Ars Electronica: is there a horizon in the deepwater?

Ars Electronic…  As mentioned in class, this annual festival/exhibition/expo/competition of electronic projects (in Linz, Austria) is an important venue to present creative applications of digital tools.  If you checkout their website, there should be lots of inspirational “digital arts” related projects and ideas listed in the ARCHIVES, FESTIVAL or PRIX links… some projects are interactive and participatory; some not:

I liked this project from last year: Artist partners HeHe created a model reenactment of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the offshore oil drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 and caused the largest offshore (i.e. marine) oil spill in history and the largest oil spill in US history:

Ok – so it’s not very “digital art-y.” (Well it only received “Honorable Mention, Category: Hybrid Art.”) But since an important aim in this class is to consider the characteristics of digital art, I wondered how this project could be changed to better fit those criteria.

To this end, these might be some digital/interactive/participatory improvements:


1. Participants need some active role in the telling of this story and in experiencing this piece. Otherwise, they seem like mere witnesses to the “disaster-media-tainment event ” replicated in miniature.  For instance, the artists could have created an interactive interface, in-person and online, so the audience could engage or control the physical model (or even a digital/internet representation, that would represent a model). The artists could even have employed a game-like structure. Then, the audience could have been tasked with trying to stop the “gushing” pipeline. The model could have somehow responded to indicate when the audience succeeded in this task (either virtually or in-person).

2. A fuller narrative could have been covered, including the corporate decisions leading up to the Deep Sea Horizon explosion, the subsequent unprecedented largest oil spill in history, and then the media, BP’s and the public’s response. The artists could have created some way of representing this narrative along a fuller timeline. (One might also consider the nature of cinematic narratives that Christiane Paul describes in her Digital Art book.)

The viewers would need an interface to allow them to “step-into” the story at different points along the timeline. A website might work well to present a timeline. Then at specific points in the timeline, different tasks could have included through links, like different levels in a game.  Though, user should be allowed to enter the timeline at any point.  However, the first “task” on the timeline might be reviewing and implementing safety regulations.  If you successfully executed that task, the game might stop there, disaster averted. Though another outcome might be you might be fired or demoted for using “additional” funds on safety or for “delaying” the rig.  In this instance, someone else in the game would have to deal with the spill.

3. Participants could interact with each other as well. Some players could be the executives that decide how much money other players have to enact safety measures or how much money or the equipment they will give players to try and stop the spill, other players could act as the media and provide coverage on those effected and the public response; etc.  The Internet could be the platform through which the individuals could interact with each other.  The piece then would have an internet that could capture the decisions made throughout the “game” and capture the narrative as it was played out.

With such improvements, such a piece would have great “CONTENT” and would better meet the “DIGITAL ART” criteria.

One response to “Ars Electronica: is there a horizon in the deepwater?

  1. Your second and third suggestions remind me a lot of the experience offered by the Virtual Peace Simulator (currently on display in Glassell) in which participants enter into a simulation of NGO strategic planning to react to a natural disaster. It seems that this simulator could be slightly modified to fit the Deepwater Horizon scenario so that participants could try and “prevent” the disaster by implementing different response strategies for containment and witness the roles played by each entity (oil company, media, etc.).

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