The Thoma Foundation is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2018 Arts Writing Awards in Digital Art. Mary Flanagan will receive $40,000 in recognition of her sustained dedication to the field as an established arts writer, and Dawn Chan will receive $20,000 for her exceptional promise as an emerging arts writer. Initiated in 2015, the Arts Writing Awards provide unrestricted, merit-based funding in support of writing that advances research, scholarship, and dialogue in digital art. A total of $240,000 has been granted to date.
The 2018 Arts Writing Awards will offer for the first time a fully-funded Robert Rauschenberg Residency of 5-6 weeks in duration. The Thoma Foundation has partnered with the Rauschenberg Foundation to provide recipients with the opportunity to participate in the 2019 residency program on Captiva Island, Florida. An early advocate of art and technology, and a thought leader on the social issues of his time, Rauschenberg continues to provide a model for artistic and intellectual collaboration through the residency program.
The Arts Writing Awards are the first of their kind to devote substantial funding to writing about digital art, including scholarship, history, criticism, and theory. Each year, a pool of approximately 30 nominees are selected by experts in the field. The two awardees are chosen by a committee based on the merits of their writing, its rigor, engagement with pressing issues, and grasp of the history of the field. Their writing may address compelling uses of digital technologies in contemporary art, issues related to the preservation, conservation, and interpretation of digital art practices, or the impact of developing technologies on the cultural landscape of the arts.
The 2018 selection committee was composed of three experts in the field: Stuart Comer, Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art; Kathleen Forde, Artistic Director-at-Large, Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul; and Dan Fox, Editor-at-Large, Frieze Magazine.
“We chose writers who are addressing digital art within a very specific political moment,” reflected juror Stuart Comer. “The world is fundamentally different today than it was a year ago. Some of the more established icons and discourses must be reconsidered.”
ABOUT THE AWARDEES
Mary Flanagan has been writing about digital art since the 1990s, with a particular focus on virtual spaces and games. She has long investigated the impact of feminist and alternative performances on the internet, beginning with Adriene Jenik and Lisa Brenneis’ Waiting for Godot that took place in a visual chat room and Helen Thorington, Marek Walczak, and Jesse Gilbert’s online VRML world Adrift. “There were many such early experiments that inspired me to think of the possibilities inherent in the construction of online worlds,” notes Flanagan, “Yet many of the most radical pieces didn’t receive the attention they deserve, and some still don’t, so I’m interested in witnessing and analyzing these lesser known works to shed light on new ways of thinking about art.” Flanagan is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College and leads the design research laboratory Tiltfactor.org.
“Flanagan uses gaming as a departure point to speak to much broader sociopolitical issues as well as the relationship between digital art and its art historical context,” reflects juror Kathleen Forde on the committee’s decision to select Flanagan as the winner in the established category.
Flanagan is the author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT, 2009) and co-author of Values at Play in Digital Games (2014) and Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri (Unicolpi, 2005). She is co-editor of the collections Reload: Rethinking Women in Cyberculture (MIT, 2003) and Re:Skin (MIT, 2006). Throughout her career, she has been interested in women’s relationship to technology, games, and activism, pushing against dominant notions of technology and culture. She is currently at work on a series of popular essays that bring to light the “buried” history of diverse digital artists. With the Arts Writing Award, Flanagan will build on her research of 20 years, focusing on recent, global developments in digital art to bring lesser-known artists—in particular, women and people of color—to broader attention.
With an early background in computer vision and artificial intelligence research, Dawn Chan uses art criticism to confront the identity politics embodied in digital art. Underlying Chan’s work is the understanding that technological progress is not a purely inclusive social force. “Digital art always seemed both like a natural starting point [for me], and like a crucial yet too-often-overlooked area of contemporary art,” reflects Chan. “The work of artists using digital media will inevitably re-figure the ways we read more traditional forms of visual art, and we’re all going to have to grapple with those changes, sooner or later.” In addition, she observes that “the cultural implications of the digital age are sorely incomplete unless one begins to acknowledge the ways in which newly minted technologies interact with constructions of race, class, self, and other.” Her recent reviews respond to the art of Aki Sasamoto, Sondra Perry, John Gerrard, and Porpentine.
“I am drawn to Dawn’s writing for its ability to tether an understanding and appreciation of the art history of the field of digital art with an interest in posing unique interrogations that have the potential to push the landscape of digital arts writing forward,” explains Kathleen Forde.
Dawn Chan’s writing appears in Artforum, where she was an editor from 2007 to 2018, and the Atlantic.com, Bookforum, the New York Times, the NewYorker.com, New York Magazine, the Paris Review, the Village Voice, and Vogue.com, among other publications. A former visiting critic at RISD, MICA, and CCNY, Chan is currently a visiting scholar at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities.