CIFO, Ars Electronica Launch Award for Latin American Artists – ARTnews.com

The Miami-based Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) has partnered with one of Europe’s most storied art-and-technology festivals, Ars Electronica, to create a new grant program that will support Latin American artists working with technology.

The CIFO-Ars Electronica Awards will come with up to $30,000 per artist. They support the commissioning of new major works that will enter CIFO’s collection and be presented at Ars Electonrica’s annual festival in Linz, Austria.

The inaugural five recipients are Amor Muñoz, Dora Bartilotti, Thessia Machado, and Ana Elena Tejera, and the artist collective Electrobiota Collective. Muñoz will receive $30,000. Bartilotti, Machado, and Tejera will each receive $15,000. Electrobiota Collective will receive $10,000.

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For the commissions, the artists will explore a range of themes, including the impact of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems on our everyday lives, how technology can advance feminist activism, what happens when an A.I. computer is given a military education based on the detritus of the School of the Americas in Panama, and more.

The idea to create an award, which has been in the works for the past year, focused on art and technology came via artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who sits on CIFO’s board. He suggested a partnership with Ars Electronica, where he has previously shown and presented on his work.

“For years, he’s been pushing us to open up to new media,” Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, CIFO’s founder and honorary president, told ARTnews. “I think this is the time to make something worthwhile in this genre for the arts.”

The newly formed awards build on the various forms of direct support for artists that CIFO has undertaken over the years, including a well-known grants and commissions program for Latin American artists that allows winners “to develop their work outside the constraints of the commercial marketplace,” according to the foundation.

An almost pitch black room, in which a sculpture with a light at center illuminates a wood square and plants.

Electrobiota Collective, Eisenia, organic printing machine, 2014.
Courtesy Biennial Kosice Latin American Edition, Centro Cultural Borges, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Ars Electronica has been around since 1979, but until this prize, the festival had not been able to fully tap “the incredible history of Latin American artists” working in this technology, Christl Baur, the head of the festival, said in an interview. She attributed this lack to a variety of factors, including Ars Electronica’s location in central Europe and the breadth of cultures and languages in the Americas.

“It’s an effort that we put a lot of dedication into that has become a core strategy for us in the coming years,” she said, pointing to initiatives such as a recent partnership with Chile. She added that the awards “look not only to support Latin American artists but really to advance the field.”

As with CIFO’s Grants & Commissions Program, artists are invited to apply for the new award after being nominated by curators, fellow artists, and other arts professionals. To begin, CIFO assembled an advisory committee of around 50 members that included curators Adriano Pedrosa, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, Pablo León de la Barra, Tobias Ostrander, Liz Munsell, and Gilbert Vicario, as well as artists like Beatriz Milhazes and Oscar Muñoz.

“We wanted to bring the curators we’ve worked with over so many years into this new venue that we were working in, but we needed the expertise of curators that have been doing work in digital formats, so we went and mixed both,” Fontanals-Cisneros said.

Over 160 artists applied for the CIFO-Ars Electronica Awards. The winning artists were chosen by a selection committee included Baur, as well as Hemma Schmutz, the director of the Lentos Art Museum in Austria; Sergio Fontanella, CIFO’s director of operations and collections; Tania Aedo, the coordinator of the Department of Art and Technology at National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); and Martin Honzik, the CCO and managing director of Ars Electronica Festival, Prix, and Exhibitions.

Fontanals-Cisneros sees this new awards program as way not only to stay relevant but to follow artists where they’re already heading.

“The new generations—the generation of my grandchildren—are different from how I grew up,” she said. “This technology is going to be even more mainstream than it is today. We need to rethink how we’re going to change museums. I think these new generations are going to want something interactive and different in art from what we have today.”

Anita Shire

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