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U-Me New Media students present at Ars Electronica
New Media Society presents four projects at world's most prestigious new media festival in Linz, Austria
In September 2003, Joline Blais was invited to bring eight New Media students to Linz, Austria to present their work at the prestigious Ars Electronica Festival.

The result was CodePlay, an ensemble of projects including ALICE (an Artificial Intelligence that monitors web health), The Pool (a virtual community for distributed creativity), Breakdown (a cultural-code-busting game prototype), and Internet2@UMe (a broad-band protocol for connecting university artists, researchers and faculty).

These "open" projects approached code as tool, content, meme, and structure, and invited active participation by Ars visitors.

The trip was the subject of a story by Shanna McNair published in the Village Soup., excerpted here:

BELFAST (Aug 4): Conceive of a world where all change happens through the will of your imagination. Imagine parents, teachers and doctors are trying to compartmentalize your life; they sense you have unusual power. 

Your unusual power comes out when you have magic seizures that give you the ability to transform everything. You're a 5-year-old girl named Essien and the main character of a new video game called "Breakdown."

"It's more of a concept, really. We're still planning out exactly how the game will go," said Belfast dweller Margaretha Haughwout, a creator of the game....The theme or topic at Ars this year centers on code and is called, "Code -- The Language of  Our Time."

 Blais chose Breakdown for its unusual narrative code. For the gaming world, she said this 5-year-old girl with tremendous personal power that can destroy and create entire worlds, "like an Indian Siva," is remarkable.

Other students in class were building "Quake"-like games, she said, but a child -- a girl with that much power was more terrifying to them than their own army scenarios.

Blais said that code is life and law, both in virtual and sensual worlds, citing the code of DNA as an example. To further elaborate on the importance of narrative and story, she said, "A story is not the same as a plot ? a plot is invisible to us, the shape of the plot determines the narrative. Breakdown has a rigorous sense of plot."

[New Media Major Margaretha] Haughwout will be present at Ars not only to explain the workings and psychology behind the Breakdown concept but to talk about the future of multi-media in light of the ostensibly new global communications of the internet.

Other items to be discussed by those invited to Ars are an artificial intelligence (AI) webcreature named "Alice," who through a range of programmed features "lives and explores" within the web. Alice is saddened by the state of the Internet, especially by advertising. [New Media Major John] Bell did much of the coding for the webcreature.

Bell also worked extensively on another project to be presented at Ars, called "The Pool," which Blais describes as a virtual community for distributed creativity. Blais lists a fourth project as "Internet2@UMe, a broad-band protocol for connecting university artists, researchers and faculty."

This years' Ars conference with be Blais' third. She got her students and those involved in U-Maine's New Media Society "turned on by what they saw" when she presented some work from Ars last Fall.

"Students come into New Media (class) thinking they'll learn about web page design and video," Blais said. "But when they saw what came out of Ars ? they saw examples of real creativity in animation. And they saw computers talking to each other and the audience,"Blais said.

Blais said the New Media Society submitted "Alice" to a number of categories of contests at  Ars this year. 

"They didn't win the contest ? but it would be like winning the new media Olympic gold," she laughed. Blais connected UMO to Ars anyway, sending a letter of interest and receiving an invitation to show the "collage of four projects." Blais "lobbied pretty strongly" to get funding, and some is coming from her own pocket.

"Ars is one of the major media venues in the world, if not the major venue. They have a permanent collection, exhibitions, conferences ? they're at the cutting edge of field. I believe it's also fully funded by the town, by Linz."

Blais and the students have been invited to set up in Ars' "Electro-Lobby" and "Electro-Lobby Kitchen," choice spaces at the conference, Blais explained, as only six to a dozen from around the world get to be there to share their projects.

Blais said there was a bar students had to meet criteria-wise, in order to maintain the strongest presence possible at Ars. Students has to have: passion for the subject, be well articulated, know the deeper issues including connections to politics, ideology, aesthetics, and be able to truly make connection with others, to reach out.

Updated: 2007-08-03 by Jon Ippolito
Posted 2005-03-24 14:34:25 by Jon Ippolito
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