Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mary Flanagan

Mary Flanagan and Andrew Gerngross, [ineffable], 2004
In this short film, we see the collaboration of two great new media artists changing the hypertext and technological messages into sound. The digital colors created by each artist (each side belongs to each artist's creation) represent the sound of the text of e-mails, messages and websites we, as a society, continually use to speak through everyday. The eerie sounds almost becomes a familiar tune after listening for awhile while nonetheless emphasizing the importance of how we establish our identities in a technological age.

Mary Flanagan, [domestic], 2003
Flanagan's artist website, explaining her multi-media works.

Interactive Identities

“My creative practice investigates human relationships with systems — technological, representational, linguistic, and experiential…Therefore, games, computer viruses, search engines, cell phones, email — seemingly boring or ordinary computationally-driven systems — become for me extraordinary and revealing artifacts representing themes of human desire, intimacy, secrecy, language, and the conceptual spaces of machines themselves” states new media female artist Mary Flanagan. Flanagan, an American artist, explores the way in which society uses the technological world to identify oneself. Through the heavy use of memory as her basis, Flanagan creates many computer interactive games, websites, and embodied interfaces to interact with society through the medium of the virtual world.

Internationally known and exhibited, Flanagan carries an accomplished history of works and installations as well as having a repertoire of writing about the medium of technology and social change. Flanagan graduated from the University of Minnesota then later on earned a MA and MFA at the University of Iowa—both in film. Finally, she completed her PhD at Saint Martins College of Art and Design UK in Computational Media honing in on activist game design, thus resulting in her passion to help underprivileged societies and communities interact with the technological world in a meaningful way—ways that speak about human existence and interact people in discovering their identities through the exploration of text and memory. Her passion for underserved populations explains her directorship of Tiltfactor Lab; a research lap group that focuses on developing interactive computer games for exploring social issues and interventions. Also, many of her other works ([the perpetual bed] (1998), [phage] (2002) and [collection] (2002)) revolved around our perceptions of memory and how we interact with memory in present experiences.

Flanagan’s personal artist website neatly organizes her works for visitors to explore the many different themes her artwork conveys. Flanagan exhibits this exploration in her three-dimensional computer game, [domestic] (2003), in which the game modifies a first-person shooter game. The environment of the game consists of confusing perceptions—large layered hypertexts on walls, and narrow hallways that look familiar but not completely. The game is representative of Flanagan’s childhood home that burned down; a traumatizing experience. Throughout the maze-like game, the player experiences the flames of the fire and shoots at the flames with images of domestic images or different texts such as “STOP.” Also, the player runs into a staircase built of the word “reconstruction” which may symbolize the way Flanagan herself, as the artist as the ultimate “controller” of the video game, sees herself and her identity. The artist creates the environment of the game, which the player creates the action in the game—a collaboration of collective memory and experience.

Flanagan reconstructs the memory of when she lost her home through the computer game, but invites other players to interact with this exploration of memory stuck in media. Because of this, it portrays the great lengths in which Flanagan places herself, her persona, in the identity of her computer game. Flanagan humanizes this robotic technological world by creating a narrative (for her one of memory) and makes the complex and life-less technology contain substance. She challenges the idea of how we interact with technology and asks viewers and participants to join in her quest to blend human narrative in all parts of our daily life. Because of Flanagan’s great involvement in technology and the effects it has on human life, the question bears, how are we to respond to such a technologically driven world? For Flanagan, memory gives us the basis for this answer. As a society, we should, in Flanagan’s perspective, involve our memories and identities in tangible things so that it can be shared communally. I can’t help but agree with Flanagan, in that community creates much of one’s identity—so, her work agrees with this perspective of persona, and therefore successfully achieves at being “socially engaging” (Flanagan, Artist Statement).

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