy and response. Above all they serve to widen the prospective audience.

Launched in the autumn of 2004 with the help of a five-year grant from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, a group of Japanese artists and researchers have been able to create, curate and contextualise device art practice. The work is playful, accessible and can operate beyond the confines of the gallery. It also had the ability to be mass produced and commercially viable.

The key here is that technology should not be feared. These works may have entertainment value, but they can still be read positively with the same value systems applied to traditional Western art practice. In Japan these boundaries between forms of practice and appreciation do not exist, it's a superflat world. This allows an artist's concept to be directly part of everyday lives, with the device not separate from the experience.

The Maywa Denki artist collective create beautiful but eccentric devices driven by a desire to wrench technology as far away from the black box as possible. Hearing ‘Misty‘ played on a Maywa Denki device (a smiling pregnant saxophone spoon of a thing) late one night at the Ars Electronica Center will stay with me. In Scotland we have fabulous device artists too, like ~ in the fields and FOUND (the creators of Cybraphon) but what if the Edinburgh Interactive Festival became more like Ars? No puns.