Mary Flanagan has exhibited internationally at venues such as The Guggenheim New York, Tate Britain, Museu de Arte, Arquitectura e Tecnologia Lisbon, the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing, NeMe Arts Center, Cyprus, LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, Spain, Museum of Fine Arts Cologne, and the 2002 Whitney Biennial of American Art. Her work is featured in public and private collections, including The Whitney Museum and ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Germany. She is the Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College since 2008.
In 2018, Flanagan won the Award of Distinction at Prix Ars Electronica in the Interactive art+ and is the recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship, the Thoma Foundation 2018 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, and has been awarded residencies with the Brown Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, Bogliasco, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2019. Flanagan has lectured widely including at Oxford, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and the Sorbonne. She was recently a John Paul Getty Museum Scholar, a Senior Scholar in Residence at the Cornell Society for the Humanities, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto and received an Honoris Causa in Design, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Flanagan was one of the 2018 cultural leaders at the World Economic Forum at Davos. Her work has been supported by commissions and grants including The British Arts Council, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Mary Flanagan’s studio work plays with the anxious and profound relationship between technological systems and human experience, exploring how our data, rule systems, and context of play represent human fears and desires and their impact. Flanagan’s approach to games and technological systems occupy both onscreen space as well as physical spaces and actions, moving away from the screen to push reflection regarding familiar relationships to play, politics, and the personal.
My creative practice investigates human relationships with systems — technological, representational, linguistic, natural, social. I explore the anxious and profound relationship among technological systems, play, and human experience. Systems and their intersections with mundane aspects of everyday life are particularly of interest; therefore, games, computer viruses, search engines, email — seemingly ordinary things — become for me extraordinary and revealing artifacts. Games are of particularly ripe type of system to explore and utilize in my work. In my studio I use particular methods (chance operations, OULIPO style algorithms) to defamiliarize myself with my own experiences of these systems, to be able to see them anew, and confront their inherent world views. Computer game engines, play frameworks, and networked databases are materials by which to explore the cultural impact of systems as they permeate and mediate everyday life, while it in turn daily life is continually reshaped by the systems people make.
The process of creating the work feeds from ‘net culture’ and ‘computational customs’ where flippant trends become ongoing conceptual and physical ‘truths.’ Making these works is a way of creating alternate systems to negotiate a type of peace with both the fleeting nature of the medium and its forms: the invisible nature of bits and bytes and conversely, the way these ephemeral forms forge lasting conceptual systems. Relationships of power between systems artificial and natural interest me greatly.
My investigations manifest using a variety of forms: web-based media, installation, poetry, computer applications, games, and performance. These forms are governed by rule sets that render possible worlds under constraint. Most works involve aleatoric, experiential interventions including rule systems of the oulipo variety. My goal is for the work to be as experiential as it is imagistic, and that it abides by tenets of openness and testing of form. I want to craft a challenging type of sense-making—rich forms and media that challenge absoluteness. Each work invents its own grammar and executes through associative narratives in images and collisions. Like Duchamp, I call my work ‘laboratory experiments’: a blend of research, process, procedure, and performance.