Culture

LACMA Awards Grants to Four Artists Working on Innovative, Tech-Driven Projects

Tahir Hemphill, “Famous Rap Singers” (all images courtesy LACMA and the artists unless indicated otherwise)

Many museums have been turning to technology to draw larger and younger audiences, devising various apps and interactive games. But less explored, at least in the context of major encyclopedic museums, is the art itself that is currently engaging with technology.

In 2013, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) formed the Art+Technology Lab with the aim of supporting artists who are exploring “emerging technologies.” The idea, interestingly enough, stemmed from the museum’s first Art and Technology program in 1967, which, for four years, “paired artists with technology companies in Southern California.” This time around the grant seems more geared toward nurturing artists’ individual projects, providing monetary support (up to $50,000) and facilities to work in. Past winning projects, which come from around the world, include Michael Mandiberg’s Postmodern Times — a shot-by-shot re-creation of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times — and Carl Cheng’s studies of tar at the LACMA campus.

One significant component of the Art+Technology Lab is its advisory board. Made up of major technology companies (Google, Hyundai, SpaceX, among others), the board is there to “lend their experience and expertise” to artists and “help drive the conversation around how museums will use new technology in the future.” The collaboration between art and tech likely resonates far differently today than it did 40 years ago, as cities like San Francisco lose their artists to tech-driven gentrification. Still, LACMA seems to have smartly caught on that artists might have the best ideas for how to integrate technology into museums.

This year’s recipients were exclusively shared with Hyperallergic and each has a fascinating, if mind-boggling, project underway. Four artists were selected out of the 430 applications received: Tahir Hemphill, Jen Liu, Sarah Rara, and Diana Thater. Below is a glimpse into each of their proposals.

Tahir Hemphill has been invested in hip-hop since his youth in the 1980s in Queens, New York. For his project, titled “Implications of a Rap Neural Network,” he plans to create a “neural network” that traces how “cultural production,” like hip-hop, “is influenced by artificial intelligence.” The network will be developed with the help of the Hip-Hop Word Count, a data project Hemphill designed that “applies Natural Language Processing to a database of approximately 200,000 hip-hop songs from 1979 to the present day.”

Jen Liu, “Pink Slime Caesar Shift (Prospectus)” (2018, still), 4K video with two-channel sound, running time 24 min, 20 sec (image courtesy the artist and Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam)

Jen Liu, who makes “research-based fictions,” is looking into the production of synthetic meat in South China and the poor labor conditions of female factory workers. Liu will create wearable sculpture and accessories, as well as 3D animations, so that viewers can better connect with the realities she is mining. In this sense, her project “PINK SLIME CAESAR SHIFT” is in line with Liu’s past projects that aim to convey abstract ideas through physical experiences.  

Sarah Rara, “Video Still, Fly Study #1” (2018), HD video silent, 10:52 minutes

Sarah Rara, a Los Angeles-based artist and poet, is researching how humans’ sense of navigation has been “mediated by video images.” The idea for her project originated during a residency at Caltech’s Dickinson Lab, where she observed scientists as they studied the biomechanics of jellyfish and fruit flies. Rara’s project for Art+Technology Lab is titled “Ellipsoid Body” — “a reference to a ring-shaped brain structure within fruit flies that is needed for navigation.”

Diana Thater, “As Radical As Reality” (2017), installation for two video projectors, two media players, and Altuglas Visio screens, 72 x 128 x 128 in

Diana Thater, a San Francisco-born, Los Angeles-based artist, is tackling that most enticing and terrifying of futuristic subjects: robots. Through a video work titled “The Zeroth Law,” Thater will reveal how “bio-inspired and biomimetic” robots “adapt the neurophysiology and behavior of their animal models.” As Thater’s recent exhibition at LACMA, The Sympathetic Imagination, illustrated, the artist has long been interested in animals and how they behave, producing videos that poetically show how bees speak and animals survive nuclear disasters.


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