2006-08-28: "Simplicity - the art of complexity" is the theme of this years Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria

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Part of the extensive festival program is the Simplicity Symposium that is curated by Maeda, John of MIT's Media Lab. It takes place on Friday, September 1st, 2006:

Simplicity: The Art of Complexity

A simple life. It seems like something we would all like to have. But like everything you don’t have and desire, once you get what you want, boredom inevitably sets in. The hustle and bustle of daily work motivates you to go on a vacation and relax. Simplicity achieved. But after relaxation has settled in, complexity beckons. There has to be more to life! So we douse ourselves with complexity and continue the ritual of complexity, simplicity, complexity, simplicity, complexity until at the very end of our lives when by no longer existing we achieve the ultimate in simplicity—nonexistence.

On the surface, all artistic practices support complexity: the addition of a concept to the visual, auditory, or tactile realm. However some art, although additive to the universe of concepts and objects around us, helps to simplify the world by having a subtracting effect more than it adds to the surrounds. Technology art, in particular that which pertains to the computer as opposed to purely kinetic art, is generally neither simple nor complex. It is both. And that is what makes technology art difficult to fit comfortably into any previous genre. It’s complex: there are cryptic instructions and rituals required to maintain and interact with most technology art. It’s simple: many of the codes used to create technology art are trivial in comparison to the complex experiences they synthesize. If asked to choose whether to have a traditional oil painting or a computational art piece hanging in my living room, I would choose the painting for simplicity’s sake. But I’m unlikely to be in my living room and enjoy the painting, because I am usually in front of my computer—which has become the living room of most contemporary minds.

To embrace the computer’s world is to accept complexity at a level that we truly cannot comprehend. The computer screen deceives us with its array of pixels—we believe that we are seeing the entire picture that the computer sees. But we’re not. What is on the screen only represents a minority of the thought processes active at any given moment on the computer. We are only catching the merest glimpse of the swirl and torment of the computer’s mind. The simplicity of the computer’s interface helps us sit atop the complexities rampant inside the computer. Do we really want to dip deeper into its inner chaos?

I used to believe that programming was an important skill for any technology artist. I no longer believe that. I still believe that it’s a critical set of concepts to master of course, but not for the objective of creating technology art. Computer programming is limited in ways that have always bothered me. But you need to understand programming to say that. A new generation of programming languages or paradigms has to emerge before we can finally harness the power of the computer. I do not know what these new systems will look or feel like. To get there, we will have to master the understanding of complexity, or The Art of Complexity as is the title of this year’s Ars Electronica symposium.

The stellar international panel of speakers that we have invited will all speak about various aspects of simplicity, and undoubtedly complexity. How do we live? How will we live? What do we fear? What do we desire? The discussion, I expect, will become extremely complex. And then, it is my hope, we will begin to see the connections that bind any discussion from multiple disciplines on simplicity. We will organize, reduce, and synthesize a body of knowledge together as a trusted panel, with the hope that participants can make the choice themselves regarding their path to simplicity, or complexity.
[Maeda, 2006]

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