A Dialogue: Marie and Hari talk Ars Electronica

**A short email dialogue between Marie Ringler (Institute for New Culture
Technologies, www.t0.or.at, Vienna) and Hari Kunzru (Wired, London) about
Ars Electronica 1996, Linz/A.**

Marie Ringler wrote:
Generally speaking I'd say the symposium was just as unsatisfying as
big conferences usually are. Most lectures circled around already known
ideas like memes, neural networks, cyborgs, robots and the like. New
ideas were quite rare and the split between art and technology was
frustratingly often reproduced.

To which Hari Kunzru responded:
I'd agree entirely. I couldn't believe I was hearing artists complain
there was "too much technology." Apart from the fact that ARS was
supposed to be an interdisciplinary meeting, a place to learn, there was
also the small matter that the technical content was pathetic - several
people gave papers which were so basic as to be embarrassing.


Marie Ringler:
I guess due to the fact that nobody quite knew who the audience would be
and what their level of involvement in the discussion of art and
technology would be, the lectures varied from beginner's introductions
to detailed and in-depth lectures.

Once again this conference made me realize one thing: that symposiums as
they are done these days can't really keep up with the speed of
development and can not contribute to a collaborative process of work.
Maybe this problem could be solved through product-oriented workshops
and public presentations of their outcome.

Hari Kunzru continued:
Small groups of people communicating over an extended period will
produce something of value. 500 people in a room will only warm to what
they already understand.


I thought [Richard] Dawkins was OK. He was up front about the
limitations of meme theory - are they truly Darwinian or are they
Lamarckian? How useful is the concept for specific analyses? Not very,
would probably be the answer. No one has ever produced a useful study of
meme production and transmission.

Nevertheless using epidemiology (perhaps) to understand the transmission
of ideas is an interesting idea, er, meme, er, virus…


Very few people understood quite how far ahead Sadie Plant is compared
to the other theorists at the conference. Most of what we got was a
wishy-washy mixture of Derrida, Foucault and old-fashioned Marxism. The
most ludicrous statement of the conference (leaving aside Joe
Engleburger's [sic] robot slave fantasies) was Richard Barbrook's assertion
that "consciousness and work are the true transforming powers in
society." That anyone could believe in "consciousness" in an untroubled
epiphanal way (just become a Marxist and then see the light) and then
couple that with the idea of "work" as a tool for social salvation makes
me want to puke. Then he accused Dawkins of being some kind of top-down
Platonist - which showed he doesn't understand the idea of memes. That
kind of lazy thinking dominated.


Marie Ringler:
Mr. Joe Englberger, the father of modern robots, was the highlight
of this conference. With his 1950s robotics ethos he gave a true outlook
on the future evolution of humankind. First it was apes, then humanoids,
gradually transforming into cyborgs, then androids and eventually into
the superhuman robots.


Hari Kunzru:
Engleberger's talk could have been used as a text for teaching the
importance of feminist cyborg theory. A man who is uncritically
interested in sloughing off his messy inefficient flesh and downloading
himself into something chrome, shiny and eternal - this seems like the
essence of the technostatist deathdrive.


What do you think needs to happen?

Marie Ringler concluded:
New people, fresh ideas, a general understanding that no theory ever
solved *all* theoretical and practical problems in this world, and that
theories can always be only one way of putting the world into some kind
of order that allows us to see new aspects.

Or maybe we should leave our longing for academic explanations behind
and try to answer questions on a more personal level. With art for
example shouldn't we ask questions like: does this appeal to me on a
sub-conscious level, does it touch some inner feelings? What are the
things that make me feel good/bad/confuse me? How can art give *me* an
insight into our chaotic world?