October 18, 2022

How Do You Judge The Lumen Prize?

One of the world’s leading curators of digital art, Christiane Paul, answers the ultimate question
Credit: Vivian Xu, The Silkworm Project (detail). Shortlisted for the HUA Award 華艺数奖. Courtesy of the artist
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How Do You Judge The Lumen Prize?

RCS: What are the metrics by which you judge works submitted to The Lumen Prize?

Christiane Paul: Judging art in all its complexities makes the idea of “metrics” a moving target. One main criterion for evaluating art is how successfully it translates and manifests an interesting concept through its respective medium. The Lumen Prize is judged in different categories, which by nature also set certain parameters for review. For example, to evaluate works submitted in the interactive category, one would consider how they engage their audience, facilitate agency, and use response as a medium.

Audrey Briot, Stymphalian Birds. Shortlisted for the 3D/Interactive Award. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: Despite the different categories of award, has anything struck you about the works submitted for this year’s Prize that might indicate emergent cultural developments?

CP: Artists are always responding to the cultural developments of their time, and there certainly seemed to be an increased engagement with the climate crisis and sustainability, as well as the growing mediation of our lives through technologies.

In terms of emerging technological developments, it struck me that more artists are using readily available AI tools that have their own inscribed aesthetics or biases.
Dillon Marsh, For What It’s Worth. Shortlisted for the Still Image Award. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: In recent years, a community has emerged around the NFT such that we often speak of a specific “NFT space.” Do you think that the creative output of that community should be judged differently to other works of digital art?

CP: I don’t think there is a unified NFT space or NFT community — different groups of artists have immersed themselves in this space in radically different ways. In general, I would not evaluate this work differently than other forms of digital art or even analog art.

Whether a piece realizes a concept in sophisticated ways is still the decisive factor for me.

That being said, one always judges art within the context of its respective form, and the way in which tokenization or the blockchain are used as a medium certainly is a factor in assessing creative output.

Ruini Shi, FuneralPlay. Shortlisted for the HUA Award 華艺数奖. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: How do you envisage digital art evolving in Web3, which has its own set of associated technologies, from the blockchain itself to NFTs and smart contracts?

CP: While the crypto markets have crashed, there has also been an increasing amount of art that uses the blockchain and NFTs as a medium in interesting and conceptual ways rather than just as a market mechanism. I think we will see even more art exploring the generative and conceptual potential of the blockchain in the future.

Web3 at this point is more of a concept than a reality, and it will be interesting to see whether it comes into being as people currently envision it.
Maximilian Seeger, Jewels of the Sea. Shortlisted for the Student Award. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: How do you view the relationship between digital and analog art practices today, and has it evolved in recent years?

CP: In recent years we have seen growing familiarity with digital technologies in artmaking at large. They are used as tools in the process of making art in almost any medium today, from film and photography to painting and sculpture. However, that does not mean that these works always speak about the digital or should be classified as digital art.

Over the past decade there also has been a “material turn” in digital art that is often referred to as post-digital or post-Internet, a classifier describing artworks that are deeply informed and shaped by digital technologies and the vernacular of the Internet or interfaces, yet cross boundaries between media in their final form.

Overall, the boundaries between digital and analog have become increasingly porous.
Samuel Brzeski, Mortal Combat. Shortlisted for the Nordic Award. Courtesy of the artist

RCS: What excites you most about the state of digital art today?

CP: I always find digital art’s critical and poetic engagement with technologies most exciting. Over the past decade we have seen many technologies entering new phases: VR is in its third stage of evolution, AR has made strides, and AI has moved into a phase of readily available tools that always entails a lack of originality. Artists have been exploring and pushing these technologies, be it through questioning embodiment and simulation in virtual worlds or addressing the bias in data sets and investigating the paradigms of intelligence. Digital art that employs the technologies as a medium, pushes them and provides a “reality check” on the state of the digital is most exciting to me.

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Christiane Paul is Professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School, as well as Curator of Digital Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation’s 2016 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, and her books are A Companion to Digital Art (Blackwell-Wiley, May 2016); Digital Art (Thames and Hudson, 2003, 2008, 2015); Context Providers – Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts (Intellect, 2011; Chinese edition, 2012); and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond (UC Press, 2008). At the Whitney Museum she curated exhibitions including “Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art 1965 - 2018” (2018/19), “Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools” (2011), and “Profiling” (2007), and is responsible for artport, the museum’s portal to Internet art. Other curatorial work includes DiMoDA 4.0 Dis/Location, The Question of Intelligence (Kellen Gallery, The New School, NYC, 2020), Little Sister (is watching you, too) (Pratt Manhattan Gallery, NYC, 2015), and What Lies Beneath (Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, 2015).