Mary Flanagan has a research-based practice that investigates and exploits the seams between technology, play, and human experience, exploring how data, computing practices, errors / glitches, and games reflect human psychology and the limitations of knowledge. Flanagan’s approach to games and art-making occupies both onscreen space as well as physical spaces, objects, and actions, moving away from the screen to foster reflection regarding familiar relationships to the everyday. She sees the computer as a collaborator and pursues collisions with aleatory events, chance operations and glitched code. 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 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 and lives and works in Hanover NH and the city of Houston TX.
Flanagan won the Award of Distinction at Prix Ars Electronica in the Interactive art+ for her work [help me know the truth] and is the recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship, the Thoma Foundation Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, and has been awarded residencies with the Brown Foundation, MacDowell, Bogliasco, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. 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 has represented as a cultural leader 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 Academy of Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
My creative practice is founded on research and 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, especially when they glitch or break. Games are of particularly ripe type of system to explore. 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. 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.
My design practice is deeply informed by the 20 years of game research I’ve conducted at my research laboratory Tiltfactor.org. I design games that innovate yet are accessible to a wide audience. I focus on narrative contexts that are inclusive, diverse, and fun. I started down this path as a digital game designer, and my practice has emerged as open to genre and situation: I create digital games, board games, sports, puzzles, urban games and performative, experimental games. Some of my games are commercially available; others merge into artworks, become books, or are deployed in research. I’m also interested in how the “ludic language” emerges from games to pervade other games and situations.