Hotel Pompino (1990)

Hotel Pompino was an elaborate television project carried out by Ponton at the Ars Electronica in Linz in the year after “Republic TV”. It was broadcast for a week at night on 3Sat and ORF. In a kind of interactive television play, viewers were able to guide the actors on camera through a virtual hotel by telephone. For this, Ponton developed a complete digital studio on the technical basis of the PCs that were commercially available at the time. The virtual studio was possibly the first of its kind in Europe. The actors stood in front of a blue screen on which the 44 rooms of the virtual hotel were displayed with different characteristics.

Each day, several candidates played against each other. They played for points, which were awarded by an invisible jury according to highly arbitrary rules. The main prize was free airtime the next day. The candidates could use this time according to their own ideas and also use the technical possibilities of the studio. The loser ended up in a computer-animated rubbish chute, which was the end of his participation in the game.

Some of the elements of Hotel Pompino reappeared in Piazza virtuale, for example the use of the videophone and mailbox. In the Ars Electronica catalogue, Ponton‘s work to date is presented in a detailed, richly illustrated section: “Europe is invited to join the game! The game Hotel Pompino was developed as a consequence of the live television projects of Van Gogh TV in order to communicate even more directly with the viewer, who now becomes a player. Participation can take place either by appearing in person, by telephone, by videophone or by mailboxes… Cable or satellite dish bring the 3sat broadcast image into the living room of the viewer, who only in this way becomes a co-player. Videophones installed by Ponton are located all over Europe; viewers use them to tune in live as jurors or commentators. In mailboxes, computer users communicate via telephone lines, through which the spectator can participate in the game in writing… The connection from the local to the world takes place through the network (telephone, picturephone, mailbox, news ticker).”

Even if the claims made in this announcement text are somewhat exaggerated (for example, there were no picture telephones anywhere in Europe), this description shows that participation elements can already be found in Hotel Pompino, which would reappear two years later in Piazza virtuale. However, this very audience participation also led to a severe conflict with Ars Electronica, when one caller insulted the German chancellor Helmuth Kohl live on air. The festival did not invite the group back for future projects, and when 3sat later agreed to broadcast Piazza virtuale they made sure that one of their staffers screened the calls for obscenities and political propaganda.


“Hotel Pompino” at Ponton’s archived website

“Hotel Pompino”, ars electronica catalogue 1990 (English)

“Hotel Pompino”, ars electronica catalogue 1990 (German)

Interview with Kathy Rae Huffman

Artist Ulrike Gabriel at Hotel Pompino

Equipment, Hotel Pompino

John Thomas Draper aka Captain Crunch

Rehearsal for Hotel Pompino in Amsterdam

Ole Lütjens and Salvatore Vanasco

Dorm room

Studio, ars electronica

Screen shots Hotel Pompino