Ever Onward: Meet the Outfit Backing Artists Who "Redefine Technology"

In a recent post looking at the Santa Fe-based Thoma Foundation's Arts Writing Awards in Digital Art, we showed our age. We were surprised to find a grantmaker that funds writers who write about digital art.

Who knew?

And while we watch reruns of The Golden Girls and fumble with our flip phones, the world of digital art continues to expand and break new ground. It leads us to wonder: How are a new crop of visual artists not only embracing, but redefining technology? And who's interested in supporting these pioneers?

For an answer, we turn to Brooklyn and Eyebeam, a nonprofit studio "for collaborative experiments with technology, toward a more imaginative and just world." Eyebeam lists a number of foundation supporters, including the Mellon, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Jerome, and Andy Warhol foundations, as well as some local New York funders and smaller family foundations.

Eyebeam recently selected five artists who will take up shop in its studios, which are located in Industry City, a manufacturing district in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. And as opposed to certain IP writers who try to turn on the television using one of the three remote controls available—call us crazy, but back in the day you only needed one remote—these winners will be engaging in far more substantial work.

They'll join Eyebeam's research residency, which provides a year's worth of support, including up to $31,000 in direct grants, to launch "groundbreaking new ideas and risk-taking projects" that will "redefine technology." 

And what about the projects then? Well, Eyebeam selected the five winners after an open call focusing on "power in the context of new forms of computation." Think Nietzsche meets Gordon Moore. (Or don't. Totally up to you.)

The winners and their respective projects include:

  • Morehshin Allahyari, researching digital colonialism through 3D fabrication
  • Nora N. Khan, writing about computational power and human creativity
  • Mimi Onuoha examining the phenomenon of missing datasets
  • Macon Reed, researching pre­capitalist notions of gender and magic
  • Karolina Sobecka, creating social interventions into the climate debate

Their year­long residencies, which include 24/7 studio access and intensive mentoring, begin in October. Eyebeam advisor Benjamin H. Bratton comments that the new residents are challenged to ask, "How can we engender or empower other modes of thought to create positive infrastructural effect?"

Now, if Eyebeam's mission and its recent crop of winners sound slightly futuristic ("digital colonialism?") and ahead of the curve, that's because, of course, it is. But it's worth remembering that words like "futuristic" are relative—and if we're to believe our friends in the quantum physics world, increasingly meaningless. (Full disclosure. We have no actual friends in the quantum physics world; that was just a literary device.)

In other words, projects funded by Eyebeam today could be incorporated into your smart phone in six months.

For example, the Eyebeam program supported the creation of the first online "share" button, several coding languages, and the website BuzzFeed, the latter being an integral part to our daily routine here at IP, given its indispensably addictive OMG Feed. ("17 Delicious Disneyland Treats You Can Make At Home?" OMG!)

Bottom line? In a world where grantmakers—and yes, even writers—tend to embrace breathless but vague platitudinal language, Eyebeam provides an illuminating and practical illustration of what takes place when art and technology intersect.

In related news, check out our take on the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's ongoing support for the MIT Center for Art, Science, and Technology, which acts as a "catalyst for multidisciplinary creative experimentation and integration of the arts across all areas of MIT."