Ed Halter received the $20,000 award ($15,000 unrestricted, merit-based award + $5,000 project grant) for an emerging arts writer in the U.S. who demonstrates great promise in writing about digital art. Halter is Critic in Residence at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York and a founder and director of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn. He recently edited, with Lauren Cornell, the anthology Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-First Century, and his writing has appeared in 4Columns, Artforum, the Village Voice and elsewhere. He is a 2009 recipient of the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant and his book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games was published in 2006.
THOMA FOUNDATION: When and why did you begin writing about digital art, and why has it been important for you to contribute to scholarship in the field?
ED HALTER: I started my career as a film critic and film programmer in the 1990s, and early on became interested in how the technological changes then underway were altering cinema both socially and aesthetically. Over time this interest in digital technology grew into a larger part of my work, culminating in a book on the history of gaming and military technologies, From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Videogames, in 2006, and a post as staff writer for Rhizome not long after that. Since then, I’ve been able to produce many essays that delve into questions of art and technology for publications like Artforum, Afterall and frieze, and in 2015 I co-edited, with Lauren Cornell, the collection Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the 21st Century.
As a critic, I have long been drawn towards more experimental practices in the cinema. As my career progressed, the transformation of cinema through digital technology became a dominant concern, both on the level of the film and television industries as well as in moving-image works by artists. Thus it now seems impossible to understand cinema without understanding the digital technologies that have changed its materials, its effects, and its relationship to its audiences.
THOMA FOUNDATION: Who are some of your influences (thinkers, writers, artists, educators, etc.)?
Film critics: J. Hoberman, Manny Farber, Parker Tyler
Artists: Hollis Frampton, Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, Doris Wishman, David Cronenberg, Luther Price, Leslie Thornton
Thinkers: P. Adams Sitney, Annette Michelson, William James, Marshall McLuhan, Frances Yates
Writers: Hilton Als, Susan Sontag, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ursula Le Guin, Luc Sante
Other: Amos Vogel, Barney Rosset, P. T. Barnum
THOMA FOUNDATION: What kinds of programs would you like to see supported in the field?
ED: On a practical level, there remains an enormous need for high-definition transfers of many artists’ films and documentaries, not to mention preservation of the original elements. I’d also like to see more journalistic critics celebrated and supported who don’t engage in scholarship or the art world.
THOMA FOUNDATION: Briefly describe your current writing projects and/or those you anticipate beginning or completing in the next year?
ED: A book I edited many years ago with publisher Barney Rosset will finally be published later this year. It’s a collection of film criticism from the publication Evergreen Review, entitled From the Third Eye: The Evergreen Review Film Reader. As part of Light Industry, I’ve been editing a new edition of Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision, which will be published this summer. I’m also excited to have a new essay on the film and video work of Seth Price coming out in conjunction with his retrospective at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam.
THOMA FOUNDATION: How do you anticipate this award will impact your career and work?
ED: As a writer and curator, working independently of any major art institutions, I make a modest income, and so this award helps financially in a very real way. The recognition is also important, as the kind of writing I engage in is rarely given such honors; this kind of feedback from the greater culture is what keeps me going.
THOMA FOUNDATION: What would assist you in moving your current projects and/or ideas forward?
ED: Time off from teaching, a brilliant personal assistant, and lots of really good coffee.
Read more about the 2017 Arts Writing Awards recipients.